Bush and the Gwailo Constitution
Bush has taken a lot of flak for remarks about Taiwan regarding
the eventuality of Chinese aggression. Here
were his exact words: "Our nation will help Taiwan defend
itself. At the same time, we support the one-China policy, and we
expect the dispute to be resolved peacefully."
sophisticates will bray about Bush’s subversion of the "strategic
ambiguity" doctrine (every diplomatic notion is a "doctrine"
nowadays); supporters of Taiwanese autonomy will point out the illogic
of a U.S.-Taiwan defense pact that forecloses self-determination
for the island.
far, however, pundits haven’t made a peep about the (anti)constitutional
dimension to Bush’s pledge. The ostensibly conservative William
F. Buckley Jr. in fact asserts an obligatory executive role for
in an American context suggests valuing constitutional government.
Key to American constitutional government is federal republicanism,
or anti-monarchic, decentralized governance.
colonial experience soured Americans on monarchy so acutely that
several delegates to the Constitutional Convention opposed a unitary
executive branch. George Mason desired an executive of three persons;
Edmund Randolph referred to a single executive as "the fetus
sentiment was of such pervasiveness that even two of American history’s
most ardent nationalists appreciated legislative primacy, especially
over the grievous matter of war:
President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of
the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally
the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance
much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the
supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces,
as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that
of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the
raising and regulating of fleets and armies, all which, by the
Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature."
(Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 69)
provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to
Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following
reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their
people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the
good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood
to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they
resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should
hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us." (Abraham
Lincoln, letter to William H. Herndon, February 15, 1848)
twentieth century witnessed a revolutionary inversion occur between
president and Congress with respect to war-making. As an emblematic
example, Harry Truman leapfrogged the legislature in deploying troops
to Korea via the United Nations a relatively forgotten intervention
that portended our equally unconstitutional, supra-nationally orchestrated
slaughter in the Balkans. (I’m not an apologist for a truculent
bum like Slobodan Milosevic, and how his truculence justifies our
illegal aerial campaign of destruction and death eludes me.)
have reached the point where a "conservative" Vice
President accepts presidential usurpation of the martial realm
and the decidedly un-conservative Noam Chomsky criticizes "the
doctrine of Executive War in violation of the Constitution"
New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, p. 97). This,
needless to say, is a peculiar state of affairs.
course, Congress is ultimately culpable for its inversive capacity.
As John C. Calhoun observed, "The Constitutional power of the
President never was or could be formidable, unless it was accompanied
by a Congress which was prepared to corrupt the Constitution."
A president’s bellicose ambition would be a nonstarter if our "representatives"
only asserted their purview.
constitutional process exists for defending Taiwan if China attacks.
The determinative party in that process is not the current occupant
of the White House.
Bush has assumed, nay arrogated the voice of Congress with his remarks
on Taiwan. Indignation from conservative legislators is nowhere
to be found. The Constitution is apparently a gwailo (foreigner)
to the GOP’s standard-bearers, their oath to defend it notwithstanding.
Standard editor William Kristol noted during the litigation-laden
aftermath of last year’s election, "Mr. Bush has run as an
apostle of compassionate conservatism. But the present crisis suggests
that a revival of constitutional conservatism is the more urgent
and important task" ("Crowning the Imperial Judiciary,"
The New York Times, November 28, 2000).
conservatives’ silence on President Bush’s imperial pronouncements
is any indicator, the revival Kristol prescribes is far, far away.
Kantor [send him mail]
and lives in Boynton Beach, Florida