by Jeff Huber
The chowder heads at SodaHead.com ask “Could Sec. of State Hillary Clinton Be Doing More in the Middle East?” Jesus in a jump seat, soda jerks, hasn’t she done enough, as in enough harm? As secretary of state, Cruella has done more damage to the state of American diplomacy than the last secretary of state did, and that’s an eye-watering accomplishment. In fact, Keystone Kondi owes Cruella a debt of gratitude; without Cruella, Kondo would be America’s worst ever secretary of state. (Both of them, of course, owe John Bolton a night at his favorite gentleman’s club for keeping either of them from being human history’s worst diplomat.)
|Secretary of State Hillary Clinton|
on a diplomatic mission.
SodaHead’s foreign policy pundits appear to have had their thinking caps twisted loose. “In countries with a president and a prime minister,” they pontificate, “it can fall upon the former to deal with foreign policy, while the latter deals with domestic issues.” Yeah, kids. That’s why Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki lets his president, Jalai Talabani, make all those tough foreign policy calls that the rest of us think Maliki is making. That’s sort of the way Churchill and Thatcher and Blair deferred foreign policy to the Queen of England. In parliamentary systems like Iraq’s that have both a PM and prez, the prez is most often a figurehead, much as the British Royals are. The PM is the guy other nations talk turkey too.
The SodaHeads are equally confused about the workings of U.S. foreign policy. Since the U.S. has “no prime minister,” they explain (they got that right, anyway), “the responsibility of both sides of the coin often falls to the president – that is, as a backup, because the responsibility of dealing with foreign affairs in the U.S. government (get ready Civics 101) is upon the shoulders of the secretary of state.”
It sounds like the SodaCrackers took Civics 101 with Sarah Palin.
The Constitution spreads responsibility for and authority over U.S. foreign policy across all three branches of government. Article II makes the president commander in chief of the military, and to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. But those treaties and ambassadorships have to be approved by the Senate. And the president doesn’t have sole control of the military.
Article I gives a major portion of the foreign policy pie to the legislature. Most notably, it gives Congress the power and authority “to regulate commerce with foreign nations,” which alone should—in a sane country—make Congress the leading foreign policy branch of government.
But Article II also tasks Congress to take a leading role in providing for national defense. Only Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war. It is also up to Congress to “define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations.” Congress is tasked to “provide and maintain a navy” and “raise and support armies” and to “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and Congress is responsible for “organizing, arming, and disciplining,” the militia (aka National Guard) and for “governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States.” And when the time comes “for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions,” it’s the Congress, not the president, whom the Constitution authorizes to do the calling forth.
The judicial branch’s constitutional foreign policy role is more abstruse, but palpable nevertheless. Article III dictates that the judicial power of the federal courts shall extend to “treaties made” and “to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;—to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.”
The Constitution makes no mention of the secretary of state’s role in foreign policy. In fact, it makes no mention of the secretary of state at all, or of any cabinet post, except obliquely, when it refers to the Senate’s duty to confirm the appointments of “other officers of the United States.”
We all know that an abysmal chasm exists between the way our Constitution says things are supposed to work and the way the actually operate. But even then, SodaHead’s suggestion that “the responsibility of dealing with foreign affairs in the U.S. government is upon the shoulders of the secretary of state” is a notion born of hallucinogens.
No U.S. secretary of state has really driven foreign policy, or even been the president’s leading foreign policy agent, since Henry Kissinger, and Kissinger’s primary policy tool was the five-sided blunt instrument. Moreover, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether Kissinger was using the Pentagon or the Pentagon was using Kissinger. Whichever was the case, both parties got what they wanted, which was an extension of the Vietnam War well beyond the timeframe that Richard Nixon had promised to end it, giving both Kissinger and the Pentagon ample time to establish a suitable phalanx of scapegoats—the press, popular music, the drug culture, the pansy Congress—for their abject wartime failures.
Since Kissinger, the standing of state secretaries in relation to the Pentagon has floated somewhere between sidekick and mascot.
And, oh yeah, the Constitution doesn’t utter a syllable about the American military dictating our foreign policy either. So we pretend like that sort of thing only happens in places like Egypt and Pakistan and Iran and Libya and so on.