Sunday, December 10, 2006

Memo To Incoming Congress: Save Our Country

Typically, I believe in setting ambitious progressive goals and pursuing them with patient deliberation. There is an ebb and flow to public perception, debate and popular will. The ideal approach is to build coalitions and let policy ideas percolate through the prism of debate. We don’t have that luxury now.

Iraq continues to burn, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and America is perceived as a rudderless giant. Under the Bush regime America is weak and immoral. That is a recipe for calamity. Triangulation and splitting hairs is not an option. Our national security is under the command and control of a sixty-year old adolescent (Bush), a feculent viceroy (Dick Cheney), an inept bureaucrat (Condi Rice) and a scandalous Washington retread (Robert Gates on December 18th).

Ten members of the Washington elite establishment known as the Iraq Study Group released their highly anticipated report. Their language was blunt in casting blame on the Bush Administration and dispelled the notion we’re winning in Iraq. It didn’t however go far enough in setting a timetable for withdrawal because they wanted to maintain a bipartisan veneer and not be rejected by Bush. Well Bush’s honor does not merit consideration and he’s essentially rejected the report anyway. The beltway chattering class is having a collective orgasm over the report but so what?

Like a lot of bipartisan reports crafted by insiders this document is destined to collect dust. The 9/11 Commission report is currently collecting dust without any effective implementation of its recommendations. And does anybody remember the bipartisan report on terrorism authored by Warren Rudman and Gary Hart prior to 9/11?

I readily acknowledge the report’s symbolism but the content is under-whelming. Soon enough it will become irrelevant when reviews from the Pentagon and State Department are utilized by the Bush Administration to justify the continued pursuit of “victory” whatever the hell that means. Prior to Christmas we’ve been promised yet another Bush plan will be rolled out and the “bipartisan” Baker-Hamilton report will disappear into the ether.

The only bipartisanship I’m interested in is for congressional Democrats to stiffen their spines and hopefully a few congressional Republicans will develop a soul. If congressional Republicans don’t develop a soul than perhaps fear of the ballot box will concentrate their feckless minds. Either way, congress has only three options.
1) Impeachment – I suppose one might call this the nuclear option. I’ve been opposed to impeachment. At most I was a supporter of impeaching Cheney. A year ago I wrote,

“Impeaching Bush is tantamount to indicting Kermit the Frog when everyone knows it's really Miss Piggy who wears the pants.”
My rationale until recently was simply that Bush is gone in two years anyway and pursuing such a course would undermine the political viability of the Democratic Party. I agreed with intense oversight and investigations but otherwise thought it best for Democrats to build a record of accomplishment and use their congressional majority as a platform to educate the public about why the country is better off with them in charge.

My worry was impeachment would distract Democrats from educating the public about global warming, health care, globalization and putting forward policies designed to enhance economic and social justice. I also didn’t want the Democrats to be perceived as hungering for revenge heading into 2008.

I’ve changed my mind. In retrospect I’ve been too slow to catch on. Congressional Democrats have ruled out cutting off funding for the troops. That doesn’t leave them much recourse or leverage to push Bush in the right direction. Meanwhile we’re losing in Afghanistan, Islamic radicalism is metastasizing because of our policies and homeland security remains pathetic. They wanted a Pearl Harbor and 9/11 was just the pretext they needed to prosecute a war of imperialism and rape the Constitution over civil liberties.

I don’t advocate for impeachment lightly. The aftershocks upon our system will be turbulent especially with armed forces engaged in combat. I wish to hell it wasn’t necessary. But impeaching and removing both Bush and Cheney is the only way to restore competence and rationality to the executive branch. This administration will not change the status quo, initiate any redeployment or initiate diplomatic initiatives because Jim Baker recommends it.

They’re more concerned with saving face and establishing a justified pretext to preserve Bush’s legacy. And that translates into more bloodshed and further isolation for America. It’s not only radicals and terrorists who are opposed to us. The civilized world has no faith in our judgment or competence. That must not be allowed to continue. Even a weakened Bush can do plenty of damage in the remaining two years of his final term.

Republicans may already be seeing the handwriting on the wall. Senator Gordon Smith used the word “criminal” in describing the Iraq war. I don’t believe congressional Republicans are about to develop a conscience. But political expediency may compel them to reach an accommodation with congressional Democrats. Incompetence in the White House has its charms when it merely results in deregulation and no bid contracts for corporatist supporters. However, after awhile quagmires cease to be profitable and result in the hemorrhaging of support.

With Bush and Cheney removed the Constitution mandates the Speaker of the House is next in line for succession. Pelosi could agree to be a caretaker president dedicated to competence and salvaging America’s strategic situation. She can also form a coalition government with Republicans at key positions if they stipulate to conditions about redeployment in Iraq. That might help garner support from congressional Republicans to push the process forward and manage the country until elections in 2008.

2) Invoke the War Powers Act – If Congress doesn’t have the stones to impeach and remove this criminally insane administration from power then they’re obliged to at least force their hand on Iraq. One possible option is to invoke the War Powers Act.

Congress enacted the War Powers Act in 1973. It requires the White House to regularly consult with Congress whenever contemplating military action, written notification within 48 hours of such action and its’ estimated “scope or duration” and congressional consent through either a declaration of war or "specific statutory authorization." Once invoked, the act prohibits a president from keeping the troops deployed for more than 90 days unless congress either declares war or passes a joint resolution upholding the president's policy.

One can make a compelling argument that the War Powers Act is an egregious example of legislative overreach. Indeed, the Constitution empowers the president as commander and chief of the armed forces. Presumably, this gives the president the authority to repel sudden attacks and deploy forces as he or she sees fit to contend with perceived threats.

The act appears to encroach upon the president's authority as commander and chief. It can also be argued that this act amounts to dangerous micromanaging by the legislative branch. I’m actually more comfortable with the constitutionality of impeachment then taking this course. Invoking the War Powers Act is an extreme measure rife with risks and repercussions that we can’t possibly foresee.

Short-term considerations must prevail however. Invoking the War Powers Act will at least impose a timetable on the White House and provide leverage in our dealings with multiple factions inside Iraq once the clock starts ticking. If congress won’t remove Bush and Cheney then at least they can accelerate our disengagement from Iraq’s sectarian violence.

3) Cut Off Funding – If impeachment and invoking the War Powers Act can’t happen then congress must cut off funding for the war. Politically this is dicey and can easily be spun as “not supporting the troops.” That's why Democrats have repeatedly ruled it out. Option 1 is the best of the three. Option 2 makes me uncomfortable but is better then cutting off funding. If congress doesn’t remove Bush and Cheney from office or impose a timetable through the War Powers Act then cutting off funding is their only recourse. Oversight and investigations only go so far and controlling the purse is one of the few levers of power congress has against an imperial presidency.
Leadership is hard. If leadership were easy everyone would be leaders. Leadership requires hard choices, accountability and courage. Democrats don’t have the luxury of simply supporting non-controversial policies such as raising the minimum wage. Meanwhile, Republicans no longer have the luxury of hiding behind empty slogans such as “global war on terror” and “victory.” Our country is in serious trouble and the time has come for grown ups to fix what is wrong.


Seven Star Hand said...

Hi Rob,

We are witnessing the last throes of so-called representative democracy...

Just how wise is it for billions of souls to to be at the mercy of a proven idiot just because those with the most money put him
in power? GW Bush and the greedy scoundrels that surround him are stunning evidence of the utter folly and failures of government driven by money, religion, and politics.

It was clear to me that GHW (papa) Bush was crying recently because he's suffering from the stress of realizing that the debacles caused by his son are ultimately traced to the Bush family's aristocratic ambitions. In other words, the old man is as much to blame for Irag and other evils as the clueless son he foisted upon the world stage. That is why family consiglieri James Baker and smoking man Eagleburger were called in to set the stage for little W's demise.

Royalty, aristocracy, and plutocracy always were and always will be bad ideas and we have been forced to suffer through yet more proof of this. Do you think GW's feelings are more important than the wealth and power of the empire? We're now witnessing the praetorian guard fulfilling their most sacred duty; saving the empire from an insane emperor. Unfortunately for them, it's too little too late.

Here is Wisdom...

upinVermont said...

Hey Rob,

Forceful assertions, but they are all sound and fury, signifying nothing. There is no one in the beltway who is going to act on them.

I admit to having a dry, cynical bent.

I think the best that we can hope for is that *all* of the Republicans, not just Bush, are smeared with the taint of this debacle. Your suggestions would ultimately fail, I'm fairly certain, and would only succeed in taking the attention off the Republicans.

Anyway, it's not a question of "saving" our country. The damage is done. At this point, we have far more to worry about than Bush or Cheney.

John McCain.

The idiot actually thinks that we need *more* troops in Iraq, not less -- as if that ever worked for Israel. When has putting more tin ducks in a shooting gallery ever stopped anything? He scares the hell out of me. What's worse is that there is a very good chance that McCaine will win the presidency. In fact, if I had to put my money down today, I would put it on McCaine.

I don't know what the solution is. Bush's intransigence borders on pathology. He, all on his own, is holding 300,000,000 Americans hostage to his faith based decisions.

