The Progressive line on American foreign policy was first brought to light by Presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 when he insisted, with a straight face, that America’s military policy must pass a “global test” before it can be implemented. That’s a policy that’s alive and well in the present administration, as this exchange during last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing between Senator Jeff Sessions (R, AL) and Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, demonstrates (the exchange begins at about the 2:00 minute mark) [emphasis mine].
SESSIONS: Do you think you can act without Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria without congressional approval?
PANETTA: …our goal would be to seek international permission, and we would come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this; whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress, I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.
SESSIONS: Well I am almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is, “we’re going to seek international approval and we will come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval” … Would you like to clarify that?
PANETTA: I have also served with Republican Presidents and Democratic Presidents who have always reserved the right to defend this country if necessary.
SESSIONS: But before you would do this, you would seek permission of the international authorities?
PANETTA: If we are working with an international coalition or NATO we would want to be able to get appropriate permissions in order to be able to do that. All of these countries would want to have some kind of legal basis on which to act.
SESSIONS: What “legal basis” are you looking for? What entity?
PANETTA: If NATO made the decision to go in, that would be one. If we developed an international coalition beyond NATO then obviously some kind of UN security resolution would be the basis for that.
SESSIONS: So you are saying NATO would give you a “legal basis?” And an ad hoc coalition of nations would provide a “legal basis?”
PANETTA: We would seek whatever legal basis we would need in order to make that justified. We can’t just pull them all together without getting the legal basis on which to act.
SESSIONS: I’m all for having international support, but I’m really baffled by the idea that somehow an international assembly provides a legal basis for the United States military to be deployed in combat. I don’t think it’s close to being correct. They provide no legal authority. The only legal authority that’s required to deploy the U.S. military is the Congress and the president and the law in the Constitution.
PANETTA: Let me, just for the record, be clear again. When it comes to the national defense of this country, the President of the United States has the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this country, and we will. If it comes to an operation where we’re trying to build a coalition of nations to work together to go in and operate as we did in Libya, or Bosnia, or for that matter, Afghanistan, we want to do it with permissions either by NATO or by the international community.
So, what do we have, then? Panetta has gone even farther than Kerry, now insisting that “international permission,” rather than the Constitution (which includes authorization by Congress), is the “legal basis” for American use of our military capability in an international effort. The administration seems to accept foreign control, foreign permissions, over whether we will use our military to conduct national defense activities in conjunction with foreign groups of countries; we have no authority of our own to employ our forces in that environment. The President, intimates Panetta, executes his national defense obligations absent Congress’ involvement, although there is a willingness to discuss “whether or not we would want to get [Congressional] permission.” Notice, also, that, even after Panetta’s “clarification,” neither the Constitution nor the Congress enter into it. Ever.
It seems as though, given the entirety of Panetta’s responses, that he didn’t even understand the questions.
As Sessions said, international support is good. But a sovereign nation needs no one else’s permission to use its military forces, either unilaterally or in concert with other nations. Period. That’s not the same as having an agreement with those others to engage in a joint action of some sort. Those agreements, though, only outline the various responsibilities of the members of the coalition (ideally founded on the individual capabilities of those members); they do not constitute permission for employment.
At least General Martin Dempsey (those first two minutes of the video) understands for whom he works.
h/t Power Line