BY YORAM ETTINGER—
It was Congress – on both sides of the aisle – which led the Obama Administration to veto its own ideology and policy at the UN on February 17, 2011. Majority leader Cantor, Minority Whip Hoyer, Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen and Ranking Democrat Berman, Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Chabot and Ranking Democrat Ackerman spearheaded the flood of determined Congressional messages to the White House.
Once again, Congress demonstrated its role in co-determining US national security, possessing the power to direct the Executive. Thus, the occasional conflict between the Legislature and the Executive over national security policy is inevitable and inherent, as prescribed by the US Constitution with its elaborate system of checks and balances. Congress is not eager to challenge a president, but is capable of the challenge if required by constituents.
Once again, Congress demonstrated its independence, adhering to the principles of Separation of Powers. The late Senator Robert Byrd (West Virginia – Democrat) addressed President Clinton during a floor speech: “I am the obedient servant of the Constitution and not of the President.”
Once again, Congress leveraged its Power of the Purse and its power to supervise the Administration, to shape, suspend, amend and even reverse policy. For example, it was Congress – and not the Administration – which terminated the US wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, US military involvement in Angola and Nicaragua, US ties with the white government in South Africa, the acquisition of the B-2 and the civil war in El Salvador.
It was Congress which coerced the USSR to allow Jewish emigration, cut foreign aid to Turkey, imposed sanctions on Uganda, extended the acquisition of the F-117, prevented the ratification of Clinton’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, restructured the US intelligence community, upgraded the port of Haifa for the Sixth Fleet, initiated the US-Israel Bi-national Industrial Research & Development (BIRD) Foundation, which produced a multi-billion dollar bonanza for the US economy, etc.
Once again, Congress highlighted the key axis of the US Constitution: Constituent and constituent-loyalty over party-loyalty.
President’s relative weakness
Once again, Congress exposed the endemic constraints of presidential power, as stipulated by the US Constitution: To prevent Executive tyranny by limiting the power of the Executive. The term “Commander in Chief” has often been misinterpreted as if it were “Omnipotent President.” A US president is not “The Government” – a US president constitutes one of three branches of government, which operate through genuine power-sharing.
Once again, Congress leveraged the relative weakness of a president, who is transformed from a Coattail President (Obama – 2008) to an Anchor-Chained President (Obama – 2010), as was President Carter. Traditionally, presidents benefit from their stature, which enables them to mold public opinion and influence legislators. However, Obama’s stature has been eroded severely during the first two years of his administration.
Once again, Congress justified the Founding Fathers, who featured Congress – the most authentic representation of the American people – in the opening article of the Constitution, while the president was accorded the second article.
Once again, Congress highlighted the Jewish State as one of the very few common denominators on Capitol Hill, binding Democrats and Republicans, during one of the most polarized congressional sessions. Moreover, Congress – reflecting most constituents – does not consider Israel as a classic foreign policy issue. Congress considers the Jewish State a non-conditional strategic ally and also as a domestic issue, which is related to the moral Judeo-Christian foundations of the USA.
In light of the congressional reality, and the consistent and systematic congressional support of the Jewish State, Jerusalem should resurrect the policy of its 1948-1992 Prime Ministers (Ben Gurion through Shamir), who acknowledged Congressional (equal) power in co-determining national security.
The Jewish State should, also, emulate the US Constitution, restructuring the Israeli political system by highlighting the constituent – and not political parties and prime ministers – as its chief axis, introducing genuine systems of separation of powers and checks and balances, and significantly enhancing the power of a newly-created bicameral Legislature.