Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency

Corporeality IX: Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency


Howard Adelman

Tomorrow, President’s Day, is on Monday, the 15th of February this year. George Washington’s birthday is on the 22nd of February. In fact, the holiday, for almost fifty years has been celebrated on the third Thursday of February to accommodate a public enamored with long weekends and retail outlets in love with scheduling great sales on such days. This year, President’s Day falls only two days after Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on the 13th of February. Anticipating such a fluctuation when the holiday was set for the third Monday in February, the day was renamed President’s Day from Washington’s birthday to celebrate both presidents. In reality, the day is now widely understood as celebrating the Office of the President and all its occupants rather than just one or two presidents.

President’s Day is now more akin to Victoria Day except that, in Canada, the day that used to be celebrated just as Queen Victoria’s birthday is now celebrated as the birthday of the current monarch as well, even though Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday falls on 21 April. The shift of one celebration to honouring the Office (U.S.) to the practice in Canada of celebrating the current monarch is telling. In Canada, the monarch is supposed to be a symbol of unity, but has become the symbol of Canada’s political fault line. The day that was once known in Quebec as Fête de la Reine became unofficially Fête de Dollard after the Quiet Revolution in the sixties and in 2003 officially became National Patriot’s Day. Our focus, however, is the United States presidency and the Canadian example will be used only as a foil.

So it is appropriate at this time to write about the nature of the office of the U.S. President and its current occupant. It is not as if all the occupants are worthy of celebration. I cite just one example, George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor in that high office. He ranks among the worst presidents in American history. Hence, the understanding is that President’s Day honours the high office much more than all its occupants. In contrast, there are no celebrations of the birthdays of any Prime Minister of Canada or the office. One of the essential features of the American presidential office, as distinct from the Canadian Prime Minister’s office, is that the person who is president is both the political leader of the U.S.A. as well as Commander-in-Chief of the American armed forces. Two positions are embodied in one person. In America, we find the dilemma of the elected king’s two opposite functions. The issue in the U.S. throughout its history has been whether those two powers are separable or inseparable in the one person, and, if separable, which part rules the other. If it is the civilian part, how is control over the military role exercised or, surprisingly since unanticipated, a coup of the military by civilians prevented?

The George W. Bush presidency can correctly be viewed as the embodiment of the doctrine both of the indivisibility of the office of the U.S. President and the infallibility of the actions performed by that office when it comes to military matters when indivisibility becomes the order of the day. The President can do no wrong. Ironically, this doctrine was enunciated at a time when George W. Bush delegated all his Commander-in-Chief responsibilities to a small coterie of officials around him. He never engaged in any substantive discussions of military policy himself. Robert Blackwill, for example, who was the coordinator for strategic planning for Iraq in the National Security Council in 2004, was never asked anything about Iraq even as he traveled with Bush daily in the 2004 elections. The exclusive focus was re-election. Further, as everyone who has written on the subject acknowledges, advisory meetings of top officials were exercises in silent hostility – whether between Richard Armitage and Doug Feith or Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. There were presentations but no substantive exchanges or discussions about policy decisions, thereby allowing Dick Cheney to determine policy by his control of the President. Condoleezza Rice tried but failed to facilitate such debates. George W. Bush was a Commander-in-Chief, but without the dignity such an office should have as he dithered and shook his legs up and down under the table in recognition that he was involved in discussions over and above his mental capacities.

Dick Cheney is usually viewed as the Rasputin influencing, exercising and, most importantly, defending that doctrine of presidential power. Not for George W. Bush, but for himself. George W. Bush is often, and, I believe, correctly seen as Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist dummy for Dick Cheney, Bush’s Edgar Bergen when it comes to foreign affairs. After all, George W. Bush consulted with only two officials before deciding o go to war in Iraq. Neither Dick Cheney nor Donald Rumsfeld were military officers, but policy advisers determined to use the military for their own political purposes. This was a case of the civilians seizing absolute control of the military for strictly political purposes.

David Graham in an article in The Atlantic (5 November 2015) reinforces this interpretation based on his interview with former President George H.W. Bush in anticipation of the latter’s forthcoming biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. The elder 91-year-old former President, George H.W. Bush, criticized the dominating Dick Cheney and the arrogant Ronald Rumsfeld for entrapping his son in initiating a foolish war for their own nefarious purposes. He referred to Cheney as, “Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East,” to advance their own imperial agenda.

Cheney’s belief in the untrammelled power of the Commander-in-Chief went back to his days as George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defence. In the 1990 lead-up to the first Gulf War, President Bush overruled Cheney’s advice that the administration should go to war without Senate approval, not because the approval was in doubt, but because Cheney was committed to the doctrine of the indivisible and absolute power in matters of war of the Commander-in-Chief. Bush père criticized his son for being a patsy in the hands of those two manipulators. Over time, but too late, Bush-son became disenchanted, first with Rumsfeld and then even with Cheney. After the Republicans were whipped badly in the 2006 elections, Bush fired Rumsfeld. He also gradually became sceptical of the advice he was receiving from his Rasputin.

The exercise of supreme and unchallenged authority, ostensibly by the President, but, in reality, by Cheney, extended into legal matters as well as military ones. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (the JAGs) operates a court system dealing with civil litigation, tort claims, labour law, the application of just war principles and international law, but Cheney was primarily concerned with suborning the Judge Advocates, the licensed attorneys representing military service personnel. The dictates of civilian lawyers in the Defense Department, who are political appointees more than individuals with high standards of professionalism, were to determine what JAGs could or could not do. This was another area in which there was an effort to make the rulings of the Commander-in-Chief unaccountable to the rule of law.  But the most heinous example was the rules for interrogating captured alleged terrorists and not permitting them to have independent counsel.

Obama’s presidency can be viewed as the embodiment of the doctrine both of the divisibility of the office of the U.S. President and the fallibility of the actions performed by that office.

The American Constitution insists that the highest military authority belongs to the highest civilian authority; the President is the First Admiral, the First Chief-of-Staff and Commander of the Air Force. David Luban called this “fused dominion” characteristic not only of the American presidential system, but of warlords and military dictators, ancient hero-rulers and feudal Western kings. In the fusion, could the Commander-in-Chief suborn the civilian head of state or would the civilian head of state ensure that the military remained subordinate to civilian rule as the writers of the Constitution intended? If he did the latter, could he interpret that principle of domestic rule over the military from a supervisory role and ensuring military actions were governed by civilian-set goals? Or could and would he, in effect, engage in a military coup, not of the military over civilian office, but of civilians over military professionals by seizing absolute control over the military unaccountable to any other political institution?

In Jay Bybee’s torture memo, under the George W. Bush administration, the indivisibility of the office is cited to justify the presidential exercise of untrammeled power in the area of security matters. “The Framers understood the Clause as investing the President with the fullest range of power understood at the time of the ratification of the Constitution as belonging to the military commander.” What I call the indivisibility of the highest office, David Luvan calls the interpretation, as forged by the Bush administration, the consolidationist theory as distinct from separationist doctrine. The consolidationist view is summarized in the briefing of the Justice Department Lawyer to Congress, “The President Is Always Right,” what I call the indivisibility doctrine is upheld. In this interpretation of Article 2 of the Constitution, in the global war on terror, Congress cannot second guess the President. The President is entitled to use any form of interrogation for enemy combatants deemed appropriate without Congressional oversight.

So Abu Ghraib is not just about the rights of enemy combatants in captivity; the issue goes to the very heart of the meaning of the American Constitution. In the consolidationist view, courts that generally oversee the protection of such rights must also defer to the Presidency because courts lack the requisite competence of the Commander-in-Chief and cannot and should not tie the hands of the President, even by applying a criterion forbidding “cruel and unusual punishment.” More expansively, that doctrine invades limitations on the courts even in domestic matters, for the doctrine includes an absence of geographical limits to its application since global terrorists can be found within America itself. (Cf. Padilla v. Bush) In this interpretation of the battlefield, the military, not the judiciary, determine the status of the individual as an enemy combatant. In other words, using the indivisibility principle, qua Commander-in-Chief, the powers of the President in military matters were unlimited.

Barack Obama, a former Professor of Constitutional Law, opposed the indivisibility principle for interpreting the powers of the President. Though both powers were consolidated in a single person, the doctrine of separation of powers still applied and the responsibilities of a President as the highest civilian authority in the land entailed that civilian responsibilities, and responsibilities to the democratic polity, overrode any of his military responsibilities. Though I certainly support Obama’s interpretation, it is not as a legal scholar, but as a philosopher. However, my interest here is not even defending the divisibility and separation of powers doctrine, as much as indicating that this is an issue in contention in the United States because historically the Americans copied British developments at the time where the king was both head of government and Commander-in-Chief. It would trap Obama in a paradox from which he could not escape. (Read tomorrow’s blog.) In Canada, where the system was forged a hundred years later, the divisibility of military and civilian power became the dominant conception without any equivocation.

