Unprecedented Imperial Powers Will Soon Pass into Trump’s Hands
It’s really frightening to imagine that the war powers granted by the AUMF will soon be used by the most inexperienced team ever to serve in the White House and commanded by a man who lied himself into wealth and power, says Col. Larry Wilkerson
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The Obama Administration has officially expanded its war against al-Qaeda to include Somalia’s al-Shabaab. The piece of legislation that gives the President authority to do this without discussion or debate in Congress is couched in the authorization of use of military force, also known as the AUMF, which was originally passed by Congress on September 14th, two days after 9/11. The law granted the authority to the President to target those the President determined had planned, authorized or committed or aided in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Al-Shabaab did not exist in 2001, and no connection has been proven between the country of Somalia and the attacks on September 11th.
On to discuss all of this and much more, and particularly looking at what these expansionary powers have meant under President Obama and will mean under President Trump, is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the Former Chief of Staff for US Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently an Adjunct Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary, and a regular contributor here at The Real News Network. Good to have you with us, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Larry, give us a sense of what these expansionary powers under AUMF were meant to have, and is it being exploited under President Obama and possibly under President Trump?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think so, under President Obama. I remind you back in the days of Donald Rumsfeld and the very first reactions of the United States post-9/11, Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon in particular tried to reinsert US forces or US influence everywhere in the world they could under the auspices of the AUMF and 9/11, more importantly, as far as the American people were concerned. We even classified Abu Sayyaf, basically a bunch of thugs in the Philippines, as perhaps al-Qaeda connected, and began to try to reinsert US forces in the Philippines, and were successful.
So, this is an excuse, if you will, a motivation, a reason, of the United States to do things wherever it feels like it has to do them, whether it is in regard to al-Qaeda, that original striker of the United States, or whether it’s just ancillary interests, maybe associated, or whether it’s just totally different interests. And I would submit to you that we will keep on doing this because presidents, once they have the power to do things like this, never surrender that power.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And you were having problems with this initially when it was passed, but that was under President Bush. Now under President Obama you thought things would be different. In which ways has he used these powers, and has it been contained or not?
LARRY WILKERSON: In terms of using the powers, I think we’ve seen their extension into everything from domestic issues, like whistleblowers, and unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers, to what you just referred to: an extension of the conflicts, such as it is, in the countries where we have not got a declaration of war, we’ve not made any public statement about being at war with whatever constitutes the government of that country — in this case, Somalia. We’ve done it across borders without identifying to anyone, including in most occasions to our own Congress and certainly the American people, that we’re doing so, and that we are in effect declaring war on that country, at least from the sky with drones and so forth.
So, this is an entirely new regime of power that we’ve opened up to a presidency that is already, as I discussed in seminar today with my students, already centralized most of its power inside the White House, inside the NSC staff, and the NSC itself, and is exercising imperial power in many respects in ways that the writers of the 1947 National Security Act, indeed the heirs of the power we accumulated post-World War II, never dreamed of. People like Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman are rolling in their graves at the powers that we have just ipso facto granted to the President of the United States, particularly under the auspices of the War Power. It’s unprecedented what we’ve done, and I think we’re going to pay for it dearly down the road, and we may well be getting ready to see how dearly we’re going to pay for it with the most inexperienced team that’s ever come to the White House with a person who has lied his way into the White House and with a team around him, and the chemistry and sociology of the team making these decisions, advising these decisions, that is probably going to be unique in American history.
I search my memory all the way back to Andrew Jackson and pigs and chickens in the White House, as it were, I can’t find anyone who even remotely resembles this particular President-Elect, or remotely resembles the team he’s assembled around him. I think we’re going to see the proof of the pudding in this presidency, and I think we’re probably going to see it within the first 18 months.
SHARMINI PERIES: And in terms of this type of legislation, obviously targeted at a particular time in the US’s history to deal with al-Qaeda, is there any way of — you think it’s very difficult for a president to give up these powers — but is there any way that legislatively it could be undone?
LARRY WILKERSON: Well, there is. The Congress could simply repeal the Act, and it could pass a resolution, or even better a statute, that would, as they thought the War Powers Resolution did, but certainly did not, somewhat curb the President’s ability to use the War Power at any time in any place and against anyone whom he feels it needs to be used against. It’s about time we did something like that. Let’s look at what we’ve done, really. We have given the powers that the Founding Fathers from Hamilton to Jefferson to Jay to Washington — you name it — all agreed was the most dangerous power of all, and the one most conducive to tyranny to the President in an almost-unquestioned way.
The War Power, of course, is what I speak of. And now we’re giving it to a President for whom lying is an act of fealty almost, to whom a selection of his team has seemed an almost happenchance thing, and whose team members, such as they are at this point, both confirmed and talked-about, look as if they might be the worst possible decision-making team ever assembled in the White House — and that’s saying something, because we’ve had some really bad ones. So here we have this coincidence of an enormous increase in presidential power, particularly with regard to the War Power, one might say the ultimate power, the power to send young men and women to die for State purposes and to kill others for State purposes, and we’ve now given them to an individual who is utterly inexperienced and is everything I’ve just described and more, and we’re going to sit back and watch what happens when we’ve done this. This is really frightening, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: It is frightening times.
LARRY WILKERSON: Let’s not forget, too, that some years ago I was called onto the Hill to talk to a couple of Republican Congressmen who were very concerned about something that had just happened. And what had just happened — and according to these congressmen, there were only five members of the Congress, Senate or House, who objected to this — that’ll tell you something — what happened was they removed the restriction on the US armed forces being used within the continental United States to protect the country from “a material support to terrorism,” whatever that ambiguous phrase actually means. So, we now have the potential for the President of the United States to use the armed forces of the United States domestically. Think about that for a moment.
SHARMINI PERIES: Even scarier times. We will think about it and follow this issue. Larry, I hope you let us know when you think we should cover this issue again. Thanks so much for joining us today.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.