I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Various items

(1) I am leaving this week to begin my month-long book tour, and my blogging may be light this week. I am going to try to blog as much as possible during the tour but I assume that with the extensive travel and all of the other obligations, I won't be able to blog nearly as frequently as usual. As a result, I have arranged for three superb guest bloggers to post here throughout June, as little or as much as they want: (i) veteran Guest Blogger Anonymous Liberal; (ii) Barbara O'Brien of Mahablog; and (iii) regular commenter Hume's Ghost, who also blogs at his own blog, DailyDoubt.

They are very different in their blogging style and approach to issues, but what they all have in common is that they think thoroughly about every issue before writing, and most importantly (at least to me), never spew predictable opinions reflexively or out of some partisan obligation. It's great for me, and for this blog's readers, to know that on the days I can't blog here, there will be high-quality and provocative posts.

Regarding the book, How Would a Patriot Act? debuted this weekend at #10 on the Washington Post's Washington area Best Seller list (under Paperback Nonfiction).

(2) I have a lot to say about the Supreme Court's 5-4 travesty yesterday in Garcetti v. Ceballos (.pdf), which severely limited the First Amendment protections available to public employees/whistleblowers when speaking in their "official capacity." I hope to post about this later today, but may not be able to until tomorrow. In the meantime, Marty Lederman has a typically thorough discussion of the legal issues relevant to the decision, and Jack Balkin has posted a broad analysis of its legal implications.

This is not as politically charged an issue as it might seem at first glance. This has been a messy doctrinal area in the Court's jurisprudence for some time now, and the issues the Court had to resolve don't really have a direct relationship to the whistleblower issues which have caused political controversy of late. And the ruling affects only First Amendment protections for whistleblowers, not statutory rights. Nonetheless, the instincts of the majority (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy) to strip whistleblowers and other public employees of constitutional protection is significant, and is an arguably ominous sign of things to come . That's particularly true when it appears that this case would have gone the other way before Alito took O'Connor's seat. I will write more on this later.

(3) Last week, the Bush administration normalized diplomatic relations with Libya -- and is soon to remove them from the list of terrorist countries for the first time since 1979 -- despite the fact that that Libya's internal repression is among the worst in the world and it is about as far away from democratizing as a country can be. All of those pro-Libya actions are direct and glaring contradictions of our supposed foreign policy principle of only supporting countries which provide democracy and freedom to their citizens (although, purely coincidentally, Libya has developed superb relations with international oil companies).

In virtually every Middle Eastern country, we seem to be acting as contrary to our ostensible ideals as possible -- including our increased support for Gen. Musharraf in Pakistan despite his increasing stranglehold on that country's democratic processes, our strengthening alliances with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and our contempt for those governments which are democratically elected but not to our liking, including Hamas, Hugo Chavez, and even the government of Iran.

It's as though we think that Muslims -- whose improved view of the U.S. is allegedly the objective of all of our foriegn policy actions, including our occupation of Iraq -- won't notice the ever-widening gap between our pro-democracy rhetoric and our actions. Of course they notice. And now, even the administration's most vigorous neonconservative boosters are admitting, and complaining, that the administration seems to have given up on these pro-democracy goals, if they ever really had them in the first place:

But as the US struggles to assert itself on the international stage, the president’s most radical supporters now dismiss this as mere rhetoric, and traditional conservatives are questioning the wisdom of a democratisation strategy that has brought unpleasant consequences in the Middle East. . . .

“Bush killed his own doctrine,” they said, describing the final blow as the resumption of diplomatic relations with Libya. This betrayal of Libyan democracy activists, they said, came after the US watched Egypt abrogate elections, ignored the collapse of the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon, abandoned imprisoned Chinese dissidents and started considering a peace treaty with Stalinist North Korea.

More than anything else, our foriegn policy is just a horrendous, jumbled, incoherent mess -- actions in search of some post hoc, unifying rationale. We embrace the worst tyrants in China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt; act with hostility to numerous democratically elected governments that we dislike; and then preach to the world that all of our actions, including our militarily aggressive ones, are geared toward the goal of spreading democracy and freedom around the world.

There are good, convincing, legitimate reasons why we should maintain alliances with undemocratic countries which nonetheless promote U.S. interests (including, for instance, a country's cooperation in tracking Al Qaeda activities, as Libya's intelligence service provides). Virtually every country makes its foreign policy decisions based on that self-interested calculus. But we are a country which has now loudly proclaimed that everything we do -- including invading soveriegn countries -- is justified by our need to bring democracy to the world. Once a country makes that the proclaimed centerpiece of its foriegn policy, acting in direct contradiction to it achieves nothing other than the destruction of national credibility and the failure of every claimed foreign policy objective.

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