Don't Fence Me In: The Use of Force, Arms Control, and U.S. National Security
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142 FIVE­ Don’t Fence Me In The Use of Force, Arms Control, and U.S. National Security SenatorJohnKerry(D.-Mass.)stoodstiffly,buthiscondemnationofPresident George W. Bush was forthright. It was not simply that the Iraq invasion had been based on a false premise—­that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. It was that Bush had rushed to war without securing international support. Yes, ­ there ­ were times when a “preemptive strike” might be warranted, Kerry told Jim Lehrer, who was moderating the first presidential debate in Coral Gables, Florida, on September 30, 2004. “But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test . . . ​ and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.”1 Kerry’s choice of words would haunt him for the remainder of the campaign. Bush spotted the gaffe immediately. “I’m not exactly sure what you mean, ‘passes the global test,’ you take preemptive action if you pass a global test,” he wondered aloud. “My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American ­ people, that you act in order to make this country secure.” ­ Under his watch, the president implied, the United States would never ask for a permission slip from the United Nations to defend its vital national interests.2 Kerry walked back his answer in the ensuing days. “I ­ will never cede Amer­ i­ ca’s security to any institution or any other country,” Kerry reassured a New Hampshire audience. “No one gets a veto over our security. No one.” But the damage was done. Kerry had played into the Republican narrative that 05-3159-7_ch5.indd 142 9/11/17 1:08 PM ­Don’t Fence Me I 143 Demo­ crats ­ were squishy on national security—­ handing the Bush campaign a cudgel with which to beat him. Conservative media outlets pilloried Kerry as an out-­ of-­ touch internationalist willing to subordinate sovereign decisions to international bodies unaccountable to U.S. citizens and at odds with American interests and values.3 Bush pressed the attack at their second, town hall–­ style debate at Washington University in St. Louis, on October 8. “My opponent said that Amer­ i­ ca must pass a global test before we use force to protect ourselves,” he observed incredulously. “That’s the kind of mindset that said, ‘Let’s keep it at the United Nations and hope ­ things go well.’ ”  4 Bush’s assault distracted attention from other issues on which Kerry had hoped the public would focus—­ namely, the manipulation of intelligence about Iraqi WMD, the chaotic aftermath of the intervention, and the weakened U.S. diplomatic position. Within a month Bush had won reelection. Nearly eleven years ­ later, in the summer of 2015, another U.S. president, Barack Obama, perceived that a deal was within reach to dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program. ­ After years of negotiations, the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), along with the Eu­ ro­ pean Union and Germany, had secured the Islamic Republic’s agreement to a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The president’s biggest headache was no longer in Tehran but in Washington, where skeptical legislators hoped to block the deal. To thwart them, Obama went international, engineering the UNSC’s passage of Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA just a week­ after the agreement was struck. The president’s move outraged conservatives. “The President has maneuvered to box [U.S. legislators] in by having the United Nations approve it first,” the editors of the Wall Street Journal seethed. “Mr. Obama deliberately structured his Iran negotiations to make Congress a secondary party to the UN.”5 The president had already sidestepped the Senate’s advice and consent by fashioning the JCPOA as an executive agreement. Now he could depict any congressional obstruction as pitting the United States against the world. But what ­ really offended the Journal was Obama’s riding roughshod over U.S. sovereignty. “The bigger issue ­ here is self-­ government. The U.S. Constitution gives presidents enormous clout on foreign policy. . . . ​ But Mr. Obama­ doesn’t have authority to let the United Nations dictate to Amer­ i­ ca’s elected representatives.” Over at Investor’s Business Daily, the editorial verdict was the same. “Sovereignty: Few constitutional scholars thought it pos­ si­ ble for a president to give away unilaterally American representative government to an international body. The United Nations’ Iran vote just did...