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December 28, 2014 12:43 pm

The U.S. President is Not Omnipotent

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

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The United States Senate.

White House and State Department officials contend that, irrespective of Congress, President Barack Obama can apply effective diplomatic, commercial and national security pressure and coerce Israel to partition Jerusalem and retreat from Judea and Samaria to the 9-15 mile-wide pre-1967 sliver, surrounded by the violently turbulent and unpredictable Arab street.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro recently voiced this inaccurate underestimation of the power of Congress — which has traditionally opposed pressure on Israel, echoing the sentiments of most constituents — saying, “What is unmistakable about our foreign policy system is that the Constitution provides the president with the largest share of power.”

The assertion that U.S. foreign policy and national security are shaped by presidential omnipotence can be refuted by the U.S. Constitution as well as recent precedents. The Constitution was created by the Founding Fathers, who were determined to limit the power of government and preclude the possibility of executive dictatorship. They were apprehensive of potential presidential excesses and encroachment, and therefore assigned the formulation of foreign policy and national security to both Congress and the president. Obviously, the coalescing of policy between 535 legislators constitutes a severe disadvantage for the legislature.

According to the Congressional Quarterly, the U.S. Constitution rectified the mistakes of its predecessor, the Articles of Confederation, upgrading the role of Congress to the primary branch of the U.S. government. “Hence, the first article of the Constitution is dedicated to Congress. The powers, structure, and procedures of the national legislature are outlined in considerable detail in the Constitution, unlike those of the presidency and the judiciary.”

Unlike all other Western democracies — where the executive branch of government dominates the legislature, especially in the area of international relations and defense — the U.S. Constitution laid the foundation for the world’s most powerful legislature, and for an inherent power struggle over the making of foreign policy between the legislature and the executive, two independent, co-equal and co-determining branches of government. Moreover, while the president is the commander in chief, presidential clout depends largely on congressional authorization and appropriation in a system of separation of powers and checks and balances, especially in the areas of sanctions, foreign aid, military assistance, trade agreements, treaty ratification, appointment confirmation and all spending.

Congressional power has been dramatically bolstered since the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair and globalization, which have enhanced the involvement of most legislators in international issues, upgraded the oversight capabilities of Congress, dramatically elevated the quality and quantity of some 15,000(!) Capitol Hill staffers and have restrained the presidency.

However, Congress has often abdicated its constitutional power in the area of foreign policy, failing to fully leverage the power of the purse: funding, defunding and “fencing.” Legislators prefer to focus on domestic issues, which represent their constituents’ primary concerns and therefore determine their re-electability. Hence, they usually allow the president to take the lead in the initiation and implementation of foreign and national security policies, unless the president abuses their trust, outrageously usurping power, violating the law, assuming an overly imperial posture, pursuing strikingly failed policies, or dramatically departing from national consensus (e.g., the deeply rooted, bipartisan commitment to the Jewish state). Then, Congress reveals impressive muscle as befits a legislature, which is the most authentic reflection of the American people, unrestrained by design, deriving its power from the constituent and not from party leadership or the president, true to the notion that “the president proposes, Congress disposes.”

For example:

  • On August 1, 2014, Democratic senators forced Obama to separate the $225 million funding of Iron Dome batteries from the highly controversial $2.7 billion immigration and border security bill.
  • Since 1982 the Senate has repeatedly refused to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and since 1999 it has rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  • The January 2013 defense authorization bill tightened restrictions on the transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo to the U.S. In May 2009, Majority Leader Harry Reid foiled Obama’s attempt to close down the detention camp.
  • On February 17, 2011, Obama reluctantly vetoed a U.N. Security Council condemnation of Israel’s settlement policy, due to bipartisan congressional pressure.
  • In September 2012, a $450 million cash transfer to the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt was blocked by Congress.
  • The 2012 budget cut into Obama’s foreign aid spending request by more than $8 billion.
  • In 2009, bipartisan congressional opposition prevented the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council.
  • In 1990-1992, Congress approved a series of amendments, expanding U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation to unprecedented levels despite presidential opposition.
  • In 1990, President George H. W. Bush failed in his attempt to cut Israel’s foreign aid by 5 percent due to congressional opposition.
  • In January 1975, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was signed into law, in defiance of the president.
  • Congress ended U.S. military involvement in Vietnam (the 1973 Eagleton, Cooper and Church Amendments), Angola (the 1976 Clark Amendment) and Nicaragua (the 1982-1984 Boland Amendments).
  • In 1991, Senator Daniel Inouye fended off administration pressure to withdraw an amendment to upgrade the port of Haifa facilities for the Sixth Fleet: “According to the U.S. Constitution, the legislature supervises the executive, not vice versa.”

Will the 114th Congress follow in his footsteps, or will it abdicate its constitutional responsibilities?

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • charlie johnson

    I have hopes for my country. I am not impressed with much of the gang we see that is available to replace the Royal Golfer.But I noticed one young Jewish guy who could upset the socialist apple cart.If he ran for president he would get my vote and I have not been inspired by many in the recent age.This young man has impressed me more than any other.I only saw a TV video of him with a CNN pervert who came from England to destroy the Constitution.He didn’t walk right over this kid.He would be my pick. Otherwise I won’t find much interest in scam elections.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • charlie johnson

    He does the most deplorable things to despise the majority of citizen with the media providing his propaganda to make him look like a leader of the people.When he comes up against serious resistance the media uses his skin color to clobber the citizen over the head with.

  • rulierose

    he’s not omnipotent, but he can do a lot of damage in his last two years–mostly because the MSM won’t call him on it. Obama could go on live TV and slaughter kittens and CNN would say “well, he was probably tired.”

    • Anne Baker

      What’s CNN…

  • Efram

    So far, the current congress has not been particularly effective in snubbing Obama’s anti-US and anti-Israel policies. An example is Obama’s holding back needed ammunition in the recent war against terror in Gaza. Congress can overcome it, and should overcome it.

    After the disastrous midterm elections, I hope that Democrats will finally see that goose stepping to Obama’s edicts are not popular, and will put their re-election attempts in jeopardy. Hopefully for this reason, since it cannot be based on human considerations, G-d forbid, congress will put a stop to all of Obama’s pro-terrorist policies, and remain solidly pro-Israel. Congress can isolate a virulently Jew hating president, and needs to do so.

    • Gene Schwimmer

      Obama’s attempt to hold back ammunition failed as soon as the press reported it and the public – and Congress – became aware of what Obama was trying to do.

      To take another, unrelated example, Congress could not prevent Obama from normalizing relations with Cuba. But it can refuse to confirm an ambassador, deny funding for an embassy and the trade embargo remains in effect until and unless Congress passes a law removing it.

  • Bernard

    Mu-Barak Obamah ?

  • The 114th Congress will most likely oppose any foreign policy initiatives detrimental to Israel, because Republicans control Congress on January 3, 2015. However, President Obama issued many Memoranda so far.
    And how future memoranda can be applied toward changing U.S. foreign policy requires thoughtful analysis.

  • charlie johnson

    I remember the Royal Golfer on his first world tour. He would bow to foreign Kings and leaders.By the act of bowing you are saying that your loyalty is placed in the person that you prostrate before. This is an insult to the thinking citizen of the USA. We elected to bow to no mortal human after we fought the war with the Royals of London.But this man represents himself because he thinks that we are his subjects.Golfers tend to think that way .

  • racy

    We have to grin and stall for the next two years. I don’t know if we the people can take it.

  • judithg

    obama is a psycopathic grifter. the american people are fully on to him. if it were constitutional to physically throw him out of the WH, he would be gone today. it is the job of congress to restrain the executive branch. we are looking forward to the new congress, who cannot get into DC soon enough.

  • Michael

    Jimmy Carter elected to the Presidency of the US in 1976, just 28 years after Israel became a state. In the 39 years since then, there has not been a President, Democrat or Republican nor a state department that has not come down hard on Israel to yield to the will of the US Executive branch of government. It has been congress and its exertion of pressure on the executive branch that has been a true friend to Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. Israel has been a strong partner with the US military and intelligence apparatus in saving countless American and Israeli lives.

    • charlie johnson

      Jimmy Carter was not such a big challenge.He would go to the bottom of the ship and poke holes and we could stop him. This liberal will sink us and we can’t complain. His skin is his greatest weapon.Even the good citizen who are black can’t complain. They are Uncle Toms according to the media.It is easier to do the damage than the repairs.He has about two years left to poke holes in the ship.