No matter which position one takes in the United States, given the consolidation of powers in the same office, there will always be an inherent debate on the “broad substantive war powers” conferred on the President, a virtually non-exiting debate in Canada. Why in the U.S. does Barack Obama personally decide who will be the target of drone assassinations? Is this an exercise in machismo? If it were, then Obama would be directly undercutting his belief in the divisibility of powers and the subordination of military to civilian authority in the Office of the President. From my review of the literature, I am convinced that Obama does it, not to usurp the skills and prowess of the military in selecting targets, but because of the danger of the military exceeding their areas of competence and using their resources to eliminate political leaders with serious political consequences internationally. The separation of military and civilian decisions even extends to the battlefield and the requisite just war norm that civilians are not to be targeted intentionally and only may be unintentionally killed in proportion to the importance of the military target. However, as another unintended consequence, such a premise relies on making the CIA another branch of the military.

When it is unequivocal that a Canadian Prime Minister is not the Commander-in-Chief, the rule of civilian authority over military power is unambiguous. But when the two functions reside in the same one body, even when the President wants to reinforce the principle of the divisibility of powers and the supremacy of civilian over military rule, he is trapped by his responsibilities and has to stay up late deciding whether it is appropriate to target this person or that person with a drone strike. He becomes the number one assassin on the world stage. It is almost as if an American who becomes President cannot avoid becoming an imperial President to some degree.


With the Help of Alex Zisman

The Mishkan and the Magpies

The Mishkan and the Magpies: Terumah: Exodus 25.1 – 27:19


Howard Adelman

For a section of the Torah that is almost all about following directions, directions for constructing the Ark for the covenant, the table, the menorah, the portable tabernacle (the mishkan), the altar, the enclosure for the tabernacle itself, after reading this section of the Torah why am I left so puzzled? It is not as if I am unfamiliar with translating design ideas, even ones not represented with detailed architectural drawings, into actual physical objects – at least overseeing that function since I have virtually no abilities as a craftsman. I may be a philosopher, but ever since my days as a student acquiring and renovating houses as residences for students for our student co-op, I have literally overseen the renovations of dozens of buildings. I love doing it. People hate renovating their own homes. For me it has been a delight. So why do I get exasperated by a section of Torah that is, on the surface at least, about architecture and design?

It is not as if this text is strange. It is so familiar. Have you ever been in a synagogue where you have not seen inscribed somewhere the words engraved in stone or on a plaque or somewhere:

“And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

Rashi genuinely tried to offer an explanation. The texts as inscribed are out of chronological order. The story of the Israelites making and worshipping a golden calf, an idol to worship, may follow this text in the Torah, but the events depicted preceded the building of the mishkan. God could not continue to dwell on a mountain top like Zeus or other gods. He had to descend to live among his people so the people could bask in His presence and He could ensure they did not slip into idolatry.

Thus, even though Rashi was an advocate of taking the plain meaning of the text as primary, he was no literalist. He knew that humans at the very least, not God, put the Torah together. Building a sanctuary for the sake of the Israelites so God could live amongst them did not stack up as an adequate motive. For then they make a golden calf just when God is living among them. Talk about chutzpah! Getting them to make a mishkan with the gold and silver and fine fabrics from among all the other loot the Israelites brought out of Egypt after the Israelites built the golden calf makes more sense since it takes these riches out of their possession so they cannot build another idol. And that is something God would do for He was a jealous God.

Very inventive, but not persuasive as far as I am concerned! The evidence is circumstantial rather than providing concrete literal clues to establish that the two stories were put together out of order. What would be the motive for the editor doing such a thing? Besides, the existing order makes a lot of sense on psychological grounds. When God dwelt on a mountain top, the people were full of awe and wonder. But when He deigned to live among the people, that sense of tremendous respect withered away and the Israelites could turn away from Him and adopt idol worship.

If jealousy, early warning and prevention are not adequate as motives, what could qualify? The text seems very clear – “that I may dwell amongst you.” That just begs another question, however. Why? Why does God want to dwell among His people? To be able to watch over the Israelites to observe any transgressions? At the opposite end, to share in the vibes of a growing community with a common purpose, doubly important for a disembodied being who has to live vicariously through the crazy lives of human beings? Or perhaps, somewhat related to the last, because God is lonely way up high upon the mountain top and He wants to live amongst His people, not above them. These are just some of the possibilities.

Let me suggest why it is difficult to discern the real motive or motives. One explanation the text offers is, “That they may know that I am the Lord their God Who brought them out of the land of Egypt,” (29:46) suggesting that the point of living among them is that the Israelites not forget, and, indeed, come to know the living God who dwells in their midst. But the text continues, “that I might dwell in their midst.” (my italics) This possibly inverts the meaning to mean that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt to allow God to live in their midst. Is the purpose for the Israelites to know their God or for God to have a home among his people? Rashi emphasized the latter – the Israelites were brought forth out of Egypt so God could live among them (and could not in Egypt). Ramban leans towards the former interpretation that the Israelites will know God when He lives amongst them.

The two meanings need not, of course, be mutually exclusive. God may deeply need to leave His remote and lonely refuge and “come in from the cold.” The mishkan is the place where He can dwell both among them but separate from them. But the people of Israel also need God to be in their midst both physically in terms of a dwelling place and spiritually. God also has a deep need for physicality, for corporeality, a need which can never be satisfied if you are a Jew, for God manifesting Himself as a physical being would stand against the injunction not to make physical objects idols of worship. God needs a physical presence. The Israelites need God as a spiritual presence in a physical abode. But God inherently cannot be physical. So a mishkan is built to overcome the paradox, a place where God can dwell and be present, but not personally physically present. The motives of God and his people are complementary and fulfilled by the same construction. The two needs, both of God’s and of the Israelites, can be mutually satisfied.

But then why all the luxury? Why gold this and silver that and cloth made of goat’s hair? Look at the list: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other gemstones. Can you imagine a horde of refugees in a camp in a barren wilderness being invited to give gifts of gold and precious stones to build a home for God? For they were all refugees, including God. When the people of Israel were living in Egypt, God too was in exile as well since their destinies were mutually bound together. The exodus from Egypt is a redemption for both. But why the need for a sanctuary to serve both humans and God? And why such a luxurious building when it is presumably only a temporary structure, a portable small home in today’s parlance? But a rich one! How is luxury related to sanctifying both ourselves and God?

I could pull a Bernie Saunders. It was a way of reducing inequality. Take from the rich and build infrastructure for the whole community. Except there was no taking.  Verse 2 at the beginning of the parsha reads: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” The only gifts acceptable were gifts brought voluntarily. The giver had to have his heart moved to offer a donation. But that is no obstacle to the explanation. The method of obtaining redistribution need not be compulsory. Charitable giving is an effective mode of redistribution.

Why remove the wealth from the rich who were lucky enough to leave Egypt either with much of their own wealth and/or wealth stolen from the Egyptians? Because the Israelites were all in this together. It was a collective action problem. Too much inequality undercuts the morale needed for dealing with issues as a collectivity. Second, the mishkan could serve as a central bank, much as Fort Knox once did. It could guarantee the tokens of exchange when the Israelites engaged in trade with the other tribes and nations they encountered.

But the best explanation I ever heard was from an old British folktale “A Tiding of Magpies,” birds with a well-renowned and deserved reputation for collecting bright ornaments, but also one of the most intelligent animals in the world, the only non-mammal species able to recognize itself in a mirror test. It also helps to know another folktale, this time a Chinese one called The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, a love story between Zhinü, the weaver girl, and Niulang, the cowherd. Their love was forbidden. To prevent them getting back together, they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (the Milky Way). But once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a tiding (flock) of magpies formed a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day. The 7th lunar month in the Torah is Tishrei (Ethanim) according to Kings 8:2 and the Israelite rather than the Judaic calendar. Rosh Hashanah is the first day of Tishrei. The seventh day of Tishrei is the end of the first week after Rosh Hashanah. So once a year on the 7th of Tishrei counting from Rosh Hashanah, Zhinü and Niulang are reunited with the help of magpies.

