Executive Powers of US President, Paris Agreement, Which Candidate for President

Executive Powers of the US President

I have previously mentioned the report that, following his agreement with Chinese President XI on controlling emissions, Obama had claimed that the US has ratified the Paris Agreement. The latest weekly letter from the US sceptic group (Science & Environmental Project) reports that a White House adviser has claimed that it need not go to the US Senate for ratification by two-thirds of the Senate. He asserts that “With respect to the legal form of the agreement, the United States has a long and well-established process for approving executive agreements, that is, a legal form which is distinct from treaties, which are approved through the advice and consent process in the Senate.” My inquiry of SEPP as to the possibility of this being taken to court produced the response that, while this is likely to happen, the stacking of courts by Obama is likely to mean it would take several years before any review by the US Supreme Court. SEPP notes that Obama boasts that the Paris Agreement is the most ambitious climate agreement in history.

An example of an executive agreement is the March 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. But SEPP advises that it has been unable to find any record that the deal has been submitted to Congress for approval, even though theUS administration is acting as if it had been approved, including theastonishinghanding over of $US1bnin cash to Iran. SEPP notes that the implication is that the present administration believes it has the power to make binding treaties when it wishes and ignore Congress and the Constitution as trivia. SEPP advises that, as far as it is aware, there is no movement to challenge legally the agreement with Iran.

With Obama about to address the UN General Assembly, we can expect “legacy” claims which are likely to include climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran. However, on climate change we know that, aside from the fact that it is not legal technically in the US and can be changed by the next President, the Paris agreement to reduce emissions is voluntary and varies from country to country. In effect, the so-called agreement is no more than that each country agrees that temperatures must be prevented from increasing by more than 2 degrees by 2100 – but it does not say by how much emissions must be reduced. Australia, which is a tiny emitter, has said it will effect one of the largest reduction in its emissions (26-28%  by 2030) but that is 14 years and possibly 6 elections away.  With the increasing scepticism about the so-called science (including in Australia) , and the absence in particular of any relationship between temperature and emissions changes, the chance is small of even achieving a reduction in emissions which “experts” regard as sufficient. The latest (public) sceptic is former French President Sarkozy, a major contender for the next Presidency, and Trump is also a sceptic. Hence, while Obama has helped achieve an agreement on climate change, it is not clear what practical effect that will have on reducing emissions. The parties to the agreement are supposed to meet every five yearsand in the meantime Australia would be best advised to as far as possible minimise the rate at which emissions are reduced and additional costs are avoided.

Choosing Who Should be President

Obama’s claim about achieving an agreement with Iran to prevent it acquiring a nuclear capability appears similarly unsustainable. While there is no definitive evidence that Iran is breaking the agreement, other indicators suggest that it may well be.  Robert Gates, who served in a senior defence/intelligence role under 8 Presidents and has written a comprehensive assessment about the range and seriousness of the issues facing the next President (see article from The Australian  Gates on Clinton, Trump”), points out that “the deal has led to no decrease in Iran’s aggressive meddling in the Middle East nor any lessening of its hostility to the US”. And an article in the Wall St Journal (seeObama’s Foreign Policies) suggests that, while Obama had hoped to meet President Hasan Rowhani and even visit Tehran, “the Iranians have rebuffed US overtures  and this week Obama and Rowhani won’t even be in New York for the General Assembly at the same time”. Whatever, the agreement does not seem to be something for Obama to celebrate as a legacy. Note also that Gates says that Clinton has offered no inkling of her views on Iran for about a year.

Gates’s article is relevant when considering which candidateto favour in the upcoming Presidential election. He has written a comprehensive assessment about the range and seriousness of the issues facing the next President and indeed on those also facing Australia and other western countries. The article is well worth reading and absorbing. Based on comments by the two candidates so far during the campaign, Gates expresses concern about whether either candidate has the capacity to handlethose issues, but he concludes that Trump is “stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to leading our men and women in uniform”.

In assessing this statement account needs to be taken of the fact that Gates served for three years as Secretary of Defence under Obama and is reputed to have had  a close (working) relationship with Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Note also that in the article he, surprisingly, makes no criticism of Obama but suggests that the approach of the two candidates in regard to ISIS “in essence sounds like what Obama is doing now”. But that is not the case.

In an interview on Fox News in June Trump made what seems to be his usual unrealistic, top of the head statement that “I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth. Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil, they have nothing. You bomb the hell out of them, and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in. Once you take that oil, they have nothing left.” He continued: “I would hit them so hard. I would find you a proper general, I would find the Patton or MacArthur. I would hit them so hard your head would spin.” While he refused to say whether he’d send American ground troops into Syria – “I don’t want them to know the game plan” – his approach is radically different to that adopted by Obama and Clinton, both of whom have a policy of no ground troops (in fact, according to Gates, Clinton has said “never again”).

It is unlikely that if Trump won the election (the latest polling shows about “even stevens”) he could or would do what he has said about tackling extremist Islam in the Middle East. But his approach to dealing with this serious problem would almost certainly be markedly different to that taken by Obama and, it appears, by Clinton. In that respect he appeals to many Americans who feel that Obama’s handling of the Islamic problem has let America down and that Clinton would do the same. By way of example, an article published on 15 September by a US think-tank, Middle East Forum, quotes even a CIA adviser on Osama bin Laden as having provided totally misleading advice on the reasoning behind extremists and how they should be handled. The author of the article also quotes Clinton as saying  that it’s important to be “showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible, empathize and with their grievances” (see http://www.meforum.org/6293/how-us-intelligence-failures-led-to-isis).

A day or so ago Turnbull wisely refused to publicly express an opinion about either candidate. Much as I suspect he would support Clinton, it is in Australia’s interests that we remain neutral but prepare for the possibility that Trump wins.  As previously mentioned, Turnbull also seems to have improved his approach to our alliance with the US: once he got to New York he indicated that it is a key component of our foreign policy.

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