Ryan McMaken – January 5, 2020
Buried in the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report is some insight into how the foreign policy establishment is attempting to re-create a new Cold War with the Russian Federation. Much of the report is devoted to one of the primary charges against the president: that he allegedly obstructed Congress’s investigation.
The first claim is largely asserted through legalese about how Trump was insufficiently cooperative with Congressional investigators.
I’ll let the lawyers cover that one.
The second charge, however, is more policy-based. The report claims it is possible to commit treason by simply acting to avoid giving money to a foreign government — if that money is being used against the US’s adversaries. From there, the report asserts Trump essentially committed treason as part of an “aggravating factor” related to “an impeachable abuse of power.” He did this by allegedly withholding foreign aid dollars from the Ukrainian state.
This “abuse of power” consists of the president engaging in bribery by attempting to use taxpayer dollars to extract political favors from the Ukrainian leadership in the form of dirt on former Vice President Biden. I’ll leave the bribery and abuse charge to the lawyers, but what is of special interest here is the claim that the withholding of funds destined for the Ukraine government was objectionable largely because the withholding of funds imperiled the US’s quasi war against Russia.
Let’s follow the report’s logic: according to the report, “a person commits treason if he uses armed force in an attempt to overthrow the government, or if he knowingly gives aid and comfort to nations (or organizations) with which the United States is in a state of declared or open war.”
The report then asserts “America has a vital national security interest in countering Russian aggression, and our strategic partner Ukraine is quite literally at the front line of resisting that aggression.”
The report goes on to claim it is essential that the US president “stand with our ally in resisting the aggression of our adversary.” Basically, the logic of the report rests on the old propaganda tactic of claiming “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.”
Thus, the report strongly suggests that by temporarily and briefly withholding foreign aid dollars from Ukraine, Trump committed treason because he was obstructing Ukraine’s military efforts against Russia.
The report’s language reminds us that in the minds of DC policymakers, the US is essentially at war with Russia and that any withholding of aid is the equivalent of conspiring with foreign enemies.
There are several problems with this logic, of course.
First, the United States is not “in a state of declared or open war” with Russia. Congress has not declared war on Russia — or anyone else at this time — as the law (i.e., US Constitution) mandates. Nor is the US in a state of “open war” with Russia except in the minds of modern-day McCarthyites and their supporters.
It is telling that the phrase “open war” was added to the definition of “treason” since it is clear no legal state of war exists between the US and Russia. No doubt, the authors of the report think that the US must obviously be in a state of “open war” with Russia, but this naturally is a matter of opinion. This is why we have a legal process of declaring war on specific groups exists in the US Constitution. The fact Congress has chosen to not declare war would suggest to the reasonable person that the US is, in fact, not at war with Russia. If certain people in the US government want the US to be at war with Russia, they ought to be forced to submit their motion to a majority vote in Congress. Until that happens, the US is not at war with Russia.
Secondly, given that Russia has not even been established as the US’s “adversary” in accordance with Article I of the Constitution, it is difficult to see how any US agent commits treason by refusing to hand over taxpayer dollars to the Ukraine regime.
One could reasonably claim that by withholding these dollars, Trump was violating the law. This, however, is a long way from “treason.” Moreover, it’s entirely possible the president has engaged in bribery, obstruction of justice, or other offenses. The inclusion of the “treason” charge, however, suggests the Judiciary Committee thinks the obstruction and bribery charges were insufficient on their own. Thus, the treason charge had to be created on the back of a neo-Cold War ideology now prevailing in Washington.
This is the natural outcome of a foreign policy in which it is perceived to be the job of the United States to guarantee the safety of any and every foreign regime the US government happens to support.
This should surprise no one since the bread and butter of Washington, DC is perpetual war against countless real and imagined enemies. We’re told ever greater resources must be devoted to Washington’s continued dreams of global war. For example, the Pentagon is currently funded at levels above those of the Vietnam War, and above the Cold War average , but we relentlessly hear about how the military establishment is at crisis levels of neglect. This is demonstrably false, as is the claim withholding a few bucks from the corrupt Ukraine regime puts the US in danger from a Russian invasion.
There are certainly good reasons to impeach presidents, but not being sufficiently pro-war isn’t one of them. If the US Congress were less committed to a maximalist foreign policy, it would be impeaching presidents for war crimes, instead of claiming — rather ridiculously — that the US has a “vital national security interest” in Ukraine. After all, virtually every president since 1945 — including the current one — has started or continued undeclared illegal wars against foreign regimes. Every president since Reagan has bombed foreigners without any legal justification whatsoever. Each one of them was eligible for impeachment on this issue.
But we never hear any call for impeachment from Congressional leaders on those grounds. Instead, what we have now appears to be an impeachment process largely driven by the desire to punish a president for not provoking a war.
Originally published at Mises.org. Ryan McMaken is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.