Monday, July 28, 2014

The Real Grounds for Impeaching Obama

Among Republicans, impeachment seems to be a pretty popular idea nowadays—supposedly, President Obama has overstepped his authority with excessive executive orders, for which Speaker of the House John Boehner is already suing him. This is all pretty predictable, given how the Republicans have behaved over the past years (or decades, even). Among mainstream liberals, the response is, equally unsurprisingly, that Obama has done nothing to deserve impeachment. While I never identify with either group, there are few issues where they both succeed in being so utterly wrong.

The charge against Obama, in regards to executive orders, is nonsense. He hasn’t issued an extraordinary number of executive orders by any stretch of the imagination, and they don’t really extend beyond the reasonable parameters of executive power. Further, even if Obama had overstepped his authority, it’s weak grounds for impeachment. The constitution states the necessary offenses for impeachment are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It’s hard to argue that Obama’s issuance of executive orders—at least those the Republicans are complaining about—honestly constitutes a crime. So even if the Republicans’ charge were true—and it isn’t—it wouldn’t be grounds for impeachment.

Contrary to what the mainstream liberals believe, however, there are plenty of entirely legitimate grounds to impeach Obama. There’s the NSA scandal, for starters, which constitutes numerous violations of the Fourth Amendment. Or there’s the fact that he’s authorized the extrajudicial killing of at least one American citizen—an offense probably far more extreme than what the Founders (specifically Benjamin Franklin, who championed the impeachment provision) had in mind. It’s hard to think of something that better constitutes a “high Crime” than murder, which is what Obama was, doubtless, involved in, when authorizing a drone strike against Anwar al-Awlaki—a man who had not been so much as indicted, let alone convicted, of any crime. Or, for that matter, there was the killing of Osama bin Laden in front of his family, violating norms of the law of war going back to Abraham Lincoln. In violation of US law, the Obama administration has also given aid to the Egyptian dictatorship, which quickly ended the nascent democracy there by coming to power through a coup, and has violently suppressed the population since.

And these are mostly just offenses that violate American law—if we take “high Crimes” to be applicable to international law, the issue becomes even easier. Obama’s enormous reliance on drone warfare has been criticized by foreign policy experts, human rights groups, and even the UN (to some extent) as being in violation (or at least, possibly in violation, depending on circumstances) of international law. Likewise in violation of international law was the Obama administration’s threat of force against Syria. Then, of course, there’s Obama’s continuation—escalation, even—of the war in Afghanistan, a war whose legality was always dubious, as it was neither UN-approved nor for self-defense, strictly speaking (the Taliban never attacked the US, after all). Certainly, there are grounds at least for impeachment, if not conviction, again assuming that war crimes count among the “high Crimes” mentioned in the constitution.

In fairness, there are Republicans who have criticized Obama on these fronts, but the leadership of the party seems rather disinterested. One can’t help but note the irony that the political party supposedly championing freedom from government intrusion overlooks these grave breaches of law to focus on trivial issues like the immigration reforms Obama promulgated, or his delay of his own healthcare law’s provisions. Unlike the impeachment the Republicans are calling for—which would be a political stunt and nothing else—an impeachment for the charges I mentioned would be enormously healthy for the country as a whole. It would demonstrate that we actually expect the president to obey the same laws the rest of us have to, and the international laws that our country has agreed to. Obama is anything but unique in his lawlessness—Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Truman were all similar, many of them much worse. But perhaps if Obama were impeached and convicted for his actual crimes, rather than his imaginary ones, it would send a message to all future presidents. Instead we’re stuck with the usual political games. Benjamin Franklin would be disappointed.

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