Read only vertically at first. The first eight lines of the tiding of this old British folktale reads as follows in the first column:

A Tiding of Magpies

One for sorrow                        the sorrow of leaving Egypt and the trek through the desert

Two for Joy                             in the promised land that beckons

Three for a girl                        all refugees sacrifice themselves for the sake of

Four for a boy                                     future generations

Five for silver                          the means to achieve

Six for gold                             two, three and four above

Seven is for the secret

That never can be told.


With the help of Alex Zisman


Justin Trudeau is not the Commander-in-Chief

Corporeality VIII: An Undivided Prime Minister and the Division of Powers


Howard Adelman

David Bercuson, a noted military historian at the University of Calgary and Director of its Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, is also the Director of Programs of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute also based in Calgary. He wrote an op-ed two days ago in The Globe and Mail entitled, “Remind us, why are we pulling out of the IS mission?

The op-ed began, “The Trudeau government announced its intention to withdraw from direct combat against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (the CF-18 bombing campaign) just two days after a major national poll revealed a majority of Canadians still support that very mission. To be sure, Canada’s efforts against IS will continue – we will train more anti-IS troops, we will provide more humanitarian aid, we will help our coalition partners with aircraft that can refuel their fighter jets and point them in the direction they need to kill IS and to destroy its governance and logistical centres, but we won’t be shooting IS ourselves. That’s not what Canadians want and the action taken by this government begs explanation from the Prime Minister himself.”

Not likely, at least in terms of an acceptable explanation. Instead others will have to provide one. Bercuson offers a sarcastic critical one, suggesting that the decision “possibly stems from his juvenile comment almost a year ago that his predecessor wanted to ‘whip out his CF-18s’ to meet the crisis, and nothing more. Unless that is, the Prime Minister himself is a pacifist…” There is a bit of insight in that off-the-cuff remark and even more in the book by the Canadian military historian who wrote, Canada’s Soldiers: The Military History of an Unmilitary People. We live in a peaceable kingdom but, as Bercuson says, when our soldiers “believe great evil is loose, directed against them or their allies (9/11 and IS), they do not shy away.” So why is Trudeau backing out of the air war, leaving behind refueling and guidance aircraft and reinforcing the training mission?

I have no inside knowledge, but I offer the following explanation. But first a brief review of the powers assigned to the Prime Minister for making (or not making) war. No matter which position one takes in the United States, given the consolidation of powers in the same office of both civilian leader and Commander-in-Chief, there will always be an inherent debate on the “broad substantive war powers’ conferred on the President, a virtually non-exiting debate in Canada. Canadians do not have that discussion because, in Canada, the armed forces are “Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.” David Johnson, the current Governor General, is authorized to exercise the powers and responsibilities belonging to the sovereign. He has been bestowed with the title, Commander-in-Chief, though the title has varied depending on how the armed forces have been organized.

Thus, all executive power as Commander-in-Chief is legally reposed in the Canadian sovereign. The only constitutional means by which decisions are made to declare war and who can command the deployment and disposition of the Canadian Armed Forces is the Commander-in-Chief. However, Canada has a system of responsible government. Declarations of war are issued with the approval, and in the name, of the Governor General on the advice of the federal cabinet. Further, formally, the Governor General appoints the Chief of the Defence Staff and distributes awards and honours.

There is almost no possibility constitutionally of the civilian head of the military, as commander-in-chief, that is, of the Governor General, engaging in overstretch. The GG’s functions are only formal. The resort to the use of the military is inherently a last resort by civilian authorities, making the danger of applying militarist principles to civilian life highly unlikely, but not altogether impossible as we shall see. The Prime Minister by definition is a Moses not an Aaron. He is exclusively a civilian political leader. Americans have to continually fight and argue to ensure that the President acts only in a supervisory way over the military and does not exceed his powers as Commander-in-Chief.

Military adventurism and a military coup are remote possibilities in Canada. However, the use of military measures in domestic politics has not been. This was evidenced when Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, while he was Prime Minister, invoked the perfectly appropriately titled “War Measures Act” to round up and imprison 500 or so Canadian citizens when homegrown separatist terrorists in the FLQ kidnapped and killed a provincial minister. They were arrested under the principle of état de siège fictif (a constructed state of siege).

Emergency degrees exist in the vast majority of democratic constitutions and a great deal of ink has been spilled on defining a state of exception. However, in the FLQ crisis, even the most fundamental premise of democratic government was suspended, namely Habeas Corpus. Further, it was done for the flimsiest of security reasons when there was absolutely no danger to the security of the state. Of course, coups take place in times of tumult, but replacing the fundamentals of domestic law should be reserved, if it takes place ever, only for a truly very extreme state of emergency, only then should the possibility of the suspension of the normal prevalence of civilian legal norms and invoking martial law be considered. As it were, in this case, the War Measures Act was invoked less for any “military” reasons to counteract a perceived threat than as a political maneuver to allow separatists to be branded as potential terrorists. This was the symbolic importance of invoking the War Measures Act, not civilian protection from a physical threat, but rather the political threat of separatism.

On 13 October 1970, just before Justin was born, and after Pierre Laporte’s’ body was found, that supposedly powerful proponent of civil liberties, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau promised drastic action. Three days after answering a reporter’s question of what he was going to do and, in response, replied, “Just watch me,” Trudeau delivered much more than drastic action; with the support of 87% of Canadians, he introduced the most extreme draconian curtailment of civil liberties in the history of Canada. (Cf. Larry Zolf (1984) Just Watch Me: Remembering Pierre Trudeau and the second volume of John English’s biography, Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1968-2000.)

When Justin Trudeau recycled the phrase in his campaign against Stephen Harper, the phrase did not mean, “I am as tough as nails.” It meant, I am my own man. Just watch me. I am not the keeper of my father’s flame. I am its antithesis with respect to war measures. I am not just a “chip off the old block” as Thomas Walkom claimed with respect to protecting human rights, easily cast aside in the face of a perceived threat. For Justin, diplomacy and witnessing would be the prime means of protecting human rights, both for Canadians and for those abroad. On the other hand, although Canadian political leaders are in a poor position to engage in adventurism abroad compared to American presidents, they are in a much stronger position to abuse human rights, especially when they have the backing of most Canadians.

Constitutionally, Canadian political leaders are predisposed towards the peaceful end of the spectrum in foreign policy but have few controls when it comes to the use of force domestically. The constitution reinforced his peaceful propensities abroad and the shaping of his psyche reinforced that predisposition so that, “Just watch me” signalled the very opposite message than the one Pierre Trudeau broadcast.

Beyond the psychological underpinnings of Justin Trudeau’s decision to withdraw the six Canadian CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft from the field of battle in Iraq and Syria, and contrary to any suggestions that the withdrawal was a measure to prevent “mission creep” or reduce the chances of Canada being targeted by Daesh, but consistent with his psyche as it has developed, Justin had four factors pushing such a response to extreme threats. First was an image. Justin wanted to project that he was not a Top Gun, that he was not macho. He was the very opposite of Putin. Though abandoned by his mother, he remained a mother’s boy with enormous sympathy for the plight of others – hence the powerful message about Canada taking in Syrian refugees.

But then why increase the advisers and trainers on the ground? Canada has a duty to its allies to participate in the fight, but without the stark macho imagery. Trudeau wanted to project an image of Canada as a peaceable kingdom, as a compassionate nation and as a member of the world community committed to combating man-made climate change. However, there were other reasons than the issue of media image.

Money is a second factor. In 1991, in the Kuwait War, over a much, much shorter period, Canada deployed four times as many jet fighter aircraft than in the current conflict in Iraq and Syria. The costs were enormous. Jason Kenney testified in the House of Commons that the deployment of the aircraft in Iraq and Syria would cost $403 million per year. The cost of the Syrian refugee resettlement program was estimated at $1.2 billion over six years, or $200 million per year. Even with leaving the non-combat aircraft in the theatre of war against Daesh, the saving in cancelling the CF-18 fighter aircraft would far more than offset the costs of the refugee resettlement program plus the increased training program. Then there is the capital cost of replacement of fighter aircraft. The cost of 65 new F-35 Lightnings to replace the CF-18 Hornets is now $30 billion over 30 years, or $1 billion per year or slightly more than $15 million per aircraft per year.

In addition to the issues of media image and money, there is also the issue of using a measured response to the danger posed and responding in a measured or proportional way. To assess the problem, just examine the use of the six Hornets at this time last year. They were either used to directly attack ISIL targets or in support of air operations. As I counted, there were roughly 14 missions in January last year. Typically, the jets would attack a few ISIL positions and destroy some military equipment. At the end of January last year, “On 29 January, Canadian CF-18s attacked two ISIL positions and two vehicles. Following that on 30 January, they bombed an ISIL position northwest of Baghdad.”

