How Important Is NATO to America?

At his first NATO Summit this week in Brussels, President Trump created considerable controversy as he is wont to do at most official venues. In keeping with his campaign commitment, he took the other 27 heads of state to task for their disproportionately low contributions to the collective defense of the member nations. America has far too long paid a higher percentage of GDP in defense spending than the other NATO countries .

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 28 nations in North America and Europe that grew out of the North Atlantic Treaty signed April 4, 1949. The Treaty is an agreement among the member nations for mutual defense. If any member nation is attacked, all other member nations agree to mutually defend against the aggressor. The original concern of the nations was the threat from Russia after World War II as its Soviet Union was spreading Communism rapidly around the world. NATO galvanized as a viable alliance during the Korean conflict which was seen as a linchpin for Communism. After the Soviet Union fell, the organization turned its sights toward terrorism. However, the recent resurgence of Russia’s expansionism is cause for additional alarm for Europe.

Under the NATO agreement, each nation has a goal of contributing 2% of its GDP to its own nation’s defense budget. Presently, only America (3.61%) and four other nations are participating at or above that level. The lowest contributing nation is Luxembourg (.44%). Canada only contributes .99%.

One of my most cherished jobs in my Air Force career was assisting the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in his Congressional testimonies. The NATO commander position is permanently filled by an American four-star general who is also commander of all American forces in Europe. He would command all the nations’ forces in a war in Europe (a la Eisenhower). As his assistant 27 years ago, I knew all about the insufficient defense budgets of NATO nations. Then, as now, other member nations didn’t place a high priority on building their military forces, because they knew America would continue to fund its military at a high enough level to cover their weaknesses in case of war.

America has bemoaned the financial commitment inequity within the alliance since its inception. But, this week our president confronted the issue squarely in the face of the other member heads of state like no other president ever has. I can only applaud him for that, even though he ruffled some feathers in doing so.

Granted, NATO is very important to America’s security–critical in fact. The continent of Europe serves as a highly strategic buffer between Russia and the Atlantic as well as between terrorist-supporting nations and the Atlantic. Nevertheless, all NATO nations rising to their defense spending goal is far overdue, and it is time to pay up.

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The Mysterious What and How of Impeachment

Unless you’re an outer space alien just landing on planet earth, you’ve been subjected to references of Trump impeachment several times over the past week. The term “impeach” is highly provocative, but refers to an act that would be futile at this point with virtually no chance of happening. Few people really understand it, but all citizens need to. Let’s look at just what it is and what it is not.

Many view impeachment to mean the removal of a president. However, it is just like an indictment in the court system. A president has to be convicted of the articles of impeachment to be removed. The whole process is codified into law by Article 1 of the Constitution which basically follows the 14th Century British process. It is not a criminal trial process, but rather a determination of fitness for office.

Very serious charges have to be considered by the Congress in order begin an impeachment process. Article 1 specifies “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors” as justification for impeachment. Such infractions of the law would have to be compiled into Articles of Impeachment by the House of Representatives. The House would select certain members as prosecutors to make the case before their full body. Then, they would need a simple majority of those voting to impeach (238 out of 435 including 25 Republicans if all Democrats voted in favor). Should they impeach, it would be only an indictment that then would go to the Senate for a conviction decision.

The whole body of the Senate would consider the evidence in a court-like trial with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, as presiding judge. Again, a Senate committee of prosecutors would bring the charges. The Senate would then require a two-thirds super-majority vote to convict (67 out of 100 including 15 Republicans if all Democrats voted in favor).

In the history of America, no president has ever been removed from office following impeachment. In 1842, an attempt to impeach John Tyler for vetoing a string of tariff bills failed to get a House majority vote. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached for replacing the Secretary of the Navy without Congressional consent, but the Senate fell short of the two-thirds vote for conviction. In 1999, Bill Clinton was impeached in the Monica Lewinsky debacle, but the Senate couldn’t muster even a majority of votes for conviction. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 over the Watergate cover-up before an impending impeachment.

