Well, well, even Republicans are hinting at impeachment
1. Getting Serious About the “I” Word -- by John Nichols/ The Nation
Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough had me on his MSNBC show tonight to talk about impeachment.
It was smart, civil discussion that treated the prospect of impeaching the president as a serious matter.
Scarborough took the lead in suggesting that Bush’s biggest problem might be that Republicans in the House and Senate who — fearful of the threat Bush poses to their political survival — do not appear to be rallying ’round the president. The host’s sentiments were echoed by two other guests, columnist Mike Barnicle and Salon’s Joan Walsh.
The impetus for the show was Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel’s ongoing discussion of the impeachment prospect — Hagel’s not quite a supporter of sanctioning Bush, more a speculator about the prospect — and a new column by Robert Novak that suggests Bush has dwindling support within the congressional wing of the GOP.
Speaking about impeachment on ABC’s “This Week,” Hagel said, “Any president who says ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else’ or ‘I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed’ — if a president really believes that, then there (are) ways to deal with that.”
Novak wrote “The I-word (incompetence) is used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to described a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI’s misuse of the Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. ‘We always have claimed that we were the party of better management,’ one House leader told me. ‘How can we claim that anymore?’”
Scarborough drew the two statements together for the purpose of asking whether Bush could count on Republicans to block moves by Congressional Democrats to hold Bush to account for high crimes and misdemeanors.
When a conservative commentator who was on the frontlines of Newt Gingrich’s “Republican revolution” entertains a thoughtful conversation about the politics and processes of impeachment on a major cable news network, it should be clear that the cloistered conversation about sanctioning this president has begun to open up.
No, Scarborough is not jumping on the impeachment bandwagon.
He is simply treating the prospect seriously, as did CNN’s Wolf Blitzer earlier in the day.
What I told Scarborough is what I have been saying in public forums for the past several weeks: We are nearing an impeachment moment. The Alberto Gonzales scandal, the under-covered but very real controversy involving abuses of the Patriot Act and the president’s increasingly belligerent refusals to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government are putting the discussion of presidential accountability onto the table from which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to remove it.
Does this mean Bush and Cheney will be impeached? That, of course, will be decided by the people. Impeachment at its best is always an organic process; it needs popular support or it fizzles — as with the attempt by House Republican leaders to remove former President Clinton in a process that, fairly or not, seemed to be all about blue dresses.
While the people saved Clinton – by signaling to their representatives that they opposed sanctioning a president’s personal morals – it does not appear that they are inclined to protect Bush.
With each new revelation about what Gonzales did at the behest of the Bush White House to politicize prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys, the revulsion with the way this president has disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law becomes more intense. And citizens are not cutting their president much slack.
A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll — conducted over the weekend — shows that, by close to a 3-to-1 margin, Americans want Congress to issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify in the Gonzales case. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed say the president should drop his claim of executive privilege in this matter, while only 26 percent agree with the reasoning Bush has used to try and block a meaningful inquiry.
If the president wants to get in a fight with Congress over how to read the Constitution, it appears that the people will back Congress. And that backing is what will begin to restore the backbones of House members who, despite Pelosi’s attempts to quiet talk of impeachment, are getting more and more intrigued by the prospect of holding this president to account.
As Hagel says, “This is not a monarchy. There are ways to deal with (executive excess). And I would hope the president understands that.”
If Bush doesn’t recognize this reality now, he soon will.
(John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.’”)
2. The Radical Cure -- by David Essex/Flakmagazine
All recent Republican administrations, four out of four including Richard Nixon's, have ended under penumbra of impeachable offenses, the reckonings for which have been postponed and then derailed by effective cover-up, by orchestrated perjuries sealed forever with Presidential pardons. Now the Scooter Libby verdict, the Gonzales affair, and doubtless much, much more to come, make it all but certain we'll go five for five — that the second Bush administration will end, as did the first, with the Presidential pardon of a co-conspirator. History repeats itself — somewhere between farce and atrocity — and the clear cause is the consistent failure to impeach and prosecute criminal Republicans.