At what cost in human civilian lives, in compromising our sense of obligation towards civilians?  “An airstrike on an ISIL position along a highway northwest of Mosul …on 21 January in support of efforts to retake the road,” resulted in anywhere from 6 to 27 civilians dead. The next major target in the war will be Mosul. It has half a million inhabBercuson

Justin Trudeau is not Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian armed forces. He can make withdrawal decisions on non-military grounds far easier than Barack Obama. George W. Bush ran for office on a domestic agenda and a foreign policy based on disengagement. He ended up becoming a war president. Early in his presidency, Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Adviser, insisted that Bush had no interest any longer in America serving as the “world’s policeman.” Look where he ended up! Based on his foreign policy adventurism guided by a Svengali vice-president, Dick Cheney, George W. Bust became one of the worst presidents in American history. Barack Obama was elected to unify America, to restore its economy and to withdraw from undesirable wars like Iraq. He presides over a deeply divided America though with a recovered economy, but without benefitting most Americans. Most of all, to his personal great regret, America is once again deeply involved in Iraq.

When it is unequivocal that a Canadian Prime Minister is not the Commander-in-Chief, the rule of civilian authority over military power is unambiguous. But when the two functions reside in the same one person, even when the President wants to reinforce the principle of the divisibility of powers and the supremacy of civilian over military rule, he is trapped by his responsibilities and has to stay up late deciding whether it is appropriate to target this person or that person with a drone strike. He becomes the number one assassin on the world stage. It is almost as if an American who becomes president cannot avoid becoming an imperial president to some degree.

I do not know how valid this effort at an explanation is, but it behooves all of us to search deeper for explanations instead of simply serving as Justin Trudeau’s superego. I believe that strategic considerations alone do not come near to explaining Trudeau’s withdrawal from the field of battle of the six Hornets since the withdrawal makes too little strategic sense.


With the help of Alex Zisman

Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees

Corporeality VI: Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees


Howard Adelman

I intended this morning to discuss the theoretical basis for the differences between Canada and the U.S., and, more particularly, between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama as military decision-making. However, yesterday I had an opportunity to participate in a webinar on refugee resettlement in Europe that provided a unique opportunity to discuss Justin Trudeau’s initial exposure and effect on the international stage on refugee policy. A discussion of that webinar provides a great deal of excellent concrete material for the thesis that I am developing.

Yesterday Canada set a date for ending its role in bombing missions in Syria and Iraq – February 22. The withdrawal of military fighter jets has to be understood in terms of the Canadian refugee program and Trudeau’s efforts to resurrect the Canadian brand as a humanitarian in foreign affairs on the world stage. Canada is the leading country in private refugee sponsorship. There is an opportunity for Canada to serve as an exemplar to other states. We could leverage our own roll enormously if we managed to get more countries to emulate the Canadian program. But Trudeau’s role as a leader on the world stage on the refugee issue will be a much harder sell if he is seen as opting out of other international responsibilities to combat evil and those responsible for producing the refugee crisis in Syria in the first place. I will revisit Canada’s decision to withdraw the six Hornet fighters from bombing missions in Iraq and Syria in my subsequent comparisons of Trudeau versus Obama as decision-makers on military policy, but it is first necessary to show Canada’s role as a leader in refugee resettlement in the world.

The webinar was advertised to invited participants as “addressing the refugee crisis in Europe by using private sponsorship.” I was invited to participate – that is, listen in and send in questions if I wished. The formal title of the webinar was, “Scaling Up Resettlement: The Role of Private Sponsorship Programmes in Addressing the Refugee Crisis.” As part of the pre-information, the webinar was described as follows:

“As the European Union considers scaling up plans to resettle refugees from Turkey and other countries of first asylum to improve protection, as well as reduce pressures to travel illicitly, limit the power of criminal networks and develop more equitable responsibility sharing among EU Member States, the three speakers were asked to address the question of how private sponsorship programmes for refugees could possibly enhance outcomes and spread costs.” The program in Canada, as well as the one developed in Australia over the last two years, and the one initiated in 15 of the 16 German länder, were cited as precedents, but in the discussion, the clear and outstanding precedent was Canada’s program of  “private sponsorship that permits private individuals, groups, corporations, and other entities to sponsor individual refugees for resettlement and accept financial responsibility for them for a period of time.”

Panelists were expected to explore how these programs, if implemented or expanded in EU countries, might provide an additional safe and orderly channel for refugees to gain protection and become part of the broader response to the current refugee crisis.

Elizabeth Collett, Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe and Senior Advisor to MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, chaired the session. Before opening the session to questions that had been sent in, we listened to presentations of about twelve minutes each from Judith Kumin, Madeline Garlick and Tim Finch.

In 1979, Judith Kumin was involved with Indochinese refugees as a UNHCR representative and later headed UNHCR’s Orderly Departure from Vietnam and, subsequently, the resettlement of Indochinese refugees out of Thailand. Like Madeline Garlick, she also served in former Yugoslavia as UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Belgrade. She has been a UNHCR Representative to a number of countries (Germany, Benelux, the EU), but particularly Canada where we got to know her and when she became intimately acquainted with her experience of the Canadian private sponsorship program at the time. She was widely acknowledged as an outstanding UNHCR representative. When she returned to UNHCR Headquarters, she directed Sadako Ogata’s public relations office. She concluded her career as UNHCR’s Director for Europe and authored UNHCR’s State of the World’s Refugees 2012. Judith has taught at Carleton University and currently teaches international human rights at the University of New Hampshire (Manchester) while researching the credibility of asylum claims lodged by unaccompanied children. She authored the December 2015 report:


Madeline Garlick complemented Judith Kumin’s presentation. Madeline is a refugee lawyer from Victoria, Australia who is currently a Guest Researcher and PhD candidate at the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands. She is also an International Migration Initiative (IMI) Fellow with the Open Society Foundations leading a project on the future of asylum in the European Union with Migration Policy Institute Europe. Previously, she had been Head of the Policy and Legal Support Unit in the Bureau for Europe of the Office of UNHCR from 2004-13 where she was responsible for liaison with the EU. Before that, she was on the UNHCR’s negotiating team on Cyprus and, before that, worked as the UNHCR representative on the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina. For purposes of brevity, I have consolidated the two presentations and filled in where necessary from Judith’s report.

The object of Judith’s report was to provide a possible additional option in the EU dealing with refugees “consistent with the European Union’s interests, values, and obligations through research on challenges and options on asylum to inform the development of evidence-based policies and laws.” That option is private sponsorship of which the best known and oldest model is that of Canada. Readers will be surprised at how little the Canadian example pioneered over 36 years ago has been taken up by other countries. So it was a surprise and disappointment that there were no Canadian experts on the panel, but that may have been because the target audience was European.

If resettlement is defined as the selection and transfer of refugees from a state of first asylum to a third state that has agreed to admit them (versus relocation as the redistribution of refugees from one EU country to another), then Judith defined private sponsorship as a form of refugee resettlement in which the primary (not exclusive) responsibility for support – financial, social and emotional – is provided for a limited period of time, usually one year, by the private sector. More precisely, only the financial guarantee of support is limited to one year, but, may be shorter if refugees become self-sustaining earlier. Further, support in many forms, including financial, may go beyond the one year guarantee period.

The following benefits of private sponsorship were presented by Judith and her fellow panelists:

  • offers a safe and orderly means for refugees to achieve protection
  • serves as an alternative to irregular movements via a safe, orderly and legal channel
  • is a way for the private sector to demonstrate commitment
  • offers an opportunity to harness the will of the community
  • facilitates integration, especially in the provision of social capital
  • permits burden sharing and a way for EU countries to resettle refugees (half do not, and, with a few notable exceptions, the rest resettle very few)
  • develops a constituency of public support for refugee intake
  • is a way of expanding resettlement at reduced costs to the government (I think this claimed benefit is specious since a) there are settlement costs to government for private sponsors and, under a program of additionality, these costs are also in addition, and b) since private sponsorship provides public support for the government itself sponsoring more refugees, this too adds to the cost.)
  • if the principle of additionality is used, private sponsorship counters the argument that this is a form of offloading (in practice, it actually allows the government intake to be larger than it might otherwise have been).

Judith also included as a benefit of private sponsorship that it facilitates family reunification, but, as her report notes, there is an overlap between the two. Further, the use of private sponsorship for family reunification can crowd out the possibility of refugees in greater need from being sponsored within the target set by the government.

The panelists suggested that private sponsorship could vary in the following ways:

  • Status granted to refugees (temporary or permanent resettlement, though UNHCR does not like defining temporary protection as resettlement)
  • Entitlements
  • Who is eligible to sponsor
  • Who is eligible to be sponsored
  • Nature of sponsor’s obligations
  • The safety network
  • Procedures
  • Question of additionality
  • Built-in upfront systems of evaluation.

Judith in her report stated that, “Refugee resettlement is usually seen as a state-led activity.  Governments decide how many resettlement places they will offer, select the refugees they will take in, arrange for travel and initial reception, and provide settlement support. Private sponsorship arrangements, meanwhile, shift the primary responsibility for assisting resettled refugees from government to private actors. Private sponsors accept financial responsibility for resettled refugees for a specified period of time and provide other forms of support. In exchange, they are permitted to identify the refugee (or refugees) they propose to resettle, although the final decision on admission n rests with the government.”

Though the report is otherwise excellent, in this case those familiar with the Canadian private sponsorship program will recognize the flaws in this paragraph. Even in private sponsorship, resettlement remains a state-led activity re numbers, selection, transportation, and initial reception; private sponsorship normally substitutes most areas of support and assistance in integration. Secondly, permitting private sponsors to name sponsored refugees was a deviation from standard private sponsors when over time private sponsors began to act as fronts for family reunification, a pattern that became dominant when  Kumin was UNHCR representative in Ottawa, though in New Zealand’s and Argentina’s small programs, it is the main purpose of private sponsorship.

Judith included as the second essential feature of private sponsorship the option of naming the sponsored refugee. In Canada, that is NOT an essential feature. Nor is it a trade-off in return for assuming the responsibility of private sponsorship. In the first huge wave of Indochinese refugee sponsorship in the 1979-80 period, sponsors rarely named refugees they wanted to sponsor and the possibility of doing so was neither an incentive nor a gift from the government in return for their assuming the financial responsibility. Kumin writes as if this is the main form of private sponsorship when it was the deviant form that became the main form for a period as a means of family reunification using private sponsors. Perhaps Judith was influenced by countries like Ireland and Switzerland which have only experimented with private sponsorship in this form.

Further, Judith in the follow-up discussion said that civil society had taken the lead in Canada in 1979 in the private sponsorship of the Indochinese refugees. She has obviously not read my books or published articles. The Canadian government worked months at promoting private sponsorship before it was taken up with enthusiasm by the private sector. Then the government responded to that demonstrated enthusiasm when it did emerge with increased numbers of government-sponsored refugees. There is no evidence that civil society took the lead, although newspapers tended to report that the government only acted because it was pushed to do so by the media and the private sector. This was nonsense! More importantly, this myth detracts from the need to emphasize the importance of government leadership.

Judith said in her presentation during the webinar that her report dealt with refugee private sponsorship on a practical level because “too little was known”. In fact, there is a plethora of research on the benefits and deficiencies, inputs and outcomes of private versus government sponsorship. To name but a few conclusions, government-sponsored refugees have more options of English (or French) for second language training and more immediate opportunities to upgrade their skills. Private sponsored refugees generally enter the job market at a higher level. On the other hand, privately-sponsored refugees generally enter the job market much more quickly, in part because the private sponsors have a strong incentive for the refugees to become self-sufficient and in part because the private sponsors offer a network of connections to facilitate entry into the job market. At the end of a number of years (seven if I recall from one study), the level of employment between the two groups tends to converge. One of the most interesting differences is that, when surveys are done after the refugees were in Canada for ten years, private sponsored-refugees had close friends who were Canadian-born. Few government- sponsored refugees did.

The third panelist was Tim Finch who is a novelist (The House of Journalists) and former director of communications for the British Refugee Council. He heads the migration division of the Institute for Policy Research and has been part of a team pushing the UK government to develop some pilot projects on refugee sponsorship. He continues to write op-eds on refugee issues. He discussed how the British private sponsorship was shaping up and focused on the 6 October 2015 speech of the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, to the Conservative Party Congress reprinted in full in, The Independent.

Finch claimed that although the UK had been a laggard in refugee resettlement in general and the use of private sponsorship in particular, May’s statement at the Conservative Conference opened the opportunity for the UK to leap into the vanguard. May promised that, “We’ll develop a community sponsorship scheme, like those in Canada and Australia, to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees directly.” Unfortunately, Finch, when he strayed from the UK focus, made some misleading statements – such as contrasting the British system, which automatically entitles the refugees to benefits, which the Canadian system does not. Finch was possibly confusing asylum claimants with resettled refugees; the latter are entitled to the same benefits as all Canadians.

All this was against a background of a decidedly anti-immigrant and anti-asylum earned reputation by the Conservative government. Finch claimed that UK leadership on refugee resettlement was coming from the top from a Home Secretary not known for generosity towards refugees. That is an understatement for a Home Secretary who would boast in her speech to the Conservative Conference that the UK had “granted asylum to more than 5,000 Syrians in Britain” since the start of the Syrian War. Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic! She should hide her head in shame rather than boasting of allowing entry of a paltry 1,000 Syrian refugees per year.

Now the UK government promises to take in “20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament,” that is 5,000 per year. It is just more Harperism – sheer tokenism and not offset by the UK’s generous contributions to overseas Syrian refugee aid. The ideology of the UK government is clear: “the best way of helping the most people is not by bringing relatively small numbers of refugees to this country, but by working with the vast numbers who remain in the region,” as if one offsets the need to undertake the other. Further, her statement clearly suggests that if a UK private sponsorship program is initiated, it will not follow the principle of additionality, but the principle of substitution, for the government insists that immigration is still too high even though the intake has been cut in half.

May insisted that, “wherever possible, I want to offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.” She implied that there will be an offset of refugees taken in from abroad to the extent asylum claims are reduced.  This could be interpreted to mean, the more domestic asylum claims are brought under control, the more refugees that can be resettled from abroad. This is what Stephen Harper seemed to promise to Canadians. It just was not true.

Finch suggested that the private sponsorship proposal might have been a way of sugaring the pill for an otherwise hardline policy. My reading of her speech was that it was complementary to the hard line and offered only tokenism in the way of refugee resettlement. Finch, if he had studied the Canadian development, would not have suggested that this initiative offered a way forward and an opportunity for the private sector to co-design a system for private sponsorship. The Canadian system was designed by the government and has been refined and redesigned by the government, though in both cases there has been private sector influence. But influence does not make one a co-designer. Finch pointed out that when UK universities offered scholarships to refugees, none were taken up. As one of the other panelists noted, Canada has a long history of WUSC Canada sponsoring refugees to attend Canadian universities and colleges. The program works in good part because of a committed government partner.

One of the romantic fallacies is that, relative to the government, the private sector plays a leadership role in promoting resettlement. It certainly does so in the promotion of resettlement by the private sector. But not in making as distinct from influencing policy.  The private sector making refugee resettlement policy is a myth. Much of my experience, research and writing on refugee resettlement exposed that myth. But the narrative continues to grow. The reality is that there is little private sponsorship without strong government leadership. Look at the period under Stephen Harper when the legislation and policies were all in place, but the systems were eviscerated and sponsors were subjected to inordinate delays and overwhelmed with lengthy forms that were mostly returned because of small mistakes. So Finch’s interpretation that May was inviting Brits “to devise a system and we will consider” simply falls into the trap of delays and half, no one-tenth, half-hearted measures. For Finch to suggest that this would be a good way for sponsors to “have control over the system that emerges” is just a pipe dream.

Though the webinar promised that the speakers “will also delve into key questions and challenges that should be considered in implementation, including who would be eligible to sponsor refugees, what would sponsors’ responsibilities entail, who could be sponsored, and how would applicants be chosen, what entitlements and status might sponsored refugees get, and more political questions as to whether such initiatives merely represent a divestment of government responsibilities onto an overstretched volunteer sector, in fact, other than these categories being mentioned, they were barely touched upon.

There was one other reaction I had and I would be curious to know if anyone else who participated in the webinar had the same response. There was too much emphasis on gradually “scaling up,” on “managing expectations,” on avoiding the risks of disappointment” and the need to have processes in place for security clearances, selection, transportation, etc. The recent initiative of the Justin Trudeau government belies that. Even though, as I wrote above, the Canadian resettlement apparatus had been allowed to grow rusty and had been severely weakened in terms of human resources, Trudeau demonstrated that it was possible to gear up in very short order. Further, if the government keeps up to and responds to any increase in private sponsorship, there is no need to manage expectations. That is only needed when there is a government interest in limiting the intake by the private sector. So advice to “take time,” to carefully plan and prepare, easily becomes an excuse for a moving like a tortoise.

