Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bush's (latest) Abuse of Power

Bush’s Abuse of Power
Deserves Impeachment
By Joe Conason
in The New York Observer

. . . .The Bush doctrine of a President above the law and the Constitution has a dishonorable tradition that dates back to his father’s idol, Richard Nixon. More recently, its pedigree derives from memoranda prepared by the same White House lawyers who have told Mr. Bush that he can tear up international treaties and American statutes that prohibit torture and protect against detention without trial.

What has provoked fresh discussion of impeachment is the President’s admission that he has ignored the law’s requirements and that he intends to keep doing so. The impeccably conservative legal scholar and former Reagan aide Bruce Fein explained the deep implications of the President’s arrogance:

“If President Bush is totally unapologetic and says, ‘I continue to maintain that as a wartime President I can do anything I want—I don’t need to consult any other branches,’ that is an impeachable offense. It’s more dangerous than Clinton’s lying under oath, because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that … would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant.”

There are politicians in both parties who know that Mr. Bush’s trespasses cannot be allowed to stand. Only a bipartisan coalition can restrain and, if necessary, remove him. It is to be hoped that he steps back before such a struggle becomes inevitable.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Carter on our Fundamentalist brethren, including Bush, etc.

Ex-president takes on fundamentalists, Bush

By Paul Prather
posted December 11, 2005

Among the more thought-provoking books I've happened across this year is Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis.

Whatever your political or religious leanings, you ought to read it.

In meticulous detail, Carter takes on the combined wisdom of the "fundamentalist" (Carter's word) leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and the present Bush administration, arguing that both groups' policies, despite being cloaked in the Christian and American flags, are in fact neither Christian nor traditionally American.

He also argues that the Bush administration's actions are unwise diplomatically and economically. He offers a blizzard of statistics to buttress his criticisms.

Historians and political pundits tend to view Carter as a mediocre president. Yet he has become, in the 25 years since he left office, our finest ex-president. He's founded the Carter Center, which helps resolve international and sectarian disputes and provides humanitarian support to starving people abroad. He's won the Nobel Peace Prize. He's championed Habitat for Humanity.

Carter always has maintained that his political tenets and good works are propelled by his lifelong Baptist faith and diligent study of the Bible.

He's been a Sunday school teacher in rural Georgia churches for decades, both before and after his term in the White House. He describes himself as a "conservative" (again, his word), born-again, evangelical Christian.

I'll give him this. He knows the Scriptures inside out. I'd hate to engage him in a Bible debate. He not only quotes from the Sermon on the Mount, he cites with equal facility the Old Testament's obscure minor prophets.

In Our Endangered Values, Carter writes in favor of -- surprisingly, considering he's a Democrat -- a principle dear to conservative Republicans. He says the values passed down to him by his evangelical ancestors and the values historically espoused by the U.S. government are in essence not only compatible, but nearly identical.

Carter believes in the peaceful resolution of disputes whenever possible, the choosing of war only as a last resort, and the merciful treatment of prisoners. He's for the separation of church and state; equal rights for all humans regardless of their nationality, religion or gender; the freedom of individuals to work out their own relationships with God; programs that feed and educate the poor.

He praises the commitments of past Republican presidents to many of these same ideals: Eisenhower, Reagan, the senior George Bush.

But he's unrelentingly critical of two prominent groups.

First, he says, fundamentalists who seized the Southern Baptist Convention have abolished its basic premises. They've replaced the Baptists' old dogma that in matters of faith people answer only to God and their own consciences with a narrow, man-written creed to which professors and missionaries must swear allegiance if they hope to keep their jobs. They've made women second-class Christians. They don't tolerate dissent.

Carter and his wife have left the Southern Baptist Convention in protest.

Second, this same worldview, he believes, fuels the larger Religious Right, which now effectively controls the White House -- and thus dictates America's domestic and foreign policies. The Bush administration, he says, sneers at negotiations and wise compromises, believing it carries a mandate from God and the people to act as it pleases.

Carter is galled by what he says is our new doctrine of pre-emptive war, which holds that the United States will attack other nations unilaterally if it perceives them as even a possible threat. That, Carter says, is a major rupture with biblical teachings and 200 years of American practice.

He's similarly disgusted by the administration's having embraced brutal interrogation methods for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Again, this violates Christian admonitions and longstanding U.S. policy, he says.

