Congress and Control of the Purse Strings
Romney Speaks to U.S. Difficulties
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has recently been addressing foreign policy matters. This will also be a main topic in the upcoming October 16 debate.
A main theme of Romney’s is that there are conditions of chaos and disorder worldwide and the U.S. is increasingly unable to keep things under their control. For example, in a Wall Street Journal editorial he said, “If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel’s security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom.” Speaking of Obama he said, “he does not understand that an American policy that lacks resolve can provoke aggression and encourage disorder.” He added that the U.S. must “keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.” In his most recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), he emphasized “It is the responsibility of our President to use America’s great power to shape history — not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.” Romney is expressing a main concern of U.S. rulers about how to reassert control and keep control at this time.
U.S. imperialism has been a main factor in unleashing anarchy and chaos worldwide. Particularly since the Bush administration, aggressive U.S. wars with their massive deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure, the open use of drones, assassinations, Special Forces — all trampling on the right to sovereignty and using “might makes right” instead of resolving conflicts without use of force, have brought chaos. More generally, the Bush 2000 election and overall elimination of rule of law by the U.S. since then has unleashed more anarchy and raised it to authority. Laws, standards, norms of relations have been replaced with anarchy and government impunity.
To contend with the complexity of the situation, the U.S. has resorted to violence, aggression and repression as their weapons of choice, abroad and at home. The rulers cannot provide an alternative to the political and economic crises of their outdated system and require far more violence to sustain it. As Romney indicates, this can lead to regional wars or world war, putting U.S. control in further jeopardy. The rulers are attempting to avoid such a situation while still reasserting and maintaining control through use of force. Perhaps of greatest concern, unspoken by Romney, is that the peoples standing against U.S. imperialism across the Middle East and worldwide will gain the upper hand.
Like Bush before him, Romney is urging greater use of “America’s great power.” While so far not directly calling for more troops on the ground, he is calling for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan. At VMI he called for a permanent presence of U.S. warships in the Gulf and Mediterranean. He said the U.S. should not be “on the sidelines” when it comes to Syria. And he emphasized there will be “no flexibility with Vladimir Putin,” of Russia, particularly when it comes to missile defense. He also demanded that NATO partners provide more funding. And he threatened all, saying: “America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might. No friend of America will question our commitment to support them… no enemy that attacks America will question our resolve to defeat them… and no one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America’s capability to back up our words.”
Romney is reflecting that section of the ruling class that thinks more aggression and violence without any pretense of diplomacy, where “friend or foe,” will face U.S. military might if need be, is the means to preserve U.S. domination and keep things “under control.”
(We reprint below an article from Micah Zenko, listed as an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and one of their regular bloggers. The Council on Foreign Relations is one of the arenas where the various factions of the ruling circles come together to discuss difficulties and strive to keep their differences under control. The article below expresses some of the concerns among rulers with Mitt Romney’s foreign policy positions.)
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Yesterday (October 8), Mitt Romney delivered his first major foreign policy address since he spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Convention on July 24. Although there were few differences from his previous speeches, it is increasingly apparent that there are five core principles that underlie the Romney worldview.
First, the world is a terrifying place. Romney warned on Memorial Day: “I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not.” He doubled down on the threat-mongering at the VFW by reaffirming, “The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic.” And during the Obama administration, Romney added, “The threats we face have grown so much worse.” Of course, all metrics suggest that the world is actually safer than at any point in history, and the only plausible threats facing Americans are self-generated.
Second, Romney’s proposed foreign policy is as detailed as a book cover without the table of contents and supporting text. While Romney clearly identifies his world vision, he omits any elements of a strategy that is required to achieve that vision. In lieu of specific policy recommendations, he repeats variations of the words “strength” and “leadership.” His only specific recommendations—such as increasing the U.S. Navy from 285 ships to 350 in 10 years — are stand-alone concepts, since there is no overall strategy that they could flow from.
Third, the notion that leadership overrides strategies or policies assumes that a President Romney would convince or compel other states to do what is plainly not in their self-interest. Yesterday, for instance, Romney said he would “call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.” In 1959, President Eisenhower warned that Europeans were “making a sucker out of Uncle Sam” by refusing to pay their fair share of the defense burden. Since then, every president and secretary of defense has failed to compel NATO allies to sustainably increase their defense spending. Ten years ago, the United States accounted for 63 percent of NATO defense spending, today it is 77 percent. How is Romney specifically planning on convincing NATO allies—particularly amid an economic recession reverberating throughout Europe—cough up more for defense?
Fourth, given Romney’s inability or unwillingness to articulate any strategies, or differences between his vision and that of the Obama administration, voters can assume that a President Romney’s foreign policy would actually closely resemble President Obama’s.
Finally, however, the main distinction is Romney’s repeated conviction that it is the duty and responsibility of the United States to shape and lead the world, which is desperate to be shaped and lead by Washington. “There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East,” Romney said yesterday. It is exactly this flawed mindset that has repeatedly begot trouble in the past, particularly in the Middle East. This dual belief in U.S. influence and the global craving for U.S. leadership could be dangerous, if Romney acts on its implications.