Tomorrow: Biblical and Mediaeval Theoretic Foundations for Military Policy

Divisible and Indivisible Political and Military Leadership

Corporeality VII: Divisible and Indivisible Political and Military Leadership


Howard Adelman

I begin with a summary of the political theory implicit in the Exodus story that I have related before, but this time from a slightly different angle. Joshua was the commander of the armed forces, the military commander. But he was not the Commander-in-Chief. Neither was Moses. The Commander-in-Chief was Aaron, the High Priest, who was responsible for upholding the fundamental laws of the nation and, therefore, ensuring that the use of force was in conformity with those laws. Ancient Israel, even before it became a state, was not a democracy; the responsibilities of legislating had not yet been assigned to a separate body. Israel as a nation of princes was an aspiration and not then a reality. A fourth function, interpreting and applying the laws, was assigned to a judiciary following the advice to Moses by the Midianite, Jethro.

The division of responsibilities can be represented as follows:

                                                Moses – political leader                                                                                                                          !       – responsible for receiving the law
Aaron —————————————————————Joshua
 responsible for upholding the constitution                                                                 military commander


Judiciary – responsible for applying and interpreting the law

However, when it came to the use of force outside the boundaries of the constitution, when it came to fighting an unjust war targeting civilians – whether this meant slaying the children of enemies or using force to ethnically cleanse the land of one’s determined foes – this was the responsibility of God. Joshua was only responsible for leading the Israelites into battle within the confines of just war principles.

But a major competing theory emerged rooted in the Latin classics. One of the great adventures of being an undergraduate at university is the opportunity to read the classics and, most of all, reading a book just published that would become a classic itself. In 1957, Ernst H. Kantorowicz published The King’s Two Bodies which he had written as a fellow of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies. In my recollection, I did not read the volume until 1960 or 1961. What an exciting read and a great moment of revelation! The following is a very compressed version omitting any semblance of relaying the diachronic development of the idea.

Mediaeval political thought differed from Hebraic classical political thought by putting forth the doctrine of consolidated military power and political and moral authority. It did so, not by a division of powers, but a consolidation of powers in one being who had an eternal non-corporeal power and a corporeal exercise of that power. In this mediaeval political theology, the king has a natural body that weeps and laughs, feels pain and demonstrates courage, and eventually suffers and dies. He also has a spiritual body inherited from the doctrine of the dual manifestation of Christ developed in the thirteenth century in which there was both an individual body (corpus personale) and the collective body (corpus mysticum) of Christ identified as Christ’s mystical half embodied in the church. “The new term corpus mysticum placed the Church as a body politic, or as a political and legal organism, on a level with the secular bodies politic which were then beginning to assert themselves as self-sufficient entities.”

The king, as a derivative of this conception, was also said to have a spiritual body which served as the symbol of the royal office and the right to rule versus the actual implementation of that rule which could be flawed. The king’s mystical body along with the divine right to rule endowed the king with a unique character: the king could do no wrong. Further, his successor was ordained to take over when he died. “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

The king was, at one and the same time, a corporeal mortal being and an embodiment of the spirit of the nation. In the latter sense, the king is sovereign and the expression of the body politic. In the above terms, the king was Moses and Aaron, Joshua and the judiciary rolled into a single person who had two complementary sides, a physical, imperfect and mortal self (a natural body), and a spiritual body that expressed the spirit of a nation. The latter was the body politic that could be neither seen nor heard, but through the office of the king could express its will and give direction to the polity, devise policy, manage the public weal and lead the polity into battle. The Church subsequently included the clerical bureaucracy itself as the “mystical body of Christ” and, in return, the Western polity became known as the Holy Roman Empire. The latter was the consecrated host; the former became “the corpractpus mysticum the head of which was Christ and whose limbs were the archbishops, bishops, etc.” Eventually as the notion of the nation re-emerged from its Hebraic roots with the Protestant Reformation, the populace, the people, the nation inherited the weakened remains of the corpus mysticum previously literally embodied in just the general body politic, the res publica. Citizens were now willing to die for the nation.

I do not have either the time or space to depict how the notion of indulgences developed in parallel as different expressions of that sense of sacrifice from the eighth to the fifteenth century, for I simply want to concentrate on two radically different notions of governance. Suffice to say that by the fifteenth century, the widespread business of printing indulgences had evolved from the twelfth century Indulgence of the Cross and was known by 1454 as the Gutenberg Indulgence (GI). After all, Gutenberg was not only an inventor of the printing press, but a very clever entrepreneur who knew how to make his own fortune off the lucrative “tax” practices of the Church. (He was not the first entrepreneur to make millions from the largesse of community coffers – Donald Trump’s father.) The GI was a piece of boilerplate that testified that the confessor was in a state of grace and would escape purgatory. Hence, the emergence of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment as the GI evolved in a new form, the publication of broadsheets. As greater and greater numbers of ordinary citizens could read, they became totally revolted at the corruption at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.

The United States of America emerged as a body politic on the cusp of the transition from the indivisible corporatist notion to the divisible notion of the body and, on the surface, represented the rejection of the indivisibility doctrine. Hence the conception of the division of powers! On the other hand, the United States emerged as a democratic monarchy, as a political state which elected its king who, in his persona represented the indivisibility of both the body politic and the leader who must represent the spirit of the people and defend that spirit from enemies both within and outside the body politic who would undermine and divide the nation.

What happens if the indivisible head of state charged with maintaining and enhancing the indivisibility of the body politic believes that his protection function is so important that it usurps any doctrine of civilian control? Think of General MacArthur versus President Harry Truman where the Commander challenges the Commander-in-Chief in the name of protecting the nation and its interests from its most formidable enemies. Military mutiny is one thing. Military dictatorship is another. For what if the Commander-in-Chief himself believes that it is his primary responsibility to protect the body politic from enemies within and without and requires the CIC to stretch his/her powers.  By locating the role of Commander-in-Chief and political leader in the one person, the U.S. was open to the development of a military dictatorship.

The founders were well aware of this danger and tried to imitate the monarchy of Britain as developed to that time by offsetting the role of the monarch as both the embodiment of the nation’s will, with the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief, with offsetting powers assigned to the legislature, in the American case, Congress. Hence, the division of powers! The history of the United States of America could be written as a tale of these two conceptions, the indivisible powers of the leader offset by conception of divisible powers among different institutions. This is particularly true when the issue is not the obvious one of military dictatorship, of the Commander-in-Chief seizing all powers into his own office, but when the Commander-in-Chief is prone to adventurism, prone to offsetting his/her political restrictions in one area to another in which the controls on his initiatives are most ambiguous and most difficult to assess whether they are necessary for the defence of the state.

The constitutional vesting of the commander in chief power aims to establish a politico-military culture in which military coups become unthinkable, as they have been for the United States. But once the offices of civilian head of government and military commander in chief are fused (what I have called “fused dominion”), a complementary danger to military coups arises, namely that the leader will himself use the military to seize or abuse power or, just as importantly, launch military adventures. As I hope to show, the constitutional framers were acutely aware of these dangers, and in response they created a strongly separationist constitutional conception of the commander in chief. Justice Jackson got it right when he wrote in his famous Youngstown concurrence, ‘The purpose of lodging dual titles in one man was to insure that the civilian would control the military, not to enable the military to subordinate the presidential office.’ In brief, the basic theory behind civilian control of the military is to use a civilian commander in chief to check the military, and then set up civilian powers to check the commander in chief. Constraining military and constraining the civilian commander are two distinct problems, strophe and antistrophe, and together their solutions generate the political theory of the commander in chief authority. David Laban (2008) “On the Commander in Chief Power,” Southern California Law Review 81, 477-571.


Tomorrow: Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency

Corporeality V: Barack Obama and his Intimates

Corporeality V: Barack Obama and his Intimates


Howard Adelman

Michele was and remains the guardian of the first ring and she patrols it standing like a sentinel at a memorial at her full height of 5’ 11”. She does so with determination, a sense of control and purpose. She is not at the centre of the rings because for years she opposed Barack’s running for political office as a distraction from his responsibilities to his family and its well-being. But she never undercut his ambitions, just made sure that they interfered as little as possible with the area inside the first inner ring. It was not only her confidence and self-assured qualities, her loyalty and steadfastness in the face of challenges, but her wisdom as well as her intelligence that provided the badly needed anchor for Barack Obama. Her sense and confidence in the meaning and importance of a solid and secure family life that requires a sense of order and regularity has been critical. Everything one reads about their relationship almost suggests that Obama’s most brilliant decision ever was his choice of Michele Robinson, a child of a solid Southside Chicago Christian family with a Princeton education, as his wife.