I think the best the Democrats can do is to argue forcefully, convincingly, thoroughly, and persuasively. They must learn how to persuade the majority of this country -- for which they have a dismal record. This is the only thing that speaks to people of Bush's ilk. If the man, for one impossibly short second, can be made to feel shame, something might change.

I'm not holding my breath.

McCain has to be stopped.

Jodin said...

I also hope the public is willing to throw additional support to any party that holds our elected officials accountable for their actions. This has been historically true with every single impeachment effort launched. And this impeachment effort would begin with majority support (unlike most past impeachments including Nixon).
Impeach for Peace has created holiday impeachment cards that allow your friends and family to initiate the impeachment process. Deck the halls of congress with colorful impeachment petitions! Now that Representative McKinney has introduced Articles of Impeachment to Congress, it's time for us to show the other Members of Congress our support. So, Impeach for Peace created the Holiday Impeachment image, and researched a company that will allow you to send jumbo sized postcards along with a personalized message using your web browser. To learn more about this method of inititiating impeachment, go to:

Soon, Santa will be delivering sacks and sacks of mail to Nancy Pelosi initiating impeachment via the House of Representative's own rules. This legal document is as binding as if a State or if the House itself passed the impeachment resolution (H.R. 635). What better gift to give this holiday season than the restoration of our democracy? Truly the gift that keeps on giving. Over this past year, Bush has become an even greater threat to our Constitution. Lucky for us, the rules of the US House of Representatives allow for individual citizens like you and I to initiate the impeachment process directly! This process was successfully used to impeach in the past.

Be a part of history and have a merry impeachment this season!

Christian_Left said...

Interesting and clearly reasoned post. I was struck by how you rank your options #1, 2, and 3 in the reverse order of the way most people (including me, at least before reading the post) would have ranked them, in terms of which should get tried first. I'll have to think about that.

I also agree with vtpoet that McCain must be stopped. I agree with his worry that he is the most likely GOP nominee, and I've been arguing that for several years now, seeing the huge disjuncture between his moderate/maverick image and his hard right-wing, crazy reality. It is worth considering, of course, whether an attempt to impeach Bush-Cheney would help or hinder McCain's chances of election. I actually think it is quite possible that impeachment proceeding would hurt McCain more than help him. He is now pressing for an escalation of the war in Iraq, the false selling of which would likely--along with illegal wiretapping, torturing prisoners, etc.--be at the heart of the case against Bush-Cheney. Focusing attention on the these matters, as opposed to the consensus domestic agenda of the Democratic leadership (which I support, of course), will put McCain in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why he supports intensifying this Administration's illegal war effort and other sundry assaults on civil liberties occasioned by the so-called war on terror.

More important, however, I believe is the issue of authenticity. Alas, most people (esp. the media) seem to think McCain is authentic and calls it like he sees it regardless of short-term public opinion, and trying to escalate the war would certainly fit in that category. Part of our job is exposing McCain's political calculations (courting the far right, cozying up to Bush even after the ridiculous things he did to him in the 2000 campaign, etc.) for what they are.

But the Democrats also need to show THEIR authenticity: what do they believe in? For what principles are they willing to take a risk? That's where Rob's point about leadership comes in. We can't endure another cautious, focus group tested Democratic effort. Too much is at stake. It is time for rallying around the American system of government, a system of the rule of law, of checks and balances, of sacred liberties. Let's begin the investigations and see where they lead. I have confidence, just based on the publicly available evidence, that prying open the lid on this disastrous regime is fully warranted and even necessary.

Also, we need to consider the long-term consequences of NOT confronting the Bush-Cheney regime's horrendous abuses of power. Before, you could have argued that the GOP Congress would not let serious investigations take place. But now that is no longer a barrier. I worry about a President McCain who feels emboldened to continue to same depradations against American democracy, because no one challenged them during the Bush-Cheney years. We have to think about the long-term consequences of our inaction (and I haven't even mentioned the international consequences!) Okay, I've rambled on long enough. Sorry. The post was very thoughtful, along with the responses so far.

upinVermont said...

Let the history books confront Bush & Cheney. I've been changing my mind on the matter of rubbing their noses in their own messes -- satisfying as that would be. With an immensely important election in 2008, the last thing Democrats need, is to be obsessed with an outgoing, lame duck President and a Vice President who doesn't want the office anyway. The Republicans should be so lucky as to have the Democrats launching comittee after committee, excoriating two people who nobody, including Republicans, could give a damn about. Let the historians confront them.

For the next two years, there will be only one man in charge of our foreign policy, and barring some extraordinary circumstnaces, there will be no will to change that.

So, Rob, I have to disagree with you on this one. Embarrass him? Fine. But liberals and progressives need to prioritize their goals.

Robert Ellman said...

Hey VT Poet -

I have to disagree with you buddy. I think you're missing the point. It's not about revenge or seizing political advantage. My post may have misled about my intentions because I am admittedly angry about the previous six years.

What this really is about is saving lives and our country. I had always thought that Bush would finally cut and run himself by declaring victory. And for a long time I didn't support impeachment because I considered it a futile excercise.

But Bush is not about to leave Iraq and I no longer consider impeachment and removal of him and Cheney futile. Much of your sentiments were expressed by cynics in 1974 with Nixon. Bush's crimes are far worse and our strategic position far more vulnerable.

Trouble with cynicism is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and excuse to let things just happen and unfold. We've been doing that too long.

Republicans want to survive politically themselves and Bush has become toxic to them. Within three months his approval levels may be at Nixonian '74 levels if he remains intransigent on Iraq. We have no excuse not act and save lives. The lives of our soldiers, Iraqis and somehow salvage what remains of our national honor. Not to mention reverse our increasing isolation in a hostile and dangerous world.

That can only be achieved if congress considers one of the three options I presented. I'm all for exposing John McCain for the corporatist reactionary he is with '08 on the horizon. But this planet has two years of spin rotations in the meantime and too many have died.

upinVermont said...

Good riposte,

But I don't think I missed the point.

Bear in mind that, as a Vermonter, I voted along with a majority of other Vermonters, to impeach Bush.

Anyway, I looked up the meaning of cynic.

1. a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.

That doesn't really describe my viewpoint. Pragmatism does a better job, maybe skeptical pragmatism:

2. ... stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value.

And skeptic:

2. a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.

I think on both counts your proposals fail. At a practical level they fail because they don't recognize the political realities on the ground.

Comparing my thinking to those who questioned the Nixon impeachment might be apt. However, I think the impeachment of Clinton is a better comparison. Remember, the Republicans lost seats as a result of their efforts, much to their surprise. It is now called the impeachment *debacle*. It was the beginning of the end of the Gingrich revolution and Neo-conservatives filled the void.

You and I might think that the legal issues are clearcut, but they are not. When the Downing Street memos were revealed, Kerry called for impeachment. Does anyone remember that? In 2003, some House members were talking impeachment. Can you remember their names? I can't. On a more political level, the difference between Bush and Nixon is stark. Ultimately, Nixon could only claim that he was acting to defend himself. He had no 9/11. Bush can and *has* claimed that he was only acting to "defend" the nation after 9/11. And maybe, in his mind, he *was*. That might not be an excuse, but what if Americans perceive the Democrats as going after someone whose only mistake was, somewhat like Othello, "to love his country too much". You might scoff at that notion but up to this point, this is how Americans have perceived Bush. Incompetent, narrow minded, incurious, but "one of us", someone who would do *anything* to defend his country.

Invoking the war powers act won't happen, if only because Congress doesn't want the whole mess dumped on their plate.

Of your three scenarios, the last of them is at least possible. Even so, in an age when *Rhetoric* has become the currency of politics, no Congressman would *dare* risk the accusation that they have refused to "support our troops". It's just not going to happen.

If you want to save lives, I think the best approach is to argue forcefully and convincingly for an Iraqi withdrawal of some sort and to do it with one voice. I think that will obtain the quickest result. It's an argument based on the practical realities currently at play in Washington.

Robert Ellman said...

Hey VT Poet -

This is getting fun! I just don't see how one can compare impeaching Bush/Cheney with Clinton. Clinton was impeached for a sexual indiscretion.

As for Bush, I think you're overlooking that the center of political gravity has shifted. The, "I did it to protect you" is a dog that won't hunt anymore. The public is finally grasping the argument is both fradulent and not true because we're no safer. They know Bush is not one of them. Simply put your average Joe/Jane can't get away with this much incompetence and fraud.

Nixon did try to use I was protecting the country defense. He claimed he wanted to save America from communist sympathizers.

Simply arguing forcefully with one voice will not deter Bush. Congress has to use the power it has to prevent further loss of life and reverse our increasing international isolation.

Finally, I think Christian_Left makes an incisive point about the consequences of doing nothing. Let future presidents know they tread on our liberties and prosecute false wars at their peril.

Are Democrats leaders? Do they have a core? If Democrats are not willing to lay it on the line for matters of war and peace and the Constitution then they don't deserve my support. And they won't get it. I busted my ass to help put them in the majority. I expect them to do more than just hang out and make speeches.

It's not sufficient to merely rant rhetorically with one voice while our armed forces and treasury are depleted in a lost cause. An immoral and illegal lost cause at that. As a minority party perhaps. But Democrats are in the majority and have the responsibility to act.