It’s Good to Be The King

President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech has been praised by a number of people I admire. I wish I could agree with them. In fact, even apart from the “War is Peace” elements inherent in a man accepting the Nobel Peace Prize immediately after escalating one of the three wars he is waging, I thought the speech was insidious and appalling.

The speech is fulsome in its praise of the law, and in its call that nations that break the law be punished. “Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted,” for example. So far, so good. But then Obama says this:

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.

This paragraph is pleasant on the surface, and poisonous underneath. Obama has no more power to prohibit torture than Bush had to permit it. Torture is illegal in America. The law, not the president, is what prohibits torture. What would you make of it if the president said, “That is why I prohibited murder. That is why I prohibited rape. That is why I prohibited embezzlement, and mail fraud, and tax evasion.” And the point applies equally to Obama’s order to close Guantanamo (which, in any event, is nothing more than classic Obama sleight of hand) and his reaffirmation of the Geneva Conventions.

In America, the president doesn’t make the law, nor does he rescind it. The president executes the law — which is why Article 2 of the Constitution is called “The Executive Branch.” Presidents who make and rescind laws at will are more commonly known as kings.

While we’re on the subject of the Constitution, that increasingly quaint document, former Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Obama also said this: “But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation…”. There is no such oath in the Constitution. Rather, Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution provides that the president will take the following oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

See if you can spot the difference between the oath Obama now says he took and the one he actually took. President Bush and Vice President Cheney didn’t know the difference, either. That, or one or more of these men knows better, but finds distorting the nature of his oath politically expedient.

I suppose Obama felt there was no way around his speech’s non-sequitur theme of “We must uphold the law, so I prohibited torture.” Because he refuses to prosecute torture (the insane bromide “we have to look forward, not backward” is the real Obama Doctrine), he can’t acknowledge torture is a crime. If it’s not a crime, it must be just a policy difference. And, indeed, the implication of Obama’s benevolent prohibition on torture and refusal to prosecute it is that a less enlightened future president might re-implement the “policy” of torture as easily as Obama rescinded it.

It’s good to be the king.