The other person on the inner circle who is holding Michele’s hand to make the circle around Barack Obama is Valerie Jarrett (née Bowman), a lawyer, civil activist and business woman who served as co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project when Obama was first elected. She is currently the Senior Advisor to the President and assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Her first contact was Michele and was introduced to Barack when he and Michele were engaged and Michele was hired to work for Valerie in the city of Chicago administration beginning in 1991. An African-American daughter of a U.S. doctor posted to Shiraz, Iran where she was born, Valerie is fluent in Farsi and French. She also has aboriginal, Scottish, French and Jewish genes.

In spite of establishment credentials as a member, vice-chair and chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago Medical Center from 1996 to 2009, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, a Trustee of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, a board member and chair of the Chicago Stock Exchange, and a board director of the USG Corporation, she has been attacked as a communist or fellow traveller (her parents and grandparents were activists) by enemies of Barack Obama. She has also been criticized by her allies – Robert Gates, former defense secretary, objected to her presence at foreign security affairs meetings. As well, both David Axelrod (Axe to his friends) and Rahm Emanuel, at one time two of Barack’s closest advisers, had serious disagreements with Valerie. She is still there. They are not.

One might have thought that the communist charges being made against her would have died out with McCarthy, but no such luck. For example, as part of the charges against her father, a pathologist and geneticist, is the accusation that, “Bowman was also a member of the Association of Interns and Medical Students (AIMS), a group that, according to Bowman’s FBI file, engaged in unAmerican activities and “has long been a faithful follower of the Communist Party line.” I was not only a member, but the class representative of AIMS in the late fifties – every student in the class was a member – and I can assure everyone that the organization had nothing to do with any political party, and certainly not the Communist Party, and had no political agenda.

That is the silly part about Valerie Jarrett. The more interesting one relates to the conflicts she had with Obama’s advisors and aides. In every case, Valerie emerged as the winner. The New York Times once reported that, “If you want [Barack Obama] to do something, there are two people [he’s] not going to say no to: Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.” [I think this probably is true, but when I tried to trace down the accuracy of this quote, I encountered one far right internet site after another and was unable to confirm given the time I was willing to invest, so it may be a construct to suggest that Obama has fallen into the clutches of a controlling witch.]  Obama did describe Valerie as family when, in July 2009, he told New York Times reporter Robert Draper, “I trust her completely.” She has variously been dubbed Barack’s spy, his chief sycophant, his consigliere and his night stalker.  The New Republic named her “The Obama Whisperer.”

So what went wrong between Valerie and David AxelrodhmOne insight comes from David Axelrod’s recently published memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. Axelrod is credited with getting Obama first elected in 2004 as a U.S. Senator after having lost in his run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. After Axelrod ran Obama’s campaign for President in 2008, Axe was named a senior advisor in the White House responsible for tracking the impact of any impending decision of the political pulse of Americans. But he only lasted two years. He did not leave because he was eager to get back to Chicago. His memoir indicates that, after he left the White House in January 2011, he was not only depressed and wracked with self-doubt, but Obama cut him off, not even replying to his e-mails. As Axelrod says, “The silence stung.”

What went wrong? Valerie Jarrett! She was first added to the election strategy team in 2008 without discussing the choice with Axelrod and in spite of having no previous campaign experience. David “seethed in silence,” though clearly Valerie was needed as a conduit to Michele, for her perspective as an African-American and as a female in a team dominated by white men. But the problem was not just Jarrett. David Axelrod was critical of his successor, Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s 2012 campaign. Axelrod had fights even with his close friend, Rahm Emanuel, who came on board to run Obama’s office once Barack was first elected. But, given the psychological focus of this and the next blog, we have to turn to David Axelrod’s friend, Maureen Dowd, a star Pulitzer-winning columnist at The New York Times. “No one got under Barack’s skin more than Maureen.” Why? Because of her “penchant for delving into the psyches of her subjects.”

Axelrod did not fall out with Obama because he failed in his role as Obama’s political nostrils (see Richard Wolffe’s The Message: The Reselling of President Obama, nor because he had conflicts with other senior advisers – they all fought with one another – nor over policy choices. Valerie Jarrett is the key to explaining his departure. Valerie was a crucial psychological pillar for Barack Obama. Axelrod not only was not, but he upset the two pillars that protected the inner circle of Obama’s psychological reserve and stability – Maureen and Valerie. His friendship with Maureen Dowd (MoDo), the one person who pierced the skin of this elegant, cool, wholly and happily integrated but disciplined and distant persona, added to the problem, since the first duty of an adviser for Obama was fierce loyalty to the President and serving as a protector of his carefully constructed psyche, a role even assigned to those in the second circle, perhaps even more important than political smarts and public acumen they were required to demonstrate.

However, Axelrod’s most serious weakness had nothing to do with what he did or who he was, but how he became what he was. Like Obama, Axelrod’s beloved father divorced his mother and he too then felt abandoned. But his father subsequently committed suicide. Axe had been doubly abandoned. Further, he himself had been an absent father to his own epileptic daughter, something Obama was determined never to be. Whenever Obama was not on the road, he always had dinner with his family at 6:30 each evening. Though the Axe was wily, he was also personally insecure, shambling and indecisive, a condition Obama himself wallowed in for a short period after his first unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2000. Axe represented Obama’s rejected psyche. Axe was Obama’s embodied but rejected physical doppelganger, the alter ego that Obama was determined not to be.

MoDo (Maureen Dowd) sensed that weakness in Obama’s psyche. That is really why she aroused the vitriol and enmity of a president usually so completely in control. David Axelrod, “the keeper of the flame for hope and change” revealed Obama’s vulnerability and had to be cast out of his coveted office into the political wilds and the cold winds of Chicago. Axelrod had created Obama as a successful candidate, perhaps because he saw so much of himself, even his aspirational self, in Obama. However, in doing so, David Axelrod had become the sacrificial lamb lest he undermine the strong and secure Obama persona Barack had created.

Then there was Rahm Emanuel, another trusted advisor, but a narcissistic tornado rather than cool, determined and disciplined crusader like Barack Obama. Rahm was not Barack’s alter ego, but a power centre in his own right. His instincts told him that Valerie Jarrett was his only real competitor in the White House. Before he agreed to join Obama’s team and run the White House presidential office, Rahm tried to get Obama to name Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat Obama had just vacated. But Rahm did not succeed in sidelining Valerie. Nor in limiting her role. Emanuel could not even prevent her from having her own personal security detail. Rahm capitulated and took the position as head of the White House staff because the scent of power was so sweet and strong.

But a cold peace governed, disturbed only by Rahm’s temper tantrums, only occasionally with Valerie. But they were symptomatic and governed Rahm’s relationship with Valerie. But not for long. On Valerie’s advice, Obama personally upbraided Rahm for his terrible habit of screaming at subordinates. As a former White House official told the journalist, Noam Schreiber, “In the wild, they [Rahm and Valerie] would have been natural allies. In captivity, they became natural enemies.” After having served Obama’s immediate needs, Rahm ended up using the White House as a stepping stone for his own personal ambitions, returning eventually to Chicago to run and become its mayor.

The bottom line: whenever the second line of defence outside the inner circle threatens the first line in any way, eventually those outside threats are cast aside to be replaced by weaker and more malleable cyphers, like Jack Lew who was himself soon shifted to Treasury Secretary because he was an excellent manager but not a political pro, while Valerie and Barack pursued their program of sweet reasonableness in the face of a Republican Party that has lost its center of gravity altogether.

In addition to the psychological differences between Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau, there is also a corresponding radical set of differences in style and substance, even though both are generally congruent on their policy priorities and their view of the role of an activist government reinforced by a magnanimous corporate sector. Barack Obama, as The New Republic described him, is steeped in “boardroom liberalism,” valuing tolerance and diversity as principles and ideals. Justin experienced those values viscerally. Obama, in contrast, applied those values from on high to be dispensed by a Platonic version of a wise elite allied with corporate America. Hillary Clinton, whatever her rivalry with Obama, shares the same anti-populist approach, but without Obama’s ability to tap into the frustrations and insecurity of Americans. Both are very different than the ersatz populist Bernie Sanders, characterized by his desire to institutionalize magnanimity through tax policies. Sanders is recognized for his Herculean effort at mobilizing public opinion against the deeply entrenched interests and perks of corporate America. Barack and Hillary are not.