  • Scott

    The most Anti – American President in US history. He’s even passed Jimmy Carter in his abject incompetence.

    Hopefully the next Congress will finally put his feet to the fire.

    Israel can never leave Judaea and Samaria. It would be literall suicide.

    If we’re lucky, the next President will be a Republican and fire the career statists in the morally bankrupt Department of State……..



  • art

    Obama is without any political restraints for the next two years. He will do his best to impose the saudi plan divide Jerusalem and isolate Israel. He owes no loyalty to the Democratic party or hillary ( not that she is a friend) Jews better wake up.

  • Jerry Rosenberg

    As a veteran of Israel’s 1948 War of Independance,as a volunteer, I feel a right to comment. In 1948 The US
    as well as the rest of the world would not sell Israel a
    bullet. They knew full well 6 Arab Armies (fully equipped) would invade. They all did nothing. It is up
    Israel to decide what their National interests are. Through expierence we have learned what is necessary
    for our survival. The Arabs are trying to destroy us in
    any way they can.This is an one hundred year objective.
    Israel’s determination to thwart their dream, is the result of Israel policy. It is time for the present
    Congress to thwart the present White House helping
    the Arabs to achieve their despicable dream.

  • The Constitution was designed to preclude the possibility of executive dictatorship. Whether there are presently any representatives of We the People in Congress with sufficient backbone to prevent executive dictatorship through the exercise of Congress’s constitutional responsibilities remains to be seen.

  • In a pre-election speech to a large Jewish audience Obama stated that ” ..Jerusalem was the undivided capital of Israel..”, and the gullible Jews voted for him.
    Why do they not have the guts to play his words back to him in public.

  • steven L

    Is Dan Shapiro deceitful or a dangerous FOOL! 50% possibility that he is a crypto-antisemite.

  • rachel robinson

    askin’ (or in this case forcin’) ain’t gettin’. Obama can press Israel but Israel can refuse. He is not the one giving the orders to other countries, it is bad enough that he giving us We The People orders.

    • steven L

      U omit the possibility of deception. If the congress let it happen or if Israel does not challenge the fool and the Pr.!

    • RobiMac

      What’s worse than bad is ‘We The People’ sit back in our easy chairs and take it instead of revolting.

      • Amen to that. When are “We the People” going to take back the power our founding fathers gave us and put a stop to this madness.

    • Ron

      Despite the hype and the sycophancy of the main stream media, who regard Obama as a protected species and therefore can do no wrong, this president is an unmitigated disaster, and has demonstrated his contempt for Congress, the Constitution and We the People, from day one of taking office. He does not “have Israel’s back”, on the contrary he has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and the politically correct “Religion of Peace” myth. He is drunk on power and believes he can do whatever he wants. Whilst in office he is able to control the investigation and exposure of all the scandals he has become synonymous with – in particular his forged ID documents and Benghazi. It remains to be seen if, like Robert Maxwell, his misdeeds in public office will be exposed once he no longer has control of the administration.

      • Nathan

        Obama’s basic problem is that he was abandoned as a child by both of his parents. Psychologists tell us that a child, especially a boy, who is abandoned by one parent goes on to crave power and learns to manipulate people to that end. Obama epitomizes this reality.

        Obama has contempt for Congress, the Constitution, and especially the American people because he was able to fool us into electing him. He knows that Congress can’t go after him no matter what he does because he can blame “racism” and the MSM will back him up.

        The real question we need to think about is whether he will leave the White House on Jan 20, 2017. Ceasing to be president, and losing all that power, will be psychologically traumatic, and that’s before any serious successor gets to work reversing everything he has done.

        There is thus reason to be concerned that he has no intention of leaving, and indeed there are at least two mechanisms in the works that might enable him to stay by abbrogating the Constitution. Both involve declaring martial law, perhaps to prevent the 2016 elections (such a plan may be why he appears to have no interest in what might happen then). One mechanism is to enable the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons, and having them set one off in the US during the coming two years. The other is to instigate a shooting war between the IDF and American forces, for purposes of fomenting pogroms in American cities. In either case, he would respond by declaring martial law. If done during the 2016 elections, that would be accompanied by canceling the election, making him “President for Life”.