Carter addresses other issues: anti-poverty programs, the death penalty, abortion, tax cuts. His arguments are at the same time passionately religious and coolly logical.

Ultimately, he seems to think that a truly Christian philosophy of leadership (or his interpretation of what Christian leadership should look like) is also the most effective in navigating the real-world problems of national and international politics.

I doubt you'll agree with everything the 39th president says. I didn't. But if you take your faith seriously -- or take your government seriously -- you'd do well to read Our Endangered Values, ponder it and debate it.

Former Herald-Leader religion writer Paul Prather is a Mount Sterling minister and author of three books. Reach him at

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Gaps in Bush's Plan, opinion, Washington Post, Hoagland.

Gaps in Bush's Plan

By Jim Hoagland
Thursday, December 1, 2005; A25

President Bush held out the promise yesterday of reductions of American troop levels in Iraq next year -- if they can be made on his terms. His speech at the Naval Academy took a necessary step toward hedging his Iraq policy in the face of popular discontent. But it is unlikely to be sufficient to change hearts and minds.

Bush's political purpose was spelled out on the signboards posted behind him for the television audience: "Plan for Victory." I have one, the president argued in his words and his resolute style. But there were crucial omissions in his attempt to take back the momentum in a national debate that has turned against him.

An effective endgame strategy must center on making U.S. withdrawal the primary catalyst for change in Iraq, rather than a grudging response to the political pressures at home and continuing losses in Iraq.

Those forces helped spark Bush's speech and the elaboration of his conditions for withdrawal. They also prompted the timing of the White House's release of a 35-page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

Both the speech and the strategy document restate and refine Bush's still-firm commitment to finishing what he has started in Iraq. But they also understated or avoided the concrete details of the risks that any form of withdrawal, hedged or precipitous, will raise.

Making withdrawal a catalyst for change means equipping Iraqi forces with lethal U.S. weaponry -- something the Pentagon is reluctant to do. It means letting an elected Iraqi government run its own internal intelligence organization -- something the CIA is reluctant to do. It means taking the kind of big risks on Iraqis that Bush has been reluctant to take since the beginning of the war.

"I am dancing as fast as I can" seemed to be the true subtext of Bush's address. But he failed to show conclusively that his pace is fast enough to calm public opinion or to lead events in Iraq once withdrawals do begin.

Bush did make his first significant admissions that -- in the classic Washington phrase for refusing to assign responsibility -- mistakes were made. He highlighted failures in organizing Iraqi police and security forces into small units that were lightly armed with discarded Soviet-made weapons, if they were armed at all. Nothing more would be needed in the wake of a rapid U.S. battlefield victory and the centering of power in the hands of an occupation authority, it had been assumed.

His admissions indicate an awareness that Iraq turned out to be a very different, much more fragmented and inherently violent land than U.S. policymakers anticipated. Or, worse, than they were willing to admit in the first year of occupation, which featured experiments with sophisticated but unworkable caucus arrangements to choose local officials and idealistic, irrelevant free-market scenarios for a war-devastated economy.

"I watched as we destroyed every weapon we found and assumed that we would be reequipping friendly units with U.S. arms. I was stunned when I saw I was wrong," says a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who worked in Iraq after the invasion. He concluded that U.S. commanders did not have enough confidence in the Iraqis they were recruiting to give them effective weapons.

"We lost a year on training and equipping an effective Iraqi force," Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) told me after listening to the president's speech, which he warmly praised.

Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confirmed that he has been urging the Pentagon to begin arming Iraqi units with standardized U.S. vehicles, rifles and other equipment to replace the hodgepodge of obsolete weaponry that the previous Iraqi interim government bought from former Soviet satellites in often dubious deals.

One quick way to accomplish this would be for U.S. units that are withdrawn to leave behind at least a portion of their equipment. Warner is considering legislation that would authorize that step if the Pentagon can work out details, he indicated.

"Yes, there are risks. But we have to take them, to say to the Iraqis: 'It's yours. You're a fully sovereign nation.' That will be the tipping point," says Warner.

Americans still have a limited understanding of -- and ability to mold -- Iraqi society. Neither wars nor speeches can change that. But the president needs to return to this subject again in the near future and demonstrate a deepening awareness that the war in Iraq must be fought first of all on Iraqi terms, by Iraqis, for Iraqi reasons.