Hence, Obama readily abandoned a single payer health system in the name of realpolitik, abandoned the protection of those whose ownership of homes had sunk below sea level when his brilliant economic team was rescuing Wall Street and the slip American automobile manufacturers. Barack Obama was capable of making an off-the-cuff, that Bernie could not make. After bowling a feeble 37 after seven frames in his unsuccessful effort to connect with working-class Pennsylvania voters living in the rust belt of America with neither jobs nor prospects of jobs, Obama remarked of those voters that in their bitterness, they cling to their “guns or religion” to deal with their frustrations.

Tomorrow I will begin to explicate the frustrations he suffers in high office that go far beyond the fact that the Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Obama as Commander-in-Chief – Theoretical Background

Corporeality IV: Personality, the Body Politic – Obama and Trudeau

Corporeality IV: Personality, the Body Politic – Obama and Trudeau


Howard Adelman

I now return to an examination of Obama’s role as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the U.S., in particular, in the fight against ISIS. On the way, I have taken two side excursions. The first examined that role in the Torah at the time when the fundamental constitution was given to the Israelites. Commander-in-Chief was not vested in the political leader, Moses, but in the High Priest, his older brother Aaron, who was neither the Chief Justice nor a legislator, but the man charged with the responsibility for upholding the fundamental laws of the people.

The second side excursion detoured via Canada and depicted Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada, as not Commander-in-Chief, but as a political leader with a quasi-pacifist propensity, one who sees that his primary responsibility in protecting Canadians is by manning the first line of defense, ensuring that the virtues of Canadians as tolerant and just are upheld and witnessed. That does not mean disregarding the second line of defence, the need to take a war into the territory of a source of evil and threat to the way of life of one’s own nation and its allies. This second obligation need not be abrogated. I tried to show that Justin Trudeau, in the fight against ISIS, seems to have displayed precisely such a propensity, to minimize the responsibility for ensuring that the second line of defence is both well maintained and utilized when required.

In this and the next blog I concentrate on the latter excursion before I follow up with an examination of the structural differences between Canada and the United States in relationship to the role of Commander-in-Chief. An initial examination of the leadership of Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau suggests that both strongly favour peaceful and diplomatic means relative to the use of the military to resolve conflicts. Both operate primarily as prophets of hope rather than stoking the fires of fear and even panic in the population at large. But there are two fundamental differences. The first is the constitutional difference which I will concentrate on in a subsequent blog. The second is the psychological dimension which I will deal with in this and the next blog, even if only very superficially.

Jonathan Kay, who spent the latter part of 2013 as “a freelance editorial assistant on Justin Trudeau’s memoir, Common Ground (some would dub Kay as Trudeau’s ghostwriter), recently wrote an article in the magazine Walrus, which he currently edits, entitled, “The Justin Trudeau I Can’t Forget.”  In it he offered a pop psychological analysis of Justin as fundamentally “shaped by the emotional agony caused by his mother’s abandonment.” Like I am, Kay was critical of Trudeau’s comments about ISIS and the decision to withdraw the six CF-18 Hornet fighter craft from Iraq. Kay found Trudeau’s comments flippant, but, at the same time, simply reflective of the reflexive leftism of campus politics rather than attributing some responsibility to the shaping of his personality by his childhood experience. Yet Kay claimed that the latter lay at the core of Trudeau’s personality.

What remained in Kay’s memory from working with Justin, “are the stories from his childhood. It’s one thing for daddy to leave. That happens all the time, sadly. But when mommy walks out, that’s something very different. We are conditioned to think of a mother’s love as the one unshakable emotional pillar of a child’s life. When that pillar folds up and walks out the front door, how do you keep the roof from collapsing?” Further, the experience of abandonment by one’s mother was exacerbated and greatly exaggerated because it took place in the public limelight; Justin was subjected to the taunts of his fellow students about his mother’s “waywardness.” Justin could never leave behind the basic experience of “a childhood parched of mother’s milk” that left an inchoate urge from those around him to protect the man from further pain. I would add, there was also his own urge to relieve the pain of abandonment in others – hence the enormous personal and emotional involvement in the Syrian refugee crisis in such stark contrast with that of Barack Obama. This does not mean that Trudeau as a politician is not “light on his feet,” cannot take “a punch stoically” nor “devise stratagems under fire.”

Abandonment can leave one feeling betrayed and deserted, left with an anxiety state about separation and isolation. At its worst, it can instill in a child even a sense of rejection and alienation with deep fears for one’s personal security. The latter fears, sense of rejection and alienation seem totally absent in Obama as well as Trudeau. The question is why since children accepted by both their parents seem to be most likely to emerge as independent and emotionally stable adults. They have self-esteem and hold a positive worldview. In contrast, those who experience abandonment, all too frequently demonstrate that they continually feel rejected expressed in feelings of hostility and inadequacy resulting in instability. They generally possess a very negative view of the world.

Neither Trudeau nor Obama seem to possess a negative view of the world. Neither seems in the least unstable, but rather appear self-possessed and at ease with themselves and the world. They radiate no sense of hostility or inadequacy. However, Trudeau is energized by his contact, particularly emotional contact, with people. “His boyish, eager-to-please personality leads him to project publicly in a way that can seem intellectually unsophisticated.” “Seem” is the right word. For Justin Trudeau is very well read. But his wide reading combined with his hyperactivity for a time gave his speeches a stiff and fabricated air, the opposite of conveying a more relaxed and natural one. Unless he could pace! However, with practice even his stand-up speeches have become far less stilted allowing his personable style to emerge. For his very natural engagement on a very physical level with Canadians, just watch this excellent and delightful video of Justin Obama as a Bollywood dancer.

Though one cannot imagine Stephen Harper in such a role, neither can one imagine Barack Obama, even though Barack possesses the required smooth physicality on the basketball court, It is not because Obama lacked those skills, though they were not on display in a bowling alley in Pennsylvania when he only attained 37 points in seven frames and became a butt of humour for the working men of that state. It is just that, one cannot imagine Obama surrendering his stoical reserve to engage in such an expression of sheer joy. For Barack Obama is a cerebral boardroom liberal; Justin, with all his elite breeding, is a street liberal.

In contrast to Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama gets his strength from within, from a stoical reserve and a retreat into a much smaller world initially centred on his family. His empathy comes from his intellect, not his gut. Hence, his emotional attachment to the suffering in the world is sentimental rather than arising from a deep feeling for the other. (Cf. Richard Koestner, Carol Franz and Joel Weinberger (1999) “The family origins of empathic concern: a 26-year longitudinal study,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58: 709-717.)

When, in February 2014, Obama announced the program called “My Brother’s Keeper” to attempt to counteract the absence of fathers in the lives of many black males by focusing on education, reading, job training and mentoring, he admitted that he too always felt a hole left in his heart by his father’s abandonment. Why did Obama succeed while a great many black boys abandoned by their fathers struggle and too many of them fall by the wayside, drop out, and are either  unemployed or engage in socially unacceptable behaviour, including drugs and crime?

Scholarly research seems to have established that a father’s absence increases anti-social behavior, such as drug use, and reduces a child’s employment prospects (Cory Ellis, “Growing Up Withuout Father: The Effects on African-American Boys”). How did Obama escape? Did his mother, Ann Dunham, substitute for the absent father? She seems to have deliberately kept it a secret from Barack Obama that she maintained regular contact with his father so she did not seem interested let alone eager in ensuring Barack developed a relationship with his absent father. In Barack Obama’s biography, Dreams of My Father, he recognized the powerful force of that absence. He credits his ability to overcome this handicap by his deliberate construction of three different rings of intimacy around himself. Instead of empathy arising from natural contact with others, Obama constructed by himself and within himself in a deliberately formulated way a rational system for constructing and controlling intimacy and empathy.

Obama erected three imaginary rings around himself. Within his first ring, he was a loner. The first ring itself was wo-manned by his wife and closest political confidant and intimate friend of Michele, Valerie Jarrett. Obama became disabused of including his blood relatives following his visit to Kenya even between the first and second ring, even though he by and large felt very warm with most of that extended Kenyan family. Manning the second ring of protection around himself and between the second and third ring are to be found his intimate friends and close advisers. Outside the third ring can be found his associates, colleagues, other state leaders, and then the American public. But the most intimate person for Obama is his wife, Michele Obama, for who else would tolerate Barack Obama when he left his underwear in the kitchen.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama and his Intimates