Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Juan Cole, US Intervention in Libya, and the Left's Constitutional Myopia

I'm amazed (and admittedly frustrated) that people like Juan Cole and Digby can so blithely ignore constitutional process in this country. I have already discussed Digby's startling disregard for constitutional process here. Today, Juan Cole has offered an "Open Letter to the Left" in which he lays out his support for the Libyan invasion, and includes a summary of how the Left has been split by the military action there. Nowhere in his synthesis does Cole observe the simple fact that the Libyan military action by US forces is an Article I violation and is in violation of the War Powers Act. Nowhere in his letter does he admit that this might be a basis--to any extent--for some on the Left to be critical of our role in the current conflict.

I perceive a double-standard at play here. We on the Left love constitutions. Everyone should have one. But we can't be bothered with our own. This view is illustrated to some extent by Cole, but it goes much wider than him. Cole's most recent posts covering North Africa and the Middle East have been loaded with references to a recurring, universal demand by populations throughout the region, namely new constitutions or substantially reformed constitutions and constitutional processes-- specifically:

"The Arab crowds are investing their hopes in a new era of parliamentarism, in elections and constitutions, in term limits and referendums, in the rule of law and the principle that governmental authority must derive from the people."
"Some 6000 protesters marched in Jordan on Friday. They said they wanted to transform the Jordanian monarchy into a European-style, constitutional monarchy and to return to an unamended 1952 constitution."
"Thousands came into the streets of Casablanca on Sunday to put pressure on the king to follow through on his pledges. But the crowds added another demand, of a new constitution to be approved by the people."
"Michael Hudson surveys the wreckage in Bahrain, where the Shiite majority had demanded constitutional reforms in aid of popular sovereignty from the Sunni monarchy, but got imported Saudi Wahhabi troops instead."

"The government has appointed respected jurist Tareq al-Bishri to head a committee charged with amending the 1973 constitution, which had been subject to large numbers of changes that benefited the ruling National Democratic Party. "

So Cole's own coverage of the "Arab Spring" is saturated with references to the clear, unambiguous popular demands for constitutional reforms and, importantly, reforms of constitutional process (parliamentarism). I am assuming that Cole and many on The Left approve of these popular demands, and agree with them. I certainly do. It appears that the people participating in the massive popular uprisings throughout the Arab world have realized that national constitutions and that the processes laid out within them have real, life-and-death impact. They realize something that many in the US may have forgotten-- that constitutions are neither quaint, nor unimportant, nor ceremonial. They are in fact absolutely critical.

Particularly critical here in the US. I hope most on The Left would agree that we have a war problem in this country. We get into them for the wrong reasons. We have too many of them. They have lasted too long. We also share the understanding that war presents a permanent, systemic and existential threat to republics of the type we currently live in. This has been well understood for a time longer than we have existed as a nation.

And yet in spite of all that, we've invaded yet another country in total violation of our own law. Those arguing in favor of our Libyan invasion should, at the very least, acknowledge that our presence there is not legal. They should also attempt to explain how any possible benefits from our involvement there can compensate us for the constitutional failure that has occurred here at home.

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