Monday, September 17, 2012

Preserving, Protecting and Defending Our Constitution

It is ironic that we should observe the 225th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Constitution at this time.

I know some folks who think the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are one and the same. That simply isn't so. The Constitution was created in 1787 and ratified in 1788. The Bill of Rights wasn't even created until 1789. America was very much a work in progress at that time — as it still is.

The 225th is a milestone — even if it lacks the pizzazz of a centennial or bicentennial — which is always an occasion for reflection.

This particular milestone, however, is more than an occasion to pause and reflect on the past. It is an occasion to ask ourselves where we are going and if a Constitution that was written in the 18th century is the appropriate vehicle to take us there.

The Constitution is the document that spells out the powers and duties of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government.

And the president's #1 duty is ...
"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States ..."

U.S. Constitution
Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1

When the president takes the oath of office, he swears that he will "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution (which does not mention things like education, health care, marriage law, etc., being presidential responsibilities).

In other words, national security and defense are the president's top priorities. Some would say they are the president's only responsibilities. I don't feel that way. The president clearly has important domestic responsibilities as well, but he is the face of American foreign policy

However, it is Congress, not the president, that is authorized to declare war.

That condition has eroded considerably since about the mid–20th century.

And it leads me to wonder sometimes if the Constitution needs to be overhauled. I'm afraid, though, that, as polarized as this nation is, no consensus could be reached.

To listen to the presidential candidates this year — at least until recently — one would think that foreign policy no longer had any relevance to American life.

But the events last week in the Middle East prove that is not the case.

So it is a good thing that this Constitution Day brings a fresh reminder that, while a sound economic policy is critical to the well being of the United States, a president has a sacred commitment to the nation's security and defense.

Until last week, the most I had heard from either side regarding national security and defense was Joe Biden's proposal for a bumper sticker: "bin Laden is dead and GM is alive."

That kind of attitude demeans the importance of this portion of the presidential job description. To be sure, the economy and jobs are the most important issues facing this country, in the minds of most Americans, but that does not mean national security and defense have stopped being important.

What has happened — and continues to happen — in the Middle East underscores the fact that no president can control what people in other countries do. Jimmy Carter could not control the radical Muslims in Iran, and Barack Obama cannot control the radicals in Egypt or Libya or Syria.

The best any president can do is insist that U.S. troops be prepared. It is an ongoing responsibility. It cannot be checked off one's presidential to–do list simply by eliminating Public Enemy #1 from the global terrorism roster.

It's not so unusual for Democrats to ignore national defense issues, but it is rather unusual for Republicans to do so. Yet, that is what they did in their convention.

Voters can be forgiven for wondering if either candidate is prepared to stand up for them against a hostile world.

All along, the Obama administration has pretended — to its peril as well as the peril of the rest of us — that the situation in the Middle East was not what the rest of the world could see it really was.

Which goes a long way toward explaining the administration's tepid response to the wave of overt anti–Americanism that is sweeping through the region like a roaring fire.

The administration is perplexed. It sincerely believed that being apologetic and accommodating to the Muslim world would herald a new relationship between America and the countries of that region.

But that has not happened. And now the administration has been forced to acknowledge that privately — it cannot do so publicly because this is an election year.

So the cover story of an objectionable video was invented.

Actually, that's a reasonably plausible straw man, and it seems to be fooling quite a few people. We've already seen how little tolerance countries in that part of the world have for concepts like dissent and free speech, but some simply will not see it.

It seems to me that one would have to be a dunce not to realize the significance of the date on which these protests began. It was the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

Why, you may ask, didn't the terrorists try something on the 10th anniversary? Well, I would say it was not because they didn't hate us. They have hated us for a long time. I think the spotlight was too bright. Security was beefed up everywhere for that anniversary.

But, apparently, no one was really paying attention on the 11th anniversary. The rituals of every 9/11 since 2001 were observed, but I heard no talk of how U.S. forces were on highest alert for the anniversary.

Perhaps the extremists gambled that, since nothing happened in 2011, our guard would be down in 2012. We Americans are notorious for our short attention spans.

Surely, if nothing else, we have seen that these Muslim extremists are extraordinarily patient. After all, they waited nearly 10 years after their first attack on the World Trade Center to launch their second. Why wouldn't they be willing to wait out the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — with the intention of striking on the 11th?

I can't understand why any U.S. forces in the Middle East or any other place in the world where there is a significant Muslim population would not be on their toes on every September 11.

But this time, apparently, they were not. If they had been, four Americans would be alive today.

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