The case of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Dick Cheney, has served as a window into the Bush administration and an encapsulation of its standard operational ethic. A few months prior to the 2004 elections Libby and Karl Rove participated in an orchestrated smear campaign against Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who'd had the audacity to debunk some of the mendacious sales pitch for the invasion of Iraq. The arm-chair warriors of the White House rather tellingly concocted a tale about how Wilson (decorated for heroism in Iraq by Bush I) was the kind of girly-man whose wife has to find jobs for him. Unfortunately for Scooter et al., said wife was an operative in the WMD division of the CIA, and the smear blew her cover. Soon Bush needed a firewall between him and the scandal, so, breaking his own world record for on-camera phoniness, he promised to "investigate" the leak and moved on. There's no conceivable universe wherein W's own chief of staff, Rove would have joined the scheme without the snickering approval of his nominal boss, so it's hardly surprising that Bush's White House has done absolutely no investigation of itself, to this day.
After Bush's OJ-like promise to solve the crime, Libby and Rove denied everything for long enough to get their boss re-elected. Then at the last minute, Karl Rove apparently turned state's evidence, so only Libby was charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Well before Libby's recent conviction, right-wingers started calling for a pardon, bizarrely claiming that since Valerie Plame wasn't under cover, there was "no underlying crime" to justify the investigation Scooter had lied to. As of March 16, we know from the Bush's own CIA chief that Valerie Plame was under cover. This has prompted some Republicans to invoke the "Was Not Was Not Was Not" defense, but experts say that Libby has a poor chance for a new trial, and a very weak appeal, so it is highly likely he'll be pardoned well before the prospect of prison tempts him to turn on his former bosses.
The nation would have a lot less hard evidence about Bush administration lies if not for the heroic efforts of Patrick Fitzgerald, the Chicago US Attorney who got tapped as special prosecutor. Undoubtedly Fitzgerald's efforts helped convince Karl Rove that he needed to have some US Attorneys fired, especially after the Democrats' recent electoral victories — hence the ongoing Gonzales affair. Plamegate might have been a matter of arrogant blundering, mere criminal negligence. It may also have been a deliberate signal to other WMD experts that they would be, in Rove's phrase, " fucked like they've never been fucked " if they talked about the " fixed intelligence ." But the current uproar over the firing of eight US attorneys last December clearly points to systemic corruption in the Bush administration and, not coincidentally, to Karl Rove's well-established historical MO.
The Prosecutor Purge lacks any atomic bombs or gorgeous blonde spies, but still it's a story that will be with us for awhile. In the wake of Plamegate and the Libby trial it's now a matter of public record that lying and even perjury are SOP at the White House. Under these circumstances Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should not have told the Senate Judiciary committee under oath, "I think I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons..." and "I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney," and that the prosecutors he fired were "underperforming" — especially when these public claims were (to a ridiculous degree) diametrically contradicted by his chief of staff's e-mails. Even a C-minus lawyer like Gonzales should know it's illegal to lie to Congress .
As usual with the "loyal Bushies," the lies were cover-up for greater illegality, and that is ongoing conversion of the Justice Department to Justice Department to Karl Rove's " ratfucking " operation. As John DiIulio said in 2002, shortly after fleeing the administration in fear for his soul:
"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."
Karl Rove very soon frightened DiIulio into apologizing for this observation, perhaps underscoring its absolute veracity, which has since has been borne out again and again. Now blatant corruption of the Justice Department is its quintessential evidence. At the "Justice" Department this politicizing seems to have manufactured investigations into Democratic operations and impeded investigations into Republican — thus a comprehensive study by John Kragan and Donald Shields reveals that "...across the nation from 2001 through 2006 the Bush Justice Department investigated Democratic office holders and candidates at a rate more than four times greater (nearly 80 percent to 18 percent) than they investigated Republican office holders and seekers." Not coincidentally, the US attorneys fired last December were notably uncooperative in the framing of Democrats, or else they prosecuted Republicans.
As Sidney Blumenthal recently pointed out in Salon, Karl Rove has long exploited such investigations into his political opponents:
“From the earliest Republican campaigns that Rove ran in Texas, beginning in 1986, the FBI was involved in investigating every one of his candidates' Democratic opponents. Rove happened to have a close and mysterious relationship with the chief of the FBI office in Austin. Investigations were announced as elections grew close, but there were rarely indictments, just tainted Democrats and victorious Republicans.”
In light of this, things such as the US attorney's odd October intrusion into the dead-heat New Jersey Senate race seem extremely suspicious. One might also fairly wonder whether Rove wanted to have his former aide Tim Griffin made US attorney in Little Rock, despite his lack of legal experience, so that he might make trouble for Hillary Clinton, should she be the Democratic presidential candidate. Senate Democrats apparently want to ask Rove about such things, but his boss says he can answer their questions only if free to lie with impunity, that is, off the record and un-sworn.
Dirty politics is, of course, not the only reason the Bush administration needs compliant prosecutors. As often happens, this organization takes its style directly from the top, and George W. Bush came to the White House with a rich history of personal dishonesty and grossly unethical behavior, up to and including corporate crime. He also brought a remarkable affinity for criminals such as Ken Lay, Jack Abramoff, and Bernie Kerick. We may safely speculate that some criminals joined the administration (like procurement chief David Savafian, now in prison) and many, many others profited from it, including energy executives and defense contractors who got huge no-bid contracts for their shadowy "services" in the Global War on Terror and Iraq: Halliburton, Carlyle Group, SAIC, Blackwater, et cetera. Should anyone ever care to devote the investigatory resources to Bushie ethics that went into say, the years-long Whitewater fizzle, it's a safe bet they will uncover a top-to-bottom kleptocracy bold enough to make Caligula envious. But just to provide a cinematic visual aid for this speculation: consider the recent revelation that the administration loaded 12 billion dollars mostly, in $100 bills, onto pallets (that's 336 tons of scrip!) and then onto cargo planes, and flew it into the fog of the Iraq war — where about 250 of those tons, or $8.8 billion, completely disappeared . Paranoids might want some assurance that this cash hasn't been cycled back to fund Republican campaigns and Rove's dirty-tricks squads into the next millennium.
Toxic as an Obstruction of Justice Department might be for a democracy, and promising as it might be as an avenue towards further investigation and prosecution, the purge of prosecutors is relatively trivial when compared to the many other high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush administration. Last winter New Mexico Democrats drafted a resolution petitioning Congress to investigate and impeach Bush and Cheney, and that document provides a good bill of particulars. It charges that the Bush and Cheney: "conspired with other to defraud the United Sates" by misleading us into the Iraq war; that Bush ordered the NSA to conduct illegal, warrantless surveillance of American citizens; that they "conspired to commit the torture of prisoners" in violation of law and treaty; and that in the matter of so-called enemy combatants "they acted to strip American citizens of their constitutional rights by ordering indefinite detention without access to legal counsel." This resolution was mysteriously killed when nine Democratic state senators joined with Republicans to kill the bill without a reading. But why? The charges in it are hardly even controversial. Certainly Bush wouldn't cop to lying us into the war (now matter how indisputable the evidence), but apart from that he doesn't even deny the practices cited; rather he and his attorneys assert a presidential right to do all the other things, and a good many more besides.
In the hundreds of signing statements and constitutional challenges he has appended to the acts of Congress. Bush has insisted that as Decider, he can ignore, modify or enforce the law as he sees fit. The paradigm case is the signing statement appended to the excruciatingly negotiated and much ballyhooed ban on torture. Bush signed the bill, which passed with veto-proof margins, but he mysteriously did so at 8 PM on December 30, and he appended this:
“The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.”
In plain English this means: "I claim the right to ignore this law entirely." Many, including (as Bush doubtless intended) some at Guantanamo, saw this as an "as you were" to his torturers, an assertion that neither Congress nor the judiciary has the power to make them stop, if Bush doesn't want them to. In fact, Bush has similarly asserted the primacy of the "unitary executive" over the other branches of government at least 82 times. His power grab is a classic instance of an unbelievable truth, a brute fact that outstrips the average capacity to comprehend it: the President can, without any legal process, have his uniformed subordinates remove anyone to an undisclosed location and there held indefinitely and tortured, if, in his entirely private or even top-secret view, this would somehow deter hypothetical "terrorist attacks." We have abundant, clear evidence of this policy in practice, in the years-long incommunicado detention of an Amercian citizen, Josè Padilla, once, though no longer, accused of planning a "dirty bomb." We get a sense of torture's efficacy from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's recent Gitmo confessions to everything, and the collective skepticism with which these effusions were greeted around the world.