Gates and Mullen Say “Lame Duck” Session of Congress “Make or Break” Time
At a recent conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and other organizations, former Secretary of State Robert M. Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Admiral Mike Mullen both said it was necessary for the “lame duck” session of Congress to deal with passing a budget that addresses deficit reduction. The “lame duck” session is that after the November 6 election but before the new Congress is sworn in January 3, 2013.
Gates said, “My hope is that following the presidential election, whatever adults remain in the two political parties will make the compromises necessary to put this country in order.” He added, “The longer we delay with our fiscal problems, the more painful and risky it will be to national security.” He emphasized that Congress has lost the ability to solve basic problems. He spoke to various factors, like gerrymandered districts and the lack of Congressional powerbrokers and chairpersons who can make and enforce deals. He said the political center that historically achieved such bipartisan breakthroughs as the Marshall Plan and NATO “are not holding.” Instead there are ideological extremes where “moderation means lacking principles and compromise means selling out.”
Gates especially targeted the upcoming $1.2 trillion across the board budget cuts set to occur automatically on January 2, 2013 if the lame-duck Congress does not pass a new budget. Without a new budget, the mandated $1.2 trillion in cuts will mean major cuts to the Pentagon budget will occur January 2.
Put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act, these cuts are known as sequestration. Gates said the use of across-the-board cuts, especially those hitting the Pentagon, represents “managerial cowardice.” Sequestration was a “suicide pact” that Congress has allowed to persist. The lame duck session, being the last now before January 2, thus was “make or break” time.
Admiral Mullen said unless the country addresses “the abundant disorder” in its fiscal affairs, “we cannot hope to sustain our superiority from a military perspective or from the perspective of our influence in foreign affairs.” He too urged a resolution before sequestration occurs, saying “The time to do something is shorter than we think, and if we kick the can down the road, we will soon find that the can will not budge.”
Gates and Mullen both served under Bush and Obama. Other former budget office directors and senators who served on bipartisan fiscal commissions, such as Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, heads of the most recent presidential commission on deficit reduction, joined them at the conference. Participants represent the role the Center for Strategic and International Studies plays as an arena where the various factions of the ruling circles meet to discuss the problems they are contending with. Control of the purse strings in the interests of the monopolies and military superiority are clearly concerns. So too is Congressional dysfunction. As they indicate, Congress — with its powerbrokers and chairmen as enforcers — no longer functions as an arena for resolving internal conflict within the ruling class through various compromises.
The threat of the automatic cuts is being used to require action, in a situation where it is known the Congress is unlikely to act. As Mullen put it, “I’m not as hopeful as others that we won’t drive off that cliff.” This is coupled with calls for the “adult” leaders to “put patriotism over party.”
Recent experience shows that this talk of needing “adults” to rein in a “fiscal emergency” is the precursor for having some form of executive body usurp power from elected legislative bodies. When the Buffalo Control Board, for example, was imposed, it was said local politicians needed “adult supervision” and an appointed body was needed to make the “hard decisions” the politicians would not. The Control Board was given complete control of the city budget along with all contracts, wages, hiring, firing and more. Similarly, the Michigan financial managers were also imposed in the name of “fiscal emergencies” and politicians who refused to make the “tough decisions.” These managers, appointed by the Governor, have broad powers to eliminate elected governance, sell off public assets, close schools and eliminate unions outright, impose contracts and more.
Now we have the same scenario playing out at the federal level, with Admiral Mullen saying the national debt is the “gravest crisis” facing the country and both Gates, Mullen and others saying “adult” leaders ready to “make decisions that are unpopular,” are needed.
The statements by Gates, Mullen and others, and the conference as a whole, are serious indications that the “lame duck” session of Congress will be utilized as a time to put in place an appointed body of “adults,” likely within the office of the president, to decide the budget. It may well be given powers similar to that of the Michigan financial managers, but for the country as a whole. It is a mechanism to usurp power from Congress and render it a legislative body that exists, but has no power. Or the president may act on the matter and seize those powers directly, as he has indicated, such as with his remarks about “going around Congress.” Either way, it is necessary to be vigilant. Obama himself brought out, “That leadership more than anything is about setting a course and describing a vision for people… Abraham Lincoln understood that we were a single union. And it took a bloody Civil War and terrible hardship and sacrifice to achieve that vision.”
The presidential election is shaping up as a contest to see which candidate is more likely to keep the vying factions in check while convincing the public that executive rule that “goes around Congress,” and eliminates its powers, is the way to go. Obama and the forces he represents are also hinting that short of such an arrangement, they just may turn the current “cold” civil war already in progress, as indicated by Congressional dysfunction, into a “hot” bloody one, as necessary to preserve the union. Gates and Mullen are indicating that some form of compromise can be done with the appointment of a committee of “adult leaders,” like themselves, that together with the president has power over the budget.