President Trump’s remarks on Afghanistan at his Cabinet meeting Wednesday were a notable event. They will be criticized heavily, and deservedly so. The full text is available on the White House website.
Mr. Trump ridiculed other nations’ commitment of troops to fight alongside America’s in Afghanistan. He said, “They tell me a hundred times, ‘Oh, we sent you soldiers. We sent you soldiers.’”
This mockery is a slander against every ally that has supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan with troops who fought and often died. The United Kingdom has had more than 450 killed fighting in Afghanistan.
As reprehensible was Mr. Trump’s utterly false narrative of the Soviet Union’s involvement there in the 1980s. He said: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”
Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.
The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.
If he did, and used soldiers to build it, they would all be committing a federal crime.
President Trump on Friday said that he was considering the declaration of a “national emergency” along the border with Mexico, which he apparently believes would allow him to divert funds from the military budget to pay for a wall, and to use military personnel to build it.
While it is hard to know exactly what the president has in mind, or whether he has any conception about what it would entail, one thing is clear: Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime.
Begin with the basics. From the founding onward, the American constitutional tradition has profoundly opposed the president’s use of the military to enforce domestic law. A key provision, rooted in an 1878 statute and added to the law in 1956, declares that whoever “willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force” to execute a law domestically “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years” — except when “expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.”
Another provision, grounded in a statute from 1807 and added to the law in 1981, requires the secretary of defense to “ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel)” must “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.”
In response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, Congress created an express exception to the rules, and authorized the military to play a backup role in “major public emergencies.” But in 2008 Congress and President Bush repealed this sweeping exception. Is President Trump aware of this express repudiation of the power which he is threatening to invoke?
The statute books do contain a series of carefully crafted exceptions to the general rule. Most relevantly, Congress has granted the Coast Guard broad powers to enforce the law within the domestic waters of the United States. But there is no similar provision granting the other military services a comparable power to “search, seize and arrest” along the Mexican border. Given Congress’s decision of 2008, this silence speaks louder than words. Similarly, the current military appropriations bill fails to exempt military professionals from criminal punishment for violating the law in their use of available funds.
It is, I suppose, possible to imagine a situation in which the president might take advantage of the most recent exception, enacted in 2011, which authorized the military detention of suspected terrorists associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. But despite President Trump’s unsupported claims about “terrorists” trying to cross the border, it is an unconscionable stretch to use this proviso to support using the military for operations against the desperate refugees from Central America seeking asylum in our country.
It is even less plausible for the president to suspend these restrictions under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. From the Great Depression through the Cold War, presidents systematically abused emergency powers granted them by Congress in some 470 statutes, culminating in the Watergate fiasco. In response, the first section of the 1976 act terminated all existing emergencies and created a framework of checks and balances on the president’s arbitrary will.
If President Trump declared an emergency, Section Five of the act gives the House of Representatives the right to repudiate it immediately, then pass their resolution to the Senate — which is explicitly required to conduct a floor vote within 15 days. Since President Trump’s “emergency” declaration would be a direct response to his failure to convince Congress that national security requires his wall, it is hard to believe that a majority of the Senate, if forced to vote, would accept his show of contempt for their authority.
The Supreme Court’s 1953 decision in Youngstown v. Sawyer would be critical in Congressional consideration of such a decision. In a canonical opinion by Justice Robert Jackson, the court invalidated President Truman’s attempt in 1952 to use his powers as commander in chief to nationalize steel mills in the face of labor strikes. The decision imposed fundamental constitutional limits on the president’s power to claim that a national emergency — in this case, the Korean War — allowed him to override express provisions preventing him from using those powers domestically.
Live in Helsinki, Trump brings his blame-America-first tour to a close... let me admit that my absolute top take away was that at a critical moment in modern American history, our president managed to mention his winning margin in the Electoral College.
Bret: Also, I’m thinking about just what Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and the rest of right-wing punditry would be saying if it had been President Barack Obama at that podium, saying the sort of things Trump was saying, not to mention the way he said it.
.. They’d call him the Manchurian Candidate. They’d accuse him of treason. They’d call for an armed insurrection or something close to it. They’d say he hates America. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Here is a president of the United States who repeatedly blames America first; who takes the word of a former K.G.B. agent over his own intelligence agencies; who promises to work constructively with a despot whose regime
- kills journalists,
- shoots down civilian airliners and
- uses nerve agents to assassinate its enemies abroad;
and who aims his rhetorical fire on an opposing party instead of an enemy government. And the Make America Great Again crowd, with an exception or two, says pretty much nothing, or averts its gaze, or switches the subject.
.. John Brennan has noted, “people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”
.. The thought that the government — our government — just put this child through that trauma for no other reason than Jeff Sessions’ fantasy that it will “deter” desperate migrants or otherwise help Stephen Miller work out his manhood issues turns my stomach as nothing else has in a long time. That a majority of Republicans support the policy turns it even more.
In some ways, this worries me a lot more than whatever Putin and his cyber-armies might be trying to do to us. Putin is a former KGB agent, so at least he’s playing to type. It’s the trashing of democratic values from the inside that concerns me even more.
.. During his press conference in the U.K. with Theresa May, he warned Europe to watch out for immigration because it was “changing the culture.” It was such a pathetic call for racism to rise up. And then of course he blamed Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim mayor, for encouraging terrorism.
.. I guess that, as horrific as I find the stories about those poor kids being tormented at the border, I’m even more disturbed by the way our president is trying to promote this kind of ideology around the world.
.. it’s also important to understand why they’ve gained so much strength recently. The key is their ability to traffic in half-truths, to pick up on a legitimate issue and put it to an illegitimate end.
.. That’s why I think calls in the United States to “abolish ICE” are so dangerous: They create the impression that Democrats want unregulated migration, as opposed to a generous but lawful immigration policy. And that just helps Trump and the Bannonites.
.. Gail: For most Democrats, “abolish ICE” is just shorthand for getting rid of the Trump anti-immigration agenda. Although I do agree we could use a better code. Perhaps involving a quote from the Statue of Liberty.
.. in California, their state of nearly 40 million people is only going to be represented by two senators, which is exactly the same number as Wyoming, population 579,315. I keep harping on the fact that the real division in this country is between the empty-places people and the crowded-places people. Us crowded folk are virtually disenfranchised.
.. I think Democrats need to find a way to change the conversation about immigration, in two ways. First, stop feeding the perception that immigration is an act of humanitarianism by the United States. It’s a matter of self-interest: Newcomers mainly bring energy and drive and imagination and ambition to this country. Second, accept the premise that we need to police our borders, while making the case that we can police them better with a much more liberal system that diminishes the incentive to come into the country illegally.
.. Gail: And maybe we can get somebody from Mar-a-Lago to testify on how hard it is to get affordable help.