Category Archives: Bush Presidency

Getting harder and harder

bushwacked.jpg

Times are tough, my ninjas … at least for GDubz, who just can’t get anything to come together for him. Yesterday came a release, the National Intelligence Estimate, which is a report from all of intelligence from all 16 of the departments of intelligence we have: the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, etc. etc. etc.

Now, this report claims that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons development in 2003. President Bush has said that he did not know about this information prior to last week. Whaaaaaaaaat? My Ninja, Please. Bush is trying to claim that though there was new information which surfaced as early as July, he wasn’t told what this new information was until he was briefed on this report last week. I can probably say that he isn’t smart enough to know that he’s insulting our intelligence.

iran98535320.jpg

Now us hopeful bleeding hearts (or just practical folk) upon hearing this thought that this might just be reason enough for the Bush team to take the possibility of an air strike on Iran off the table. However, according to Bush’s response the the report, nothing has changed.

For those of you silly enough to think Giulliani is a solid choice in 2008, this is the statement from his Middle East policy man, Norman Podhoretz, essentially claiming the intelligence community is purposefully doing Iran a favor. [Ed: Podhoretz, a known idiot]

Inconceivable!

The White House seems to have a default position whenever it’s asked about Iran, which is to claim that it’s “pursuing the diplomatic track,” or something to that effect. Every time I hear it, I start waiting for some reporter to stand up and tell Dana Perino, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” On Tuesday, the claim that we’re using diplomacy was buttressed by the point that Bush is meeting with the leaders of France and Germany next week. Can’t help but notice, though, how that’s not meeting with Iran.

See, it’s a funny thing about diplomacy. It requires intricate, obscure techniques, like talking to the other country. Not labeling their military a supporter of terrorists and freezing their assets. Not warning third parties that inaction will lead to Armageddon. If they were serious about this, they’d be proposing high-level talks at a nice resort on the French Riviera next month. That way, best case, they solve the differences between the two nations; worst case, they spent a week in Nice. Not much downside there. Beyond that, it’s not like it would lose Bush any political support. He’s already more than established his “tough-on-terror” credentials. To go ubergeek for a moment and use the post’s second obscure quote: “There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China.” Same deal here. Of course, it’s so logical and so potentially worthwhile that it’s totally guaranteed that Bush won’t do it.

Instead, they’ll stick to what they’ve been doing: letting Cheney ramp up the rhetoric while Secretary Rice tells the Iranians that she’d be glad to talk to them about their nuclear program, just as soon as they agree to give up their nuclear program. Take a moment to digest the logic behind that one.

Oddly enough, it’s not an attitude limited to foreign policy. Check out the first set of answers regarding the Mukasey nomination here (video from TPM):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPpCbwBgecw[/youtube]

See, Senate Democrats who are worried that Michael Mukasey might be a radical authoritarian who’s OK with letting the President waive Congressional law, ignore judicial orders, and allow American agents to torture prisoners? Just give him the keys to the Justice Department! Then you’ll have all the answers you want when you ask him to testify again. Or, possibly, when the Deputy AG arrives on the steps of the Capitol to inform you that your services are no longer necessary and the Executive Branch will take it from here.

Back from a baseball break

Sorry for the recent lack of posts, had to take the weekend off to watch the Red Sox finish their World Series sweep. (My condolences to the Rockies and their fans. They had one hell of a run, they’ll definitely get another shot in the next few years.)

With the baseball season in the books, time to get back to politics. I promised y’all more stuff on Iran, and I do like to keep to that sort of promise. So let’s head in and get to the bottom of what may well be our third war in six years. We’ll start with a bit of historical background.

mossadegh

Any understanding of US-Iran relations needs to start with this guy. Mohammed Mossadegh, prime minister of Iran in the early 50′s, led his country on a number of reforms, most notably and controversially the nationalization of the oil industry, until then controlled by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The Brits, amazingly enough, were annoyed by the loss of their oil, and asked the United States to take action. The CIA, in their inimitable way, put money into the right hands, and a military coup d’etat swept Mossadegh out of power in favor of the Shah.
This move proved fairly unpopular among the Iranian people, and thus the Shah maintained his power through the grand traditions of torture, repression, and secret police. He was supported in these endeavors, both financially and militarily, by the United States, who saw him as a valuable ally against Soviet expansion. Decades of oppression finally bubbled over in the Islamic Revolution of 1978-9, the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic government, and the seizing of the American Embassy in Tehran. Relations between the two countries entered a rather tense phase, with Iran supporting various anti-American terrorist causes (most notably Hezbollah) and the US supporting pretty much anyone who opposed the Ayatollah. For example, this guy, who you may recognize from his many appearances on South Park:

Saddam Hussein

Tensions eased a bit in the mid-90′s, largely due to a more moderate tone from the Iranian government toward the West and a generally receptive administration in the United States. After 9/11, Iran offered some cooperation (how much is still a matter of argument, there’s an excellent set of opinions here) against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Then, of course, we had the 2002 State of the Union and the “Axis of Evil” designation, followed by the invasion of Iraq. The hardliners within the Iranian government saw both (not unreasonably) as hostile moves, and used the opportunity to reassert control, purging the moderates and taking every opportunity to condemn American aggression.

And so here we sit, with Iran’s president giving bellicose speeches across the globe and our Congress declaring part of Iran’s military a terrorist organization. We’ve got prominent foreign policy analysts claiming that Iranians “have terrorism in their DNA.” It’s beginning to look very much as though the question of the United States attacking Iran is one of “when,” not “if.”

President Bush has apparently said on several occasions that he doesn’t want to leave Iran’s nuclear program as an unresolved issue after he leaves office. Yes, that’s right. A $9 trillion national debt, a still-flooded New Orleans, a collapsing healthcare system, and 130,000 troops in Iraq can be left to the next guy, but Iran we’ve gotta bomb tomorrow. And if you think Congress will stop him, you haven’t been paying much attention. For one thing, the new Democratic majority has been, shall we say, less than assertive in standing up to the President on matters of war.

For another, this is an Administration that has repeatedly made it clear that it feels Congress has absolutely no authority over the Presidency where war is concerned. Dick Cheney has said publicly that the first President Bush would have had the authority to invade Iraq in 1991 even if Congress had voted against it. Even better, remember that little resolution I mentioned earlier, which laid the groundwork for the President to declare part of Iran’s military a “supporter of terrorism”? Consider it in the context of the Sept. 14th, 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” effectively declaring the “War on Terror” underway. If part of Iran’s military is a terrorist group, then (according to these blokes) the President has the right to attack it without Congressional permission. And if the rest of Iran’s military counterattacks, then they’re supporting terrorists, and we get to go after them, too.

I wish I could say that this is a fluke, that if Congress can just find its spine for the next year or so and run out the clock on the Bushies, we’ll avoid a war. I’m more than a bit worried, though. Take a look at this debate, from Talking Points Memo:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-0E6ka8k54[/youtube]

The dude who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between Nazi Germany and, as Paul Krugman put it, “a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut” is Norman Podhoretz, who in addition to being the dean of Washington’s neoconservative dingbats, is the chief foreign policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani, the GOP frontrunner for 2008. With that reassuring thought, I’m off to bed. With any luck I’ll have something cheerier for you tomorrow.

Enjoying the bipartisan tone

On Cal Thomas’s column page at the Jewish World Review, he’s listed as the author of a book entitled Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America. So clearly he’s an individual committed to restoring a civil tone to our political discourse, forging a more respectful debate in which everyone remembers that whatever our differences, we have the good of the nation at heart. So let’s hear what he’s got to say about the ill-timed but well-intentioned Armenian genocide resolution that recently came up in the House. I’m sure it’s gracious, polite, and even-keeled, a shining example of the bipartisan comity he so cherishes.

Are Democrats so cynical that they would stir an already boiling pot in hopes that it would negate whatever success America may finally be having in quelling terrorist acts in Iraq? One would hope that is not the case, but given their leadership’s rhetoric about the war already being lost and their refusal to acknowledge even the slightest progress in Iraq as positive lest it reflect well on the Bush administration, cynicism about their cynical actions might be justified.

Hmm. That wasn’t so much polite and bipartisan as it was an accusation that the Speaker of the House is so eager to make the President look bad that she was willing to start a war between Turkey and the Kurds, with our troops in the middle. Maybe he’s being funny. Yes, that must be it. By “opining” that the Democrats are “traitors,” he’s making an incisive commentary on our political discourse. Let’s see the clever way he defies our expectations and ends with a knowing wink.

Apparently there are limits beyond which even Democrats are not willing to go in their pursuit of political gain. There are some issues that ought to transcend partisanship and this is one of them.

Ah. That wasn’t so much a knowing wink as a backhanded compliment (and by “compliment,” I mean “slap across the face”) to Democrats, who despite their all-consuming thirst for victory at any cost, do have some limits. That seems fair. The Democrats are well-known for their bareknuckle tactics and ruthless smear campaigns. Thank goodness the Republicans would never stoop so low as to exploit a war for political gain.

Anyway, the real reason I bring up this article is to comment on something I’ve been considering a lot lately: the resurgence of the dolchstosslegende. Translating roughly as “dagger-thrust legend,” the term became historically significant in the aftermath of the First World War, as Germans searched for an explanation for their defeat in a war in which their leaders had guaranteed victory. The conclusion reached by many was that they had been somehow betrayed, that malevolent forces within Germany had stabbed their brave fighting men in the back. This belief contributed greatly to the rise of the Nazis, who successfully turned the “backstab” accusation against the Communists, the Social Democrats, and other political adversaries, and ultimately against the Jews.

Kevin Baker wrote a fascinating article for Harper’s last year about the use of similar rhetoric (of the “we were betrayed” sort, not the “let’s kill all non-Aryans and conquer the world” sort) by the American right over the last half-century. The article’s well worth the read, and required reading for anyone interested in understanding modern politics. The idea that America’s problems are due to internal subversion rather than dumb policy has gotten the Republicans a lot of points over the years, they seem unlikely to abandon it anytime soon. Unfortunately, the day we finally decide to leave Iraq may well just be the beginning of the fight over whose fault it was that we left.

A few quick hits

The Federal Communications Commission is considering rewriting the rules on media ownership. Current rules state that a single company can’t own a TV or radio station and a newspaper within the same media market. The chairman of the FCC, not wanting to unduly burden billionaire media moguls in their ongoing quest for world domination, wants to get rid of this rule. And it makes sense, really. Without all that pesky regulatory work taking up their time, the FCC can get back to its real job: making sure no one can say “fuck” on television.

Fun new controversy on the Iraq front… Remember this guy?

sanchez

Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, US Army (ret.) was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq from mid-2003 to mid-2004. He’s recently emerged from his retirement to level a bit of criticism at the Administration’s policies in that particular quagmire. Now, the irony of that I could comment upon, but I’ll let Jon Stewart cover that (go watch it, Daily Show’s always worth the trip, especially when they don’t even try to resist the filthy play on a political figure’s name).

What is really interesting is the dilemma it brings to light (which Fred Kaplan covers brilliantly here): when is it acceptable, in a constitutional republic, for generals to question civilian leaders? On the one hand, I really do hope that if Bush orders a strike on Iran, that the Joint Chiefs do everything they possibly can to dissuade him. On the other, I don’t much care for the precedent of military commanders overruling civilian authority. Admittedly, this is the sort of thing that’s less of a problem when the civilian leadership isn’t delusional.

Speaking of which, the only President we’ve got is actively discussing World War III, which is always reassuring. The thing that’s most frightening about the quote is that he wasn’t addressing his comment to Iran, but to Russia, the other country on Earth with several thousand nuclear weapons. I don’t really think he’s envisioning a war against Russia over Iran, but still, this sort of belligerent commentary seems… oh, I don’t know, foolish? Anyone with a better adjective, go ahead and suggest it.

Cheney 101

I’m watching Cheney’s Law right now, since the Sox game prevented me from watching the initial airing, and so far it’s fantastic, there will absolutely be full posting on it in the afternoon. But while I’m watching, I think it’s a good idea to provide y’all with some background on Cheney and his influence. After all, a true ninja can not achieve victory without first knowing the battlefield.

First, the Unitary Executive Theory. This is the basis, the legal wellspring of every move Cheney et al has made toward increasing executive powers. Here’s how it works. A number of lawyers working for Attorney General Edwin Meese, back in the Reagan years, were asked to find a legal basis for pushing back against the renewed Congressional powers that came about after Watergate and the investigations of the Church Committee. Their conclusion was that the Constitution gave the President total control over the entire Executive Branch, free of any restraint by either Congress or the courts. They cited as their central piece of evidence Federalist #70, in which Alexander Hamilton argued for a unified executive.

Now, to anyone reading the piece without an agenda, Hamilton was explaining why having one President was a better idea than having, for example, a Roman-style triumvirate, not why the United States should have a totally unaccountable executive. This didn’t seem to bother Meese’s lawyers. Now those same lawyers, and their disciples, are in charge. So we have the Administration’s top lawyers, clinging to the basic Nixonian principle that (to quote the man himself) “When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”

Second, the “signing statement.” We all remember our basic lessons on how a bill becomes a law, right? If not, take a moment below to refresh:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEJL2Uuv-oQ[/youtube]

So Cheney’s boys have added another step to the process. After the President signs a law, he can attach a statement to said law, which lays out how (or whether) he plans to enforce it. For example, the McCain Amendment of 2006 (scroll down to SA 1977) prohibited “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone held in the custody of the U.S. Department of Defense. However, a signing statement attached to said bill made it clear that the President has the right to ignore that ban entirely if, in his judgment, the defense of the nation requires it. Fun, right? If we’re going to run the government this way, one begins to wonder why we need Congress at all.

The final thing we’ll go over is the idea of “Commander-in-Chief,” which is clearly central to Bush’s self-image. Article II of the Constitution declares that “the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” Which means, despite his constant claims otherwise, that George W. Bush is not my Commander-in-Chief. He’s my President (not that I’m happy about it), but as I’m a civilian, thus not a member of either the Army or Navy, that’s all he is. So whenever someone tells you that you should believe the President, because he’s “our Commander-in-Chief,” then unless you’re a current member of the armed forces, they’re full of it. Why does the Administration use the term so often, then, you may ask. Because commanders aren’t accountable, whereas presidents, being elected representatives, are.

Sorry to turn an otherwise relaxed site into a lecture hall, but without this background, this week’s posts won’t be nearly as interesting. And the last thing I want to do is bore y’all into catatonia in my second week here. Till next time, folks.

12 Captains on the War

Unbelievably great op-ed in the Washington Post this morning. Following in the footsteps of their comrades who wrote for the New York Times a few months back, 12 former Army captains submitted an opinion piece outlining what they observed in their time in Iraq. Strangely, it’s a bit different from what their superior officers have been telling Congress.

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It’s certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

It’s the way they conclude their piece, though, that’s most worthy of note:

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

This brings up one of the things that’s bugged me about the Iraq war (and for that matter the whole “Global War on Terror” concept) for a long time now. The Administration keeps telling us that the security of our nation depends on beating the terrorists, and on creating a stable, democratic Iraq. But they clearly don’t mean it.

If we’re in a war for our very survival, then where’s the $2-a-gallon tax on gasoline to finance increased security measures and shut off the flow of oil money to autocratic, terrorist-breeding governments in the Middle East? Where are the draft notices going out to conscript an Army big enough to actually secure a stable Iraq? Where’s the recruitment drive by the CIA to find American citizens who understand Middle Eastern languages and culture? Where’s the grand alliance of Western nations banding together against a common threat? Why didn’t any of this happen?

It’s certainly not because the country wasn’t willing. Hell, right after 9/11 people were practically falling over each other trying to figure out ways to band together and help out. So why the hell didn’t the Administration use that energy, that desire, and try to unite the country in solving this difficult problem?

Because they’re not interested in solving problems. Anytime a problem comes up, the modern GOP is interested in two things: (to quote one of Aaron Sorkin’s finer pieces) making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. “Sure, we could tap into one of our nation’s greatest strengths, its diverse immigrant population, and hire citizens of Arab descent to help our intelligence agencies, but instead, let’s just arrest a bunch of them for no reason. That way, we look like we’re rounding up terrorists, and when the Democrats protest, we can say they’re coddling bin Laden! It’s win-win!”

Alright, I think that should get a bit of cynicism out of my system for a while. In the meantime, this special is going to air tonight on PBS at 9 EDT, and then it’ll be online at www.pbs.org/frontline:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLz5Ja_pius[/youtube]

Once I catch it, I’ll definitely be posting about it. I have a feeling you’ll be reading a lot about Cheney and the “Unitary Executive Theory” around here in the next week.

A proud day for the Law

I should have posted on this a few days back, but a few days back I wasn’t writing here yet, so I hope y’all can excuse the delay.

supreme court

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court got handed the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen who was suing the Administration. Now, why would a German citizen feel the need to sue the American government? Glad you asked. Turns out that in 2003, he was snatched by American agents, flown to a prison in Afghanistan, and held for a year as they interrogated him about his connections to terrorists. Turned out, of course, that he had none, and that our guys had been using their “enhanced interrogation techniques” (which totally aren’t torture, because only bad guys torture people, and we’re the good guys!) on an innocent man. Strangely enough, he’s a trifle annoyed about the situation, and decided to sue.

The case got all the way to the Supremes, who promptly decided that they wouldn’t bother to even hear the case, deferring to the Bush Administration’s claim that a public trial would expose “state secrets.” Two things came quickly to mind.

First, as far as “secrets” go… Presumably the secrets in question are the interrogation methods that were used on al-Masri, and the Administration’s claim is that if they’re revealed, terrorists will be able to prepare for them, thus thwarting our noble intelligence agents. Now, diligent journalism from all over the globe has already uncovered evidence of temperature manipulation, beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, religious and sexual degradation, and waterboarding. So the obvious question comes to mind: if this is already public, what sort of stuff are they doing that they think hasn’t been revealed? The mind simply boggles.

Second (and this is something I’d only just learned recently), the “state secrets” privilege in this country is based on a Supreme Court case from 1953. The families of several men who died in the crash of a test bomber sued to gain access to the accident report, in hopes of finding out what had happened to their loved ones. The government refused, claiming that releasing the report would expose important military secrets. It being the early years of the Cold War, the Court deferred to this claim and ruled against the families. Several years ago, the documents in question became public, and it turns out that there was nothing in them that could reasonably qualify as a legitimate military secret. It was the classic example of a government hiding a screwup behind the “Classified” stamp.

What this all means is pretty straightforward. The Court, by refusing to hear the case, has tacitly admitted that the government can kidnap a person, hold them against their will, subject them to treatment that any rational individual would consider torture, all without accusing them of a crime or allowing them access to counsel. And, if this person should by some miracle manage to exercise their basic rights and sue for redress, the government can simply conjure the all-purpose defense of “national security secrets” and get away with it.

magna carta

That’s the Magna Carta, the one worthwhile thing King John (yeah, the guy Robin Hood stole from) ever did. Among other things, it set down on paper the right of a citizen not to be arrested or imprisoned “except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” That was almost 800 years ago.

Good thing the Bush Administration is around to protect us from such quaint medieval notions. And even better that the pesky courts didn’t try to interfere. Because if they had, the terrorists would win, and we all know that the terrorists would take our freedom away.

This is… our country?

Nothing like getting things started on an upbeat note, so here goes…

Ted Kennedy, my very own senior Senator, wrote a piece for Salon in which he discusses the Administration’s less-than-stellar record on torture. Among other things, he mentions the legislation he’s sponsoring which would clarify the law in this particular area. Please take a look at the bill (it’s short, I promise) before reading any further.

Now then. On the one hand, I think we can agree that the methods banned by this bill are good things to ban. (And just to save everyone a lot of time and bother, if you don’t find these tactics worth banning, my posts probably aren’t going to be your particular cup of chai.) The thing that disturbs the hell out of me is that one of the more prominent members of the US Senate actually has to write a bill laying out in blunt terms that these things are bad. Not only that, but that there’s a better than decent chance that this bill won’t pass, and even if it does, that the Administration will attach a signing statement and toss it down the memory hole.
If someone had told you seven years ago that Congress would soon be considering a bill the purpose of which was to make sure that American soldiers and intelligence agents wouldn’t electrocute, beat, or fake-drown prisoners, would you have believed it possible? Certainly it’s been a long time since I was naive enough to believe that America has never done anything even morally grey, let alone lousy, but I still thought there were at least a few lines we wouldn’t cross. Torturing people was one of those lines.
That’s the single reason I’m most pissed off at the current Administration, I think. Seven years ago, I had a pretty good grasp on what America meant. Now I’m not nearly as sure, and that drives me up the wall.

Fortunately enough, being driven up the wall tends to make me write, so I imagine there’ll be no shortage of posts in the near future. Hopefully they’ll be worth reading.

Freepers Creepers / Deja War

Incredibly, it’s happening again. As if Iraq never happened, as if the innumerable lessons from that national shame and continuing horror never happened. As if the ‘06 election slapdown and clear annunciation of the people’s will never happened.

Incredibly, the same cast of chickenhawk fools and lazy legislators who brought us Iraq are now dragging the country into an even bigger pile of bushit. Incredibly, the media awaits their next sage utterances on the “progress” in Iraq and the need to bomb the hell out of Iran as if they had a shred of credibility remaining.

Read the Rest @ Thinking Peace or read about Bush and the Freepers