If Bush had declared that The War required martial law, and that he must therefore dissolve Congress and the Courts, those Americans who aren't inFoxicated unto delusion would object violently. But he has accomplished the same thing by invariably holding the "unitary executive" above the law, holding that he is able to jail whom he chooses, how he chooses, to make war at will, and is answerable to nobody. If under Nixon, there was famously a "cancer on the Presidency" that cancer has clearly metastasized. And yet talk of impeachment is regarded as somehow radical. Given all of the above, one should wonder, what would it take for a viable impeachment? Must there be Presidential rape rooms or death camps — on video? Must citizens be nerve-gassed before regime change is considered, and if so will such administrative remedy even be then available?
Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, captured in an email the essence of the Bush lame-duck defense strategy, "We should gum this to death... ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations... and otherwise run out the clock ." Bush's refusal to allow Rove's testimony is that policy in operation. As Time reported last October, the Bush team started planning this endgame before the last election:
“The President's team has been planning for what one strategist describes as "a cataclysmic fight to the death" over the balance between Congress and the White House if confronted with congressional subpoenas it deems inappropriate. The strategist says the Bush team is "going to assert that power, and they're going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court on every issue, every time, no compromise, no discussion, no negotiation."
It's not surprising that the Bush team is resolved to stonewall here; it's highly probable many in the administration face ruin or prison if investigations go forward unimpeded, so they're fighting for their lives. The prospect of being penalized at the ballot box is utterly trivial in comparison. They've bet everything and so the cover-up must hold, at least until the distraction of the next electoral cycle, at least until pardons can be issued without immediate penalty. This being the case, probably the only effective mode of investigation will be impeachment, under the auspices of which the President cannot conceal crimes by asserting executive privilege.
Impeachment is a radical cure but the condition is grave indeed. For too long the Democrats' dereliction has taken this form: "Give the Republicans enough rope and they'll hang themselves." But clearly the Rovians know many better ways to make use of the slack. It is well past time to have some accountability, and timidly conventional halfway measures will not get it done. All Americans, but especially Democrats, need to press their representatives (and those campaigning to be such) for their plans to hold the authors of recent and ongoing catastrophes accountable. This might serve as talking point in lieu of a plan to work miracles in Iraq.
Some Republicans, especially the White House spokesman, are already calling the investigations "partisan" — a colossal projection by Mayberry Machiavellis. But it may well be that only a pragmatic crossover Republican can breathe life into an impeachment of his party's head — as Joe Lieberman did in the last egregious instance. As the full awfulness, the reckless squandering of American treasure, blood and honor, the pervasive criminality of the Bush administration reveal themselves to congressional committees with subpoenas and a new mission, we may hope that the decent Republicans will awaken from their lockstepping sleepwalk and return to their principles. Others may have other less noble reasons to separate themselves from the Rove machine.
Some will object, like the New Mexico Democrat who voted down the petition to impeach with this, "You can't impeach a man for being stupid." But when the stupidity involves reckless disregard for deadly consequences which results in thousands of utterly needless deaths, can we still not impeach? And of course it is not only stupidity. There were laws on the books against torture and against warrantless wiretapping — to name only two. The breaking of those laws is irrefutably documented; at the very least the people should know on whose orders they were broken. If there is no case for impeachment here, then impeachment is never warranted, then impeachment is a legal fiction which ought to be stricken from the citizens' notion of Constitutional possibilities. Bushie Kyle Sampson should have been speaking of impeachment power when he famously wrote, "If we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?" We could start small , say with Gonzales and Rove.
There is a pragmatic reason for impeachment, even at this late stage of the Bush administration. The nearly complete immunity from prosecution that White House officials have enjoyed through perjury and pardon has, in the language of the Bushies, emboldened, rewarded and enriched the criminal element in the GOP. There is a direct causal connection between Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon, and George Bush's attempted suspension of the Constitution, along with the crimes which have taken place in the highest reaches of most lawless administration of them all. Indeed, given the revolving-door overlap among personnel in recent Republican White Houses, it would be surprising if the favored practices of the earliest were not adopted, adapted and perfected by the latest.
