American people of every political persuasion routinely complain, and quite often rightly so, of the shenanigans that go on in Washington, D.C. But every once in awhile, a legislator will do something that I think would make our Founders do a “Happy Dance,” and our own Senator Jeff Sessions recently did just that. He is considered to be one of the best legislators in America, and as an Alabamian, he made me proud.
Before I tell the tale, I would like to say that in the couple of times I have had a chance to speak with Senator Sessions, he has always come across as a true elder statesman. He speaks quietly, and has a sense of humor that I am sure has helped to keep him sane all these years. His eyes twinkle, but they also take no prisoners. If you are on the end of his gaze, you jolly well had better be telling the truth and know what you are talking about. Just ask Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
Panetta was being questioned by the Armed Services Committee about the possibility of the U.S. getting involved militarily in Syria. If we do, and I pray we do not, there is the minor detail that, according to the Constitution, Congress must approve before we do anything, if we go it alone, or with an international coalition. It appears that Sec Def wanted to waltz around that constraint, and the Senator, thankfully, would just not have it. Panetta actually attempted to posit that it is the international community that provides what he called our “legal basis” for declaring war, and thank God Jeff wouldn’t dance. The conversation went like this:
SESSIONS: “Do you think you can act without Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria without congressional approval?”
PANETTA: You know, again — our goal would be to seek international permission. And we would — we would come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this, whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress. I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.
SESSIONS: Well I am almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is, “We’re going to seek international approval and we’ll come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval.”… Wouldn’t you agree that would be pretty breathtaking to the average American?
PANETTA: If we are working with an international coalition or NATO we would want to be able to get appropriate permissions in order to be able to do that. All of these countries would want to have some kind of legal basis on which to act.
SESSIONS: What “legal basis” are you looking for? What entity?
PANETTA: If NATO made the decision to go in, that would be one. If we developed an international coalition beyond NATO then obviously some kind of U.N. security resolution would be the basis for that.
SESSIONS: So you are saying NATO would give you a “legal basis”? And an ad hoc coalition of nations would provide a “legal basis”?
PANETTA: We would seek whatever legal basis we would need in order to make that justified. We can’t just pull them all together without getting the legal basis on which to act.
Newsflash, Mr. Sec Def, there is only one “legal basis.” It is not NATO, it is not the UN or its Charter. It is the Constitution of the United States of America, which you are supposed to be upholding and protecting. And as for Senator Sessions’ use of the word “breathless,” in my view it was masterful. Thank God it was someone from our fair state who in quiet, elegant command demonstrated true leadership, something that should make us do our own “Happy Dance.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner