The Bush Doctrine rationale couldn’t be more clear: this was a war to preempt a threat. I’m not sure that I’m against all preemptive war, but this one we got wrong. We used bad intelligence, didn’t understand Iraq at all, and were sold a war by people who believed that the ends justify the means.
People in the southern French district of Lozeyron are having a hard time swallowing US President George W. Bush’s parting gift: a tripling to 300 percent in import duty on their world-famous Roquefort cheese.
“Tonnes of produce are going to go up in smoke,” protested one of the seven local producers of the distinctive soft blue cheese. It was a hammer blow to the local region, he said.
The swingeing tariff increase, part of a longstanding trade row between the United States and the European Union, has effectively priced them out of the US market, say producers.
Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested.
Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has told colleagues “that many of these appointments he would have made himself,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a close McCain friend.
Fred I. Greenstein, emeritus professor of politics at Princeton, said: “I don’t think there is a precedent for this. Sometimes there is bad blood, sometimes there is so-so blood, but rarely is there good blood.”
Think about it: regardless of who won the 2000 and 2004 elections, can you imagine Bush, Kerry or Gore consulting with their opponent? I can’t. It’s a credit to both Obama and McCain.
So far I’ve been very pleased by what I’ve seen of Obama in the transition and the first days of the administration. They have, for the most part, focused on gathering people who are smart and get things done instead of hiring adherent ideologues. Most of my problems with Bush weren’t that his administration was too conservative, it’s mostly that it was bad.
First, some positive stuff with which I agree (except for the British spelling):
Mr Bush’s presidency is not without its merits. He supported sensible immigration reform. He proposed tighter regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the now-nationalised mortagage agencies. Congress stymied him on both points. He promoted more members of minorities than any previous president; and he also stood up to the Dixiecrat wing of his party, edging Trent Lott, a Mississippi senator, out of his job as majority leader for segregation-favouring remarks. He maintained good relations with India, Japan and, particularly, Africa, where he launched a $15 billion anti-AIDS programme.
An unsurprising observation:
Americans who came of age during the Bush years identify with the Democrats by the largest majority recorded for any age cohort since the second world war.
I guess I’d be in this category. Like The Economist, I supported Bush in 2000, but my opinion of his administration has sunk dramatically over the years, as you may or may not have noticed.
The fruit of all this can be seen in the three most notable characteristics of the Bush presidency: partisanship, politicisation and incompetence. Mr Bush was the most partisan president in living memory. He was content to be president of half the country—a leader who fused his roles of head of state and leader of his party. He devoted his presidency to feeding the Republican coalition that elected him.
I’ve been alluding to but avoiding the question of culpability in my posts about torture so far. The more I read about the subject, the more unavoidable this aspect becomes, so this is my first attempt to address it.
Not surprisingly, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is continuing the Bush line that we haven’t tortured:
“This president has said that we did interrogate terrorists, and we did so to protect the country from possible imminent terrorist attack. We did not torture.”
Let’s enter a political vacuum for a moment and just examine some issues in theory.
Authorizing torture has criminal penalties for a reason. No branch of the government should be above the law, which is one reason the founders designed the system of checks and balances that has generally served us well over the years. If we fail to investigate and prosecute government officials of crimes because of the virtue of their office or other political reasons, we run the serious risk of a culture of lawlessness among the political class and will increase the likelihood that these crimes will continue to take place.
Some smoke-filled air is seeping in now and we’re leaving the political vacuum…
We have laws in place that say that it is a felony punishable by decades in prison to subject detainees in our custody to treatment that violates the Geneva Conventions or that is inhumane or coercive.
We know that the president and his top aides have violated these laws. The facts are indisputable that they’ve done so. And yet as a country, as a political class, we’re deciding basically in unison that the president and our highest political officials are free to break the most serious laws that we have, that our citizens have enacted, with complete impunity, without consequences, without being held accountable under the law.
This puts the incoming administration in a difficult position. At the very least, it’s clear that there’s enough evidence to warrant the investigation of serious crimes. Doing so would cost Obama political capital, and would distract from the economy and war. It would be viewed by many as a divisive and maybe vindictive move.
Appointing a special prosecutor of some sort, with independent subpoena powers seems like one way to minimize the political effect, but Greenwald points to a larger problem:
“In 2002, as the WASHINGTON POST documented, Nancy Pelosi was brought to the CIA and along with Jane Harman and Bob Graham and Jay Rockefeller, the key Intelligence Committee Senators, were told about the torture program that the CIA had implemented, that we were going to water board and had water boarded certain suspects, that we were going to do things like hypothermia and stress positions and forced nudity and sleep deprivation.
All of the tactics that we’ve always said characterized tyrannies that used torture. That we were going to start using them ourselves, even though they clearly violate both international and domestic law. And according to all public reports, and they’re not denied by the participants, every single Democrat in that session either quietly assented to it or actively approved of it.”
If there’s one word to describe the Democratic party of the last 8 years, I’d say it’s “complicit”. There are people who have spoken out against this in both parties, but the guilt for torture policy is likely not solely Republican (the same goes for illegal wiretaps). This is what a spectacular failure in the leadership of our country looks like.
I’m very much conflicted and undecided about this issue. This article from the AP gives some hints as to what to expect after Jan 20. All of the options are dissatisfying. To allow such grave crimes to be committed and go unpunished sets an ugly precedent. At the same time, serious investigation would cause huge gridlock in Washington, which is certainly not what we need right now. But, it just seems wrong to sacrifice our morals and the rule of law because we have other stuff to work on.
But it might also be feasible for Obama to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that, in return for legal immunity in the US, could at least unearth and publicize the full evidence and records of the past eight years. We would at least know more about who authorized what and when. And in a democracy, we need to know, when such immense power is being exercised on our behalf.
I actually like this idea. I don’t actually care about punishing President Bush for punitive reasons, I simply hate the precedent of not investigating. If we (as a country) can understand the failure that caused this situation, we have a chance to prevent it from happening again. Think of it like the way Japanese internment is handled: we now understand that it was a dark spot in American history, and I think that makes it less likely that we’ll do that again. I don’t really care about punishing FDR or anyone else involved.
This is the last of the “things I’ve been meaning to write about torture” series, though I’m sure that I’ll continue to explore the topic…
Edit: Just as a note, I haven’t had a chance to read the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse yet, so this writing doesn’t take that into account at all (it just came out a few days ago).