Last Saturday, New Year’s Eve 2011, while the populace was looking forward to another bacchanal of bread and circuses (actually beer and football), President Obama authorized the US military to indefinitely detain American citizens apprehended on American soil, so long as, in their judgment, they are terrorists.  Without trial.  With no writ of habeas corpus.  Detained.  Indefinitely.  In other words, if the US Army don’t like you, it can nab you and keep you ’til hell freezes over, and there is no recourse available to you.  And people used to think that McCarthyism was bad for having black-listed all those Communist-sympathizing Hollywood actors. 

Not to worry, Obama has pledged never to use the power arbitrarily or capriciously, here’s what he said after signing the bill, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012:

Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

 Well now.  I feel much better.   How any detention any Administration authorizes under this law complies with the Constitution is beyond me.  The Constitution has these unfortunate little civil liberty protections in the Fourth and Sixth Amendments that specifically bar these type detentions. 

If the law is not overturned as unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court (surely the ACLU or some like-minded organization is preparing its case even now), then the Constitution means nothing, and the Court should disband.  The Bill of Rights can be used as toilet paper.  Whatever quaint notion Americans may have once had that they were great because they were exceptionally good at recognizing and protecting human rights and liberties, at least among their own populace, surely must finally gasp its last if this law is not summarily and quickly overturned. 

The law also provides for harsher and more effective sanctions against Iran.  Here’s what Jarrod Bernstein, the Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement for the White House, says about those provisions:

For three years, President Obama has led an unprecedented effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Through a two-track policy — one track increasing the pressure on Iran to induce it live up to its responsibilities in the international community and the other track offering a very credible option for engagement, provided Iran accepts its responsibilities to the international community — the United States has built a strong international coalition against Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations. As a result, Iran now faces the toughest sanctions regime in the world and is more isolated diplomatically, both regionally and globally.

The measure signed into law Saturday can be a significant escalation in the pressure on Iran, and President Obama has made clear that the United States is committed to increasing the pressure on Iran until it changes course.

Of course he’s playing to his Jewish audience, all of whom believe Iran to be the focus of evil in the modern world.  If the US engages Iran militarily, it will in some measure be due to the Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel in America, yet it is not at all clear that the US has any strategic interest in supporting Israel at all.  International diplomacy, by ambassadorial or other means, ordinarily turns on identifiable national interests.  Except that Israel is the ancestral home of a great many American investment bankers, or that apocalyptic Christians believe its resurgence necessary for the return of Christ, where is the national interest in supporting Israel?  

Yet America does have a national interest to protect as regards Iran.  Except for oil, Iran would be about as important as, say, Rwanda, but soccer moms have got to have cheap gas for their mini-vans and SUV’s, or American politicians wouldn’t long remain employed.  Iran has oil; it is strategically situated in the heart of the Middle East oil-producing countries, and it borders the Persian Gulf. 

Iran seems to be seeking to provoke a military response from the US.  It senses weakness now that the US has disengaged somewhat in Iraq, and can no longer call Pakistan an ally.  Thus, Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping, particularly to oil tankers.  It assaults the British embassy in Tehran.  It prattles on about the Great and Little Satan.  About 20% of the world’s oil traverses the Strait of Hormuz in getting to and from the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.  Iran is playing the US, bluffing its way to a confrontation that it believes the US has not the stomach to fight.  It knows the US would not allow it to close the Strait of Hormuz, but wants to see how far it can go before a direct military response is initiated. 

Persia has always been a thorn in the West’s side.  Alexander’s conquests weren’t complete until he had humbled and defeated Darius III, King of Persia, avenging Xerxes destruction of the Acropolis a century earlier.  Rome spent its last fortune defending its eastern frontier bordering Persia until it could no longer afford to hold back the barbarians in the north, resulting in its collapse.   Like the empires of antiquity, Persia (Iran) stands in the way of American hegemony.  Only time will tell whether some future American Alexander forces America’s will upon it, or if the American empire is slowly drained of resources trying to defend against it.   

Yet it’s hard to see why any American soldier, sailor or airman would agree now to travel to Iran to kill in support and defense of the US Constitution, as their military oath requires. If the NDAA of 2012 stands–ironically the same act providing for the military’s beans and bullets–the Constitution is utterly devoid of meaning.  Why would anyone wish to kill or die to defend a meaningless shibboleth of an abandoned cultural ideal?

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