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.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Our Supreme General has spoken

(updated below - updated again)

There is nothing like a feeling of besiegement and desperation to make a political movement -- one that knows it is in its "last throes" -- show its true colors. The Supreme General-Commander has now decreed that any opposition to the "surge" helps The Enemy. Therefore, according to Bush followers -- beginning with the Vice President and moving down -- it is now the solemn duty of every patriotic American, especially those in Congress, to refrain from voicing any objections to the decision made by the Leader and the General. We must merely ask ourselves only one question: how can we lend the greatest support possible to our Leader's glorious plans? Everything else should be cleared away quietly and peacefully from our minds.

As usual, Bill Kristol was ahead of the authoritarian curve, last week proclaiming that war critics are "so irresponsible that they can’t be quiet for six or nine months." Yesterday, Party loyalist Hugh Hewitt unveiled what he and his comrades are calling "The Pledge" -- a creepy, Soviet-sounding declaration of loyalty, all based on Gen. Petraeus' decree, that vows to repudiate any Republican who opposes the "surge," and even refuses to donate to the NRCC unless they agree "in writing" that none of the contributions will go to any "surge" opponents. As Hewitt instructed:

Yesterday General Petraeus testified that the Biden/Warner resolutions and those like them encourage the enemy. . . . Don't believe me. Believe General Petraeus.

Bush followers across the Internet are now huddled in strategizing conference calls, and leading right-wing luminaries such as Glenn Reynolds have endorsed The Pledge. Reynolds' case is particularly instructive because, in order to defend the Leader and Don Rumsfeld, Reyonlds previously and continuously opposed sending more troops to Iraq, insisting that we had the exact right amount there. As but one example:

I think that calling for "more troops" is a way to criticize while not sounding weak, and that it thus has an appeal that overcomes its uncertain factual foundation.

But that was when the Leader said we had enough troops. Now, the Leader and the General have spoken, and that settles that -- now, not only do we need more troops, but it is unpatriotic to suggest otherwise. Yesterday, this is what Reynolds said when explaining the "rationale" for his support of The Pledge:

I think that Hugh's right to start this drive. Opposition to the surge is wrong (see what Petraeus said) and it's also political suicide for the Republicans.

Opposition to the "surge" is "wrong" because Gen. Petraeus said so, said that it would help The Terrorists. What is most notable about this duty of mindless submission to the General is that it emanates from the very top of the Bush movement. In his amazing interview with Wolf Blitzer yesterday, the Vice President dismissed away the notion that things were going badly in Iraq, but -- citing Gen. Petraeus' exchange on Tuesday with Joe Lieberman -- Cheney did identify the one truly grave threat that we face in this war: democratic debate:

Q How worried are you of this nightmare scenario, that the U.S. is building up this Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with an enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training, and then in the end, they're going to turn against the United States?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wolf, that's not going to happen. The problem that you've got --

Q Very -- very -- warming up to Iran and Syria right now.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wolf, you can come up with all kinds of what-ifs. You've got to deal with the reality on the ground. The reality on the ground is, we've made major progress, we've still got a lot of work to do. There are a lot of provinces in Iraq that are relatively quiet. There's more and more authority transferred to the Iraqis all the time. But the biggest problem we face right now is the danger that the United States will validate the terrorist strategy, that, in fact, what will happen here with all of the debate over whether or not we ought to stay in Iraq, with the pressures from some quarters to get out of Iraq, if we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorists' strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task --

Q Here's the Nouri al Maliki --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- that we don't have the stomach for the fight.

Q Here's the problem.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's the biggest threat right now.

Sectarian warfare? Militias and death squads? Sprawling anarchy and mass deaths? None of that is a problem. Everything is going great in Iraq -- everything, that is, except for one thing. The "biggest threat" is the debate taking place in the U.S. over whether our Leader is doing the right thing -- the true threat to the Glorious War in Iraq is Jim Webb's response to the Leader and Sen. Hagel's disobedience and Sen. Warner's criticisms of the Leader's plans and opposition to the war (shared by an overwhelming majority of Americans). That's what Cheney argued (and A.L. has an excellent discussion of the well-deserved problem for the Republican Party posed by the mindless loyalty to the President's war rhetoric which they have bred).

