Barack Obama National Security Politics The Bush Legacy The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Americans Want a Second Bush-Cheney Administration?

[digg-reddit-me]Sometimes, I’m not sure when Andrew Sullivan means something literally and when he means something as a politically challenging debating point. I say this with the knowledge that the same can be said of me at times. When I tweeted the following, I was challenged to back up this “assertion”:

The Scott Brown Effect? DOW down almost 200 points since election of 41st Republican makes it harder for US to tackle fiscal matters.

I retreated eventually:

In all honesty, this Scott Brown thing was a reaction to the near-constant harping of people on the right about the “Obama effect” on the stock market. It was a way to gain a cheap political point in the short-term while planting the seed of doubt in the mind of those who actually thought Obama was the cause of the stock market drops last fall or today.

In other words, I was trying to win a debate point against those who decried Obama’s effect on the stock market. I wonder if Sullivan is doing something similar himself here:

From Day One, the GOP has had one strategy, utterly unrelated to the country’s interests, and utterly divorced from any responsibility for their own past: the destruction of any alternative to Bush-Cheney conservatism.

They believe that the policies of 2000 – 2008 are the right ones for the future…

It is the second sentence which seems more of a debate point meant to box your opponents in than a legitimate one – because as Sullivan has acknowledged before – the Bush administration’s views changed dramatically around 2004/2005. Which is why its not quite clear to me what one might describe as “the policies of 2000 – 2008.” With regards to national security and terrorism specifically – Bush took office nonchalant about terrorism, panicked after September 11, and then backed away from those panicked positions substantially while defending them as correct rhetorically.

This has been one of Sullivan’s main theses, and one which has profoundly shaped my views of both the Bush administration and the Obama administration in terms of national security policy. For while the Bush administration gradually scaled back the worst abuses, often due to court or rarely, Congressional, intervention, it never repudiated the precedents it set in the panic, precedents that if invoked would create an authoritarian executive. This is what bothered most of the liberals, what they feared. They saw in Bush’s immediate response an understandable panic, but in the precedents he set by refusing to repudiate the measures he took, the seeds of the destruction of our republic.

This is part of the reason Obama’s response has been significant – as he has attempted to gradually move the country to deal with terrorism rationally, in a nonpartisan fashion, and as a matter of law – to deal with it from a coherent strategic-legal framework rather than as the panicked, emergency, tough-seeming Bush policies. Obama has grasped the essential truth: What needs to happen – what is more essential than justice – is for our nation to come to a consensus on how we will deal with terrorism.

While Cheney, et al. attack Obama for abandoning the framework they created for the War on Terror (as they attempt to preemptively politicize the aftermath of the next attack), it is important to keep pointing out that Bush himself stopped using much of the Cheney framework by the time he left office. What we desperately need is for national security policy to become less polarized, less partisan. Mario Cuomo in the winter of 2007 foreshadowed this moment in history, as he called on Americans fed up with George W. Bush to seek:

Something wiser than our own quick personal impulses. Something sweeter than the taste of a political victory…

He called on Americans to instead turn to:

“Our Lady of the Law,” as she comes to us in our Constitution ─ the nation’s bedrock.

Because this is what many right wingers today reject as they defend – not the Bush administration as a whole – but this hard core Cheneyite view that Bush himself turned away from by the end of his time in office. They defend the panicked policies and fearful abandonment of American values as “tough” – asserting that it was this panicked response that “kept us safe” because they cannot quite bring themselves to acknowledge that no president can keep them safe.

What we so desperately need as a nation – if we are to maintain our power and not fritter away the rule of law and other strengths overreacting to terrorism – is to come to a national, bipartisan consensus on how to deal with terrorism. (We also need to come to a similar consensus on how to deal with our impending fiscal catastrophe – but that’s a subject for a different post.)

Andrew Sullivan sees the stakes – it is he who so often pushes me to confront them – to see that what we face is at its core “a crisis of civic virtue, a collapse of the good faith and serious, reasoned attention to problems.” To resolve this crisis, the ideologues and Cheneyites must be defeated; and they can only be defeated if we are able to take back control of the political conversation from the idiocrats.

Andrew Sullivan convinced me in his moving op-ed last year that the single individual most able to create this consensus is the man who so disgraced himself while in office: George W. Bush. Which is why I think it is a mistake to paint his administration’s policies with such a broad brush. We should condemn the Bush policies of 2001 – 2004, and embrace his gradual evolution to more nuanced positions. We must split those who supported Bush from those who supported Cheney in order to form a broader consensus; even if that distinction barely exists now – we must create it. From that barest of cracks is the beginning of a national consensus and the final marginalization of the Cheneyite view of executive power.

[Image by amarine88 licensed under Creative Commons.]

Barack Obama Criticism Foreign Policy History Iran Law National Security Politics The Bush Legacy The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

McNamara, Cuomo, Bearing Witness, Iran’s Bomb, Sri Lanken Victories, and Historical Dignity

It’s that glorious time of the week – Friday. So, here’s my recommendations of some interesting reads for this weekend that came up this past week…

  1. There were a number of excellent obituaries of Robert McNamara published upon his death. But what I would recommend would be reading this speech given in 1966 at the height of his power.
  2. Another speech worth reading is Mario Cuomo’s “Our Lady of the Law” speech from November 2007 which was published for the first time on this blog earlier in the week.
  3. Roger Cohen in the New York Times tries to express the insufficiency of online reporting aggregating news and media – as Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney did so usefully did during the Iranian protests. As these two journalists amassed tweets, photos, videos, news stories and every other bit of information about what was going on in Iran, Roger Cohen himself was in Tehran having evaded the Iranian censors. He went to the protests, interviewed the protesters, ran from basij with them. What I could see then was that while what Sullivan and Pitney were doing was new and unique – and extremely useful for understanding what was happening, it was missing a certain urgency that Cohen was able to provide with his bylines from Tehran. So he writes here about the “actual responsibility” of the journalist – to “bear witness:

    “Not everyone realizes,” Weber told students, “that to write a really good piece of journalism is at least as demanding intellectually as the achievement of any scholar. This is particularly true when we recollect that it has to be written on the spot, to order, and that it must create an immediate effect, even though it is produced under completely different conditions from that of scholarly research. It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.”

    Yes, journalism is a matter of gravity. It’s more fashionable to denigrate than praise the media these days. In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.

    The rest is no more than ornamentation.

    To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.
    No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.

  4. Robert Patterson in Foreign Policy brings some measured historical analysis to what would happen if Iran got the bomb.
  5. Robert Kaplan in The Atlantic explains how the Sri Lankan government was able to achieve a monumental victory over a terrorist group – and also why America should not imitate its methods in any way. He concludes bleakly:

    So is there any lesson here? Only a chilling one. The ruthlessness and brutality to which the Sri Lankan government was reduced in order to defeat the Tigers points up just how nasty and intractable the problem of insurgency is. The Sri Lankan government made no progress against the insurgents for nearly a quarter century, until they turned to extreme and unsavory methods.

  6. David Brooks wrote about dignity:

    In so doing, [George Washington] turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”


Our Lady of the Law

[digg-reddit-me]About a year and a half ago, looseheadprop at Firedoglake posted about a speech he called “Our Lady of the Law.” I’ve contacted Governor Cuomo’s offices a number of times in the past year asking if they could provide me a copy, and allow me to publish it on this blog, and last week, they graciously did.

Governor Cuomo gave this speech at a dark moment in the winter of 2007 as George W. Bush’s radical national security policies undermined the Rule of Law at home – from warrantless wiretapping to torture to the misuse of signing statements to the politicization of the Department of Justice to the unsupervised jailing of non-combatants under the authority of the executive branch. At the same time, the Lawyers Movement in Pakistan fought to restore the Rule of Law in Pakistan and marched against President Musharaff. looseheadprop quoted a line which isn’t in the prepared text I was given in which Governor Cuomo called on lawyers in America to follow the example of their brethren in Pakistan:

If US lawyers are marching in the streets in support of the rule of law in Pakistan, why aren’t we marching in support of the rule of law here?

Knowing human nature and his history, Governor Cuomo pointed out the George W. Bush was attempting to subvert the Rule of Law and “inflate the presidency into unconstitutional shape and power.” In this dark time, the winter of 2007, as revelation after revelation of George W. Bush’s misdeeds became public, Governor Cuomo called on the lawyers to fight for the Rule of Law – for Our Lady of the Law. He concluded with a call to arms – not against George W. Bush but to protect the institutions that enable us to be a state of consent and the liberal democracy that the Founding Fathers envisioned:

Surveys tell us that we believe our nation is not heading in the right direction and we have no clear notion as to how to change course.

It’s more than just the war in Iraq and threats of still another war that concerns us.

We have no heroes, no heroines, no soaring ideologies.

We are tired of, and frustrated by, political answers that seem impertinent, too shallow, too short-sighted or too harsh.

We are not even sure what we wish to be as a nation. We’re tempted to see ourselves as 300 million disassociated individuals struggling for survival and dominance in a dog-eat-dog world, instead of seeing ourselves as a fully integrated society, interconnected, interdependent, growing stronger together.

Some of us are frightened by 9/11 and terrorism into thinking we can be saved by a more powerful presidency even at the risk of creating the kind of monarchial power the Founding Fathers sought to protect us from in the Constitution.

We need something more ─ something better to believe in. To hold onto. To be guided by.

Something wiser than our own quick personal impulses.

Something sweeter than the taste of a political victory.

It would take more than the time we have now ─ and perhaps more than the wisdom that resides here today ─ even in this very gifted group ─ to find and to describe all we must do to relieve this profound discomfort.

But there is one thing we lawyers know will help relieve the unsureness that troubles us.

And that is “Our Lady of the Law,” as she comes to us in our Constitution ─ the nation’s bedrock.

Our 200 year old legacy of law and justice has been the foundation on which we have built all that is good about America. We must not allow that foundation to be weakened or even defaced by a political system whose claim to morality is the latest urge of the American people ─ however distracted, however mislead we may be on occasion.

We must not allow our eager presidents and timid Congress people to combine to weaken our system of checks-and-balances and threaten our republic by allowing a single individual to exercise monarchial powers.

For 200 years “Our Lady of the Law” has proven stronger than the sins of her acolytes and has made us better than we would have been.

Now she must be lifted above the political melee and the confusion before she is brought down and her guiding light is no longer visible to us.

Someone must lend their shoulders in the effort to do that.
If not, the lawyers, then who?

As we continue to experiment with national security laws, this message still rings true. We still need a Lawyers Movement in America to keep Barack Obama and our government honest – to ensure that they continue to protect the Rule of Law.

I’ve published the full text of the speech below the jump.