Michael: The War on Terror Comes Home
Boy, the Bush Executive never ceases to find new ways to surprise me.
I was getting all geared up to write about how the President’s illegal authorization of domestic spying. I was ready to demonstrate that the radical theory of executive power authored by Bush’s Eichmannische lawyer, John Yoo, positing that the President’s authority in security and international affairs is essentially unlimited, is really nothing more than the Nazi Party’s Führerprinzip tarted up in Constitutional drag.
I was going to expound upon how any unlimited power that places any person or office above the law is ultimately incompatible with the rule of law. I was going to denounce their Presidentprinzip philosophy as a radical challenge to the very idea that a democratic and legally regulated state can survive and prosper in the modern world. Yoo’s Presidentprinzip undercuts the Potemkin rationale of their entire foreign policy – America’s special role in spreading democratic institutions in an unsafe world. I was going to resort to quoting the Founders on the topic of the rule of law and the proper limits of government, such as Madison’s observation that if men were governed by angels we wouldn’t need to worry about limiting the powers of government.
But all that rhetorical ordinance now lies rusting and useless.
The Executive has instead beat me to every shot by using those NSA wiretaps to spy not on terrorism suspects, but on it’s domestic political rivals, UN diplomats, and even dissident factions in the Administration. They skillfully drove home the point that unchecked, unsupervised, and unaccountable power will always be misused and must never be entrusted to anyone, no matter how they protest that they will use it for the common good. Ceasar, too, may have wanted to save and protect the Republic, but he ended being its murderer instead.
It’s easier to ignore the lessons of history when our collective sloth and cowardice leads us to devolve upon the President the power to torture, murder and disappear only filthy foreigners, but when the targets of lawlessness are us, it is harder to close our eyes.
The hard fact is that in a democracy nobody can be allowed to have power without continuous accountability. But the Bush Executive has consistently sought to limit their accountability for their actions taken in the name of ‘national security’. Remember all of Bush’s talk about the ‘accountability moment’ for Iraq following the election? That is how this Administration conceives of democratic power: not a dialogue in which the people continuously exercise their sovereignty through the daily give and take of politics and the balancing structures of our federated and divided government, but as nothing but a periodic vote.
The Bush Junta’s limited vision of democracy sees elections as the sole means by which citizens participate in their own governance. They envision sovereign power as residing in the President at all times, and being ratified or rejected solely at the ballot box by an infantilized citizenry that knows ‘only what they need to know’. The Bush Executive’s lies, corruption, and blatant abuses of power are about to precipitate a civics lesson that America won’t soon forget.
The President is not security Fuhrer of America; unaccountable and unlimited in his powers. Such a travesty is not only obnoxious to our Constitutional order, but anti-democratic, unnecessary and undesirable in the effort to secure America in the struggle with terrorism. Empowered networks of free citizens, competently led, are better able to ensure our safety than are secretive and unilateral uses of power – which inevitably become abuses of power.
In a very narrow sense, it is unfortunate that there hasn’t been a terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. That is a terrible thing to say, I know - but the blunt fact is that many Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security and complacency which has forestalled demands for real, effective, and accountable security solutions from our government. The reason why there has been no attack is because the terrorists have chosen not to attack. That’s the only reason.
The Bush Administration has and will continue to argue using the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). The Administration has already implied that it is due to the President’s abuses of power (wiretaps, violating the laws of war, torture, rendition, secret CIA prisons) are the reason America hasn’t been attacked. Dick Cheney said when asked about the NSA spying, “"It is good, solid, sound policy. It is, I'm convinced, one of the reasons we have not been attacked for the last four years.” They want Americans to think that their abuses are keeping us safe – and it’s a damn lie.
Their strategy for ‘fighting terror’ is much like their fantasy of a Star War missile defense system that they hope will work with 100% effectiveness the first time, despite never being successfully tested. They view anti-terrorism policy as a perfect prophylactic against harm. They seem to think that if we just give the President enough secret draconian power to work his will, that they can make sure there will never be another successfully attack. Their premise is absurd, even delusional. The question is not if we get hit again, but when – and, most importantly, are we ready to deal with the result?
All the Bush Administration has really done is to pile effective agencies, like FEMA, into the most massive reorganization of Federal government in 50 years (ensuring a focus on reorganization rather than missions), staff them with their hack cronies, throw much money in the general direction, and cross their fingers as they move to ‘privatize’ as much of our security agencies as they can, opening the Federal trough to their corporate sponsors. Katrina showed how effective their stewardship has been in mitigating threats to the homeland. We can only pray if there is a flu epidemic, another major natural disaster, or a terrorist attack. We won’t be ready with these people in charge. They are constitutionally unable to be ready: that takes planning, foresight, political courage, and accountability. These are not descriptors the Bush Executive can possibly claim.
An ‘accountability moment’ is certainly coming. And there are a lot of sins to pay for.