Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cheney's Torture Crusade

It's 1976 and 1992 all over again. Having served in the Gerald Ford administration as it was winding down and the administration of the current president’s father as it lost its footing, Vice-President Dick Cheney knows what it’s like to be part of a failing political enterprise. Even though Cheney has been more powerful than the president he serves, his effort to remake American government is crumbling at his feet. When Cheney assumed the vice-presidency, he made a determined effort to neutralize many of the checks and balances in American politics, centralize power in the White House and Pentagon, and wage an aggressive policy of overthrowing antagonistic regimes like Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. In doing so, he made his office the driving force in the Bush administration and turned the president into the inