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Fasten Your Seat Belts


George Bush has had plenty of rough weeks this year but, for my money, next week is going to be his worst on record.
There is very little he can say this evening about Iraq that will solve his most pressing problem: Bush is in the most serious political trouble ever. Next week the U.S. Senate will be in open revolt against him and his “war” on terror and in Iraq. Moderates in the House are steadily swelling in number.
The 2006 election is – as it should be – in play and every Republican in Congress knows it. You only have to read Bush’s speech to see why.
By the count of the official White House website, it only took President George Bush seven minutes to declare war on America. In seven minutes – and with seven references to September 11, 2001 – Bush swept aside the careful thought and legal reasoning underpinning laws guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom to assembly, freedom of religion, the right to due process and protection from illegal search and seizure. And I’m just hitting the high points.
I’m hitting the high points because this isn’t – sadly – a surprise. There have been too many weird arrests and airport delays and far too many half-hearted immigration and border stops of young men and women of Mid-eastern or South Asian heritage to think someone wasn’t up to something, somewhere. Anyone with any kind of memory for New York’s Red Squad or the Nixon Enemy’s list could see the signs. The cases that the U.S. has brought have – time and time again – fallen apart for lack of evidence or the wrong kind of evidence. Why? Because it wasn’t evidence. It was suspicion – nothing more and, often in the end, a great deal less.
See, eavesdropping is just another one of the short cuts that this White House so loves to take in the name of fighting terror. Understanding how it cut corners makes the case of Jose Padilla who has gone from enemy combatant to a guy who makes threats much more understandable. Realizing that you’re dealing with cheaters shines a whole new light on the case of the German Khaled al-Masri who was abducted and held by the CIA in Afghanistan and turns out to only have a name that sounds like that of a “known” terrorist. These people are listening in? Maybe they should get the wax out of their ears.

And then there’s the political hypocrisy. President Bush’s reasoning – and that’s flattery, really, it’s a rationalization, nothing more – is that protecting Americans from terrorism makes it perfectly fine for him to take it upon himself to violate U.S. laws and authorize illegal wiretaps to eavesdrop on suspected “terrorists.” But that’s sort of in contrast to his much-repeated vow to fight terrorism in Iraq so we don’t have to fight it here in the U.S., isn’t it?
His pointing to the 9/11 Commission’s findings about the lack of cooperation between domestic and foreign intelligence agencies is just as galling. The 9/11 Commission has, in fact, said there should be more cooperation but it’s also pointed to basic stuff – like working radios for police and fire in large metropolitan areas – and harshly chastised the administration for being slow to fund and support needed projects. Maybe the White House figures it can take its time working on what to do after disaster strikes because it’s doing such a great job listening in on the phone calls between guys with funny names and their equally oddly-monikered friends and relatives.
And who’s really buying the line about how he gets careful advice from the Attorney General or the White House Counsel. The White House may have caved to Sen. John McCain on the use of torture by the U.S. military but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has done all kinds of legal summersaults to keep torture legal in this country and in U.S. facilities around the world. As for the current White House Counsel: She couldn’t cut it with the U.S. Senate as a Supreme Court nominee ’cause she couldn’t or wouldn’t answer questions about how she advised the president. I guess we now know why.
This is, of course, all about Richard Nixon. As the New York Times has pointed out, the Bush Administration’s attempts to role back the clock and create a presidency that is above Congress – back to the days when the president ran the country as he saw fit, not with kibbitzing from a bunch of loud-mouthed politicos – is part of what’s really going on here. No one should be fooled about that for a minute. This president is using the war to expand the power of his office.
So when George Bush starts talking about all the good advice he gets and how the law isn’t being broken and how it’s his duty as president, that he’s doing everything except hauling out that old chestnut “executive privilege,” remember this: Richard Nixon got the same kind of careful advice from convicted felons John Mitchell, H.R. Halderman, John Erlichman and John Dean.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 5:14 PM | Permalink

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