Watergate definitely changed things, and so did Iran-Contra — the cover-ups are getting better and better with each neo-Nixonian administration. There are no tape recorders in the Rove Oval Office, and the next shredding-party will be discreet. Directly as the cover-ups get better, accountability diminishes and the criminality becomes more pervasive and bold. This is why it is absolutely necessary to fully investigate, prosecute and repudiate lawbreaking by the President and his subordinates. The house that Rove built must be burned to the ground, and salt spread upon the ashes.
Against demurrers about partisanship and divisiveness, I offer this little known yet abundantly documented cautionary tale , from Christopher Hitchens, born-again neo-con and scourge of Democrats everywhere:
“In late 1968 the Johnson Administration discovered that Nixon was engaged in secret dealings with the South Vietnamese junta. Nixon told them that if they sabotaged the Paris peace talks by pulling out at the last minute — they pulled out two days before the vote — they would get a better bargain from the incoming Republicans... All accounts agree; the tapes and the evidence of Nixon's treason were put in front of Humphrey. If he had gone public he could have delivered an annihilating counterblow. But he decided that this would be uncivil and partisan, and that it would also shake people's confidence in their leaders. So he put bipartisanship first — and was justly humiliated.”
So "civility" won out. Treason was whitewashed. The Vietnam War went on for seven more years at hideous cost, spilling over into the killing field of Cambodia. Nixon went on to give us Watergate, for which he was pardoned and released into a wealthy retirement that saw him cosseted by partisans who called it all a witch hunt about a "two-bit burglary." Nixon's MO gave us the October Surprise , which gave us Reagan/Bush, Iran-Contra and a shadow government disguised as the war on terror. The failure to impeach for this allowed George W. Bush to promise to return his father's style to the White House and not be laughed at. At the present rate of decay American democracy will not survive another iteration. It is time to take the radical cure.
(E-mail David Essex at firstname.lastname@example.org)
3. 666 Days Left For The Devil Down In DC – by Beth Quinn/ Times Herald-Record (New York)
It’s time for another party.
Last time we got together for a drink, we were celebrating a milestone — we’d broken a thousand days left in the Bush administration. It was the 999 party.
That was last April. About a hundred people showed up, including the Raging Grannies and some members of my Apostrophe Posse.
It felt great to be in the same room with like-minded people, even if what we had in common was despair. We were filled with anger at the damage Bush had done to our country and could not imagine that things could get worse.
But we also felt hopeful that the midterm elections might change things for the better. And we fantasized that we’d be getting together again before too long to celebrate an impeachment.
No such luck.
Instead, here we are with the devil’s own 666 days left until the Bush presidency ends. And things have, indeed, gotten worse. Since we last had a drink together, our nation has moved that much closer to ruin.
Since we last had a drink together, Bush has ordered a surge in Iraq, a purge at the Department of Justice and a funeral dirge on democracy as wire-tapping of Americans continues unabated.
Since we last had a drink together, New Orleans has not been rebuilt.
Since we last had a drink together, 2 million more Americans have lost their health insurance.
Since we last had a drink together, prisoners at Guantanamo have still not seen a lawyer.
Since we last had a drink together, our veterans’ health-care system has been rotting away to its moldy core.
Since we last had a drink together, fear, anger and contempt for America has spread worldwide and hardened to cement.
Since we last had a drink together, another $92.9 billion of our money has been spent in Iraq — and who knows where that money came from, really? We know where a lot of it went, though — to Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.
In the 333 days since we last had a drink together, another 819 American soldiers have died in Iraq.
And I STILL don’t know what we’re doing there.
The one thing that’s changed for the better since we last had a drink together is that far more Americans have seen the light. The vast majority now oppose the policies of this president.
Not that it matters. Not that he cares. He appears to be on some sort of incoherent mission, and who knows, really, what goal lies behind his empty, zealous slogans? Power for power’s sake, maybe? Hard to say. Perhaps even he doesn’t know.