If a president would ever be ousted by impeachment and conviction, the vice president would assume the presidency and would select a new vice president. If the vice president were also removed or declined the position, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, would become president.

There is no provision for a president to appeal an impeachment or conviction. Removal by impeachment and conviction for a crime is not subject to sentencing. If criminal activity is involved, the president would be subject to entering the criminal justice system afterward for possible arrest, indictment, trial, conviction, and sentencing.

So, what does all the hoopla about impeaching Trump bode for his future? Almost assuredly nothing. Incivility, miscalculations, collusion, even lying and sharing of classified information are not impeachable offenses. Even impeachable offenses such as Clinton’s obstruction of justice would not likely result in conviction and removal. Treason, bribery, and high crimes are very high bars to clear. Personally, I don’t believe any attempt to impeach President Trump will ever get past the threat stage, and probably shouldn’t. Unless or until the special counsel, Robert Mueller, digs up something tantamount to treason or murder, the  storm winds of impeachment will have no more effect than a light breeze.

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Trump’s Religious Liberty Order: Substance or Symbolism?

All of President Trump’s victory claims seem to be too little for conservatives and too much for liberals. This past Thursday, the “repeal and replace” healthcare bill passed the House with many conservatives and liberals crying foul for opposing reasons. On the same day, the president’s Religious Liberty and Free Speech Executive Order didn’t go far enough for many religious conservatives, but was perceived by most liberals as a violation of their rights. So, was the order substantive or symbolic?

First, let’s be clear that a presidential executive order does not become law or change law. Only the legislature can make or change laws. However, executive orders do direct the priorities and regulatory actions of agencies and offices of the executive branch. In other words, these orders direct how the president’s subordinates manage their responsibilities under the established laws.

In simple terms, this new Religious Liberty Order mandates two actions:

1. It directs the IRS not to “take adverse action” against churches participating in political activity that stops short of an endorsement of a candidate for office.

2. It provides “regulatory relief” for organizations that object on religious grounds to an Obamacare mandate that employer provided insurance cover certain objectionable health services, including contraception and abortion.

The first provision is to ease the pressure of the 1954 Johnson Amendment that allows the IRS to terminate a church’s tax-exempt status if they openly support or oppose political candidates (see my post, Feb. 5, 2017 for more details). Since an amendment is a law, the order only directs the IRS to not expand restrictions on churches beyond the law. Churches still can’t campaign or contribute to candidates.

The second provision directs agencies not to make additional regulations or “go after” companies and other organizations that declare religious objections to their insurance plan covering certain questionable health care services–especially contraception and abortion.

The greatest disappointment among many evangelicals regarding the order is that the final version did not contain an important provision in a leaked draft version. The earlier draft provided legal protection for businesses that would not offer goods and services to consumers they objected to on religious grounds, particularly LGBT consumers.

Being a conservative, I share in the disappointment that the order is more symbolic than substantive. I especially hoped to see the protection of business owners’ rights to determine whom they do business with. I think it is disgraceful that a business must offer its products or services to further the objectives of something the seller is morally opposed to. However, considering the reality of today’s world, I believe people of faith should, while making their views known, show gratitude and support for any and all movement by our government toward religious liberty.

I believe the President has clearly indicated his support for religious liberty, and we will see further strides in that direction. There are indications that he supported the earlier draft of the order that protected the right of businesses to withhold goods and services on religious grounds. But, certain influential advisors prevailed in their objections.

So, yes, this executive order was largely symbolic. But, I expect to see more executive orders that broaden religious liberties a step at a time. Also, with the better-balanced Supreme Court, and with another possible appointment coming within a year or two, we should see more decisions like the Hobby Lobby ruling in favor of religious convictions. The Constitution guarantees religious liberty, and we have a president, a Supreme Court, and a conservative Congress that will ultimately follow the Constitution. The new Washington leadership has been governing less than four months. Let’s celebrate the redirection from Obama’s disregard for Christian values, and wait to see where we stand in a couple of years. I am guardedly optimistic while putting every Washington decision and vote to the biblical test.

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