The idea that Americans should refrain from debating the propriety of using military force is about as foreign to our political traditions as anything can be. The Constitution -- while making the President the top General in directing how citizen-approved wars are fought -- ties the use of military force to the approval of the American citizenry in multiple ways, not only by prohibiting wars in the absence of a Congressional declaration (though it does impose that much-ignored requirement), but also by requiring Congressional approval every two years merely to have an army. In Federalist 26, this is what Alexander Hamilton said in explaining the rationale behind the latter requirement (emphasis in original):

The legislature of the United States will be obliged by this provision, once at least in every two years, to deliberate upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot; to come to a new resolution on the point; and to declare their sense of the matter by a formal vote in the face of their constituents. They are not at liberty to vest in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.

As the spirit of party, in different degrees, must be expected to infect all political bodies, there will be, no doubt, persons in the national legislature willing enough to arraign the measures and criminate the views of the majority. The provision for the support of a military force will always be a favorable topic for declamation. As often as the question comes forward, the public attention will be roused and attracted to the subject, by the party in opposition; and if the majority should be really disposed to exceed the proper limits, the community will be warned of the danger, and will have an opportunity of taking measures to guard against it.

Public opposition is the key check on the ill-advised use of military force. In Federalist 24, Hamilton explained that the requirement of constant democratic deliberation over the American military is "a great and real security against military establishments without evident necessity."

Finding a way to impose checks on the President's war-making abilities was a key objective of the Founders. In Federalist 4, John Jay identified as a principal threat to the Republic the fact that insufficiently restrained leaders "will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for purposes and objects merely personal, such as a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people."

There are countries where citizens have a duty to affirm the Leader's decisions and submit to the Supreme General's decrees about war. The U.S. isn't one of those countries (although, revealingly enough, that belief in submission to the decrees of authority and infallabile wisdom of Supreme Leaders is one of the defining attributes of "The Enemy" whom we are fighting). But as usual, the dwindling band of authoritarian extremists propping up this presidency don't believe in American values of any kind. Those values are merely props they use to justify their endless wars and their endless demands that the Leader's will be followed.

UPDATE: In Comments, David says:

Senator Hagel's impassioned plea was refreshing and I don't know if I've ever seen a politician speak with such candor and passion. His Vietnam experience, as well and true conservative principles, were shining through.

In the past week Hagel has (1) claimed that the GOP is not the same party as the one he voted for on a tank in the Mekong Delta in 1967, and (2) made an almost tearful plea to his colleagues that to fail to honestly debate the "surge" when so many lives are at stake is to "fail" the country. While this is refreshing and entirely in line with the foundations of this country, what's troubling is this veteran's comments, rather than sparking a true debate, seem to have started a movement to purge him from the party and cut off his funding.

Like true Machiavellians, they are cutting off the head of the flower that dares to stick its head up, to set an example and quell any other "rebels."

So it looks like the "surge" plan is rapidly growing into a "purge" plan: you either agree with it or we remove your command and even accuse you of treason. You ask for a debate, claiming that you don't doubt the President's motives, and we develop a Loyalty Oath against you.

The Bush following warriors do always seem to reserve their most vicious and patriotism-impugning attacks for the veterans and combat heroes who disagree with the Leader. In his CNN interview, Cheney said several times that the only question is whether we have the "stomach for the fight" in Iraq. As always, it's just a matter of who has the courage and who doesn't.

Apparently, Dick "other priorities" Cheney has the sufficient courage for war, but Vietnam veterans Chuck Hagel (and Jim Webb and Jack Murtha and on and on) lack that courage, the "stomach." It's amazing how often it works out that way.

UPDATE II: It's been around the Internet for some time, but as Mona points out, this 1918 observation from Theodore Roosevelt, written in an Op-Ed for The Kansas City Star, couldn't be more applicable:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

Base. Servile. Morally treasonable. That about covers it. And Roosevelt was writing in 1918, so he understood that the country would be at war sometimes. Just as is true for the framers of the Constitution, Roosevelt did not provide an exception to these principles for war time. If anything, the rationale behind Roosevelt's argument strongly suggests that this obligation and freedom to criticize the President is stronger, not weaker, when it comes to matters as consequential as war.

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