As for the few remaining people who still think this president is doing a jim dandy, good gosh almighty, wooly bully job of running this country, I can’t imagine what he’d have to do to lose their support.
Have sex in the Oval Office with a consenting adult, maybe? Think that would do it?
I wish he would. Then maybe we could get on with an impeachment, even if it’s for the wrong reason.
But there appears to be no hope of that despite the many genuine impeachable offenses this president has committed. And that is the true obscenity of this presidency — that Congress continues to allow this bull to run amok in our china shop.
At this point, to paraphrase Douglas Cunningham (my conservative, formerly-a-Bush-fan-but-not-so much-now colleague here at the paper), we can only hope Bush doesn’t break anything else before his time is up in the White House.
So let’s meet again and drink a toast in hopes for ”what?”
Damage control, I guess. No more dropped pottery, maybe. A cleanup crew to sweep through Washington and collect for safekeeping what’s left of the fragile shards of our democracy until we can elect someone to glue it all back together again.
Let’s get together at 7 p.m. this Friday at the old Orange Inn bar (now called Limoncello) at 159 Main St. in Goshen.
If you plan to make it, please drop me an e-mail or call the number below so I can give Victor and Luigi down at Limoncello an idea how many to expect.
Meanwhile, who knows? Maybe I can convince Douglas to join us.
(Beth’s column appears on Monday. Comment at email@example.com)
4. Americans Face A Moral Reckoning -- by James Carroll/ Boston Globe
YOU HAVE been reading “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh, the classic account of what in Vietnam is called the American war. The title of Bao Ninh’s novel captures the feeling of grief and loss that always comes in the wake of violent conflict. Allowing room for fear, grief, and loss must define the dominant experience in Iraq today, where the suffering caused by this American war mounts inexorably.
But sorrow has also emerged as a note of life in the Unites States lately. Many comparisons are drawn between this nation’s misadventures in Iraq and Vietnam, but what you are most aware of is the return of a clenched feeling in your chest, a knot of distressed sadness that is tied to your country’s reiteration of the tragic error. After the chaotic end of the Vietnam War in 1975, you were like many Americans in thinking with relief that the nation would never know — or cause — such sorrow again.
The sorrow is back. Everywhere you go, friends greet one another with a choked acknowledgment of a nearly unspeakable frustration at what unfolds in Iraq. This seems true whether people oppose the war absolutely, or only on pragmatic terms; whether they want US troops out at once, or over time. Even about those distinctions, little remains to be said. Bush’s contemptuous carelessness, his inner circle’s corrupt enabling, the Pentagon’s dependable launching of folly after folly, the Democrats ineffectual kibitzing, even your heartfelt concern for the troops — these subjects have exhausted themselves. The “surge” of the January escalation was preceded by the surge of public anguish that resulted in Republican losses in November. That election was a stirring rejection of the administration’s purposes in Iraq, a rejection promptly seconded by the Iraq Study Group. But so what? Bush’s purposes hold steady, and their poison tide now laps at Iran.
Why should you not be demoralized and depressed? But the sorrow of war goes deeper than the mistaken policies of a stubborn president. Next to Bao Ninh’s book on your shelf stands “The Sorrows of Empire” by Chalmers Johnson. That title suggests how far into the bone of your nation the pins of this problem are sunk. In effect, the disastrous American war in Iraq is the text, while America’s militarized way of being in the world is the context. Armed power at the service of US economic sway has made a putative enemy of a vast population around the globe, and that enemy’s vanguard are the terrorists. Violent opposition to the American agenda increases with each surge from Washington, whatever its character. Both text and context reveal that every dream of empire brings sorrow, obviously so to the victims of imperial violence, but also to the imperial dreamers, whether or not they consciously associate with what is being done in their name.
But the word sorrow implies more than grief and loss. The palpable sadness of a people reluctantly at war can push toward a fuller moral reckoning with the condition of a nation that has made its own economic supremacy an absolute value. To take on the question of an economy advanced with little regard for its sustainability, much less for its justice, implies a move away from the focus on Bush’s venality to a broader responsibility. How do the sorrows of war and empire implicate you?
The simplest truth is that the economic system that so benefits you is steadily eroding democracy by transferring the power to shape the future, both within states and among them, to ever smaller elites. At the same time, wealth multiplies and concentrates itself, while impoverishing more and more human beings. Everything from US oil consumption, to global trade structures, to the iron law of cheap labor, to immigration policies, to the psychology of the gated community, to the gated idea of national sovereignty, to the distractions of celebrity culture — all of this supports what is called the American way of life. Yours. If finally seen to be the source of multiple sorrows at home and abroad, can this way of life prompt a deeper confrontation with its true costs and consequences? You need not reduce social ills to personal morality — or let Bush off the hook for his wholly owned war — to acknowledge the complicity attached to mere citizenship in a war-making, imperial nation. In that case, can you measure your sorrow against the word’s other meaning, which is contrition?
(James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Globe.)
5. Past Due: Constructive National Self-Examination -- by Pierre Tristam/ The Daytona Beach News Journal (Florida)
Thanks to the conservative resurgence that began with Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 1960s took a severe and mostly undeserved beating. It was supposedly the decade when the country began “slouching toward Gomorrah,” in the words of Robert Bork, the former federal appeals court judge who tends to slouch toward anything suppressive and autocratic. But the conservative storyline about the 1960s is bankrupt. Iraq and the Bush years have exposed conservatism for the duplicitous opportunism that it’s been. Ronald Reagan is crying on the cover of Time because he sees what’s coming. It’s a matter of time before the ’60s experience a resurgence of their own — as a model of constructive self-doubt and social renewal.
The 1960s are the last time the nation really questioned itself about its role in the world and its purpose as a nation. The wars in Vietnam and on America’s streets were unhealthy symptoms of a nation in trouble. But they provoked healthy soul-searching.
Martin Luther King anticipated that national soul-searching in 1967 when he had this to say about the Vietnamese in his famous Beyond Vietnam speech: “They must see Americans as strange liberators. . . . For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. . . . The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese — the real enemy. . . . What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building?”
Replace the word Vietnam with the word Iraq, and you get a picture that has hardly changed. It’s not about land reform this time. It’s about democracy. It’s not even about democracy anymore. It’s about security. And, in fact, it’s never been about security, WMDs, terrorism or even regional stability. It’s always been about oil. Otherwise we’d be invading places like the Congo and the Sudan, where literally millions of people have been killed in civil wars and ethnic cleansing. Why isn’t the national conscience so eager to go over there and create free and democratic republics? First off, they’re black. Second, there’s no oil, or not much anyway. The Sudan has some, but the oil conveniently flows where the blood doesn’t. So Martin Luther King was onto something when he referred to “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
It would be another six years after King’s speech before Richard Nixon removed ground troops from Vietnam and eight years until that last helicopter flew off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon. The war provoked a rethinking of America’s role in the world and of the American presidency. But then came Gulf War I, which essentially rehabilitated the United States as the world’s policeman, and then came the second Bush, and then came 9/11.
For a moment after 9/11, we did have the glimmer of a nation stopping to wonder: Who are we, what are we becoming, who could possibly wish us such harm that we don’t quite understand? And for a moment, the world’s solidarity, Iran and China included, was with the United States. But just as Bush was to squander a world of good will in the aftermath of the attacks, he also squandered a chance at redefining American purpose in the world. He reduced absolutely everything, to that Manichaean view of the world as good and evil, us versus them.
That’s not to say that the acts that had targeted the United States weren’t evil and that there wasn’t a world of good to defend against them. But all of a sudden we were caught in the juvenile world of comic-book and superhero dialogue at a time that evoked something closer to Dante’s Inferno or “Paradise Lost.” There was no national discussion, no questioning. Can any of us think of a single great speech delivered in the past six years that comes anywhere close to the kind of self-reflective themes Martin Luther King tackled in his Beyond Vietnam speech? Where were the debates? Where were the discussions?
Subversion doesn’t happen only against governments. The most effective purveyors of subversion are governments. They subvert the truth. They subvert history. They subvert the healthy will to doubt, to question, to oppose. The Bush administration did all those things in the last six years. The country is slouching as a result — back to the healthy subversions of the 1960s. It’s about time.
(Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his personal Web site at www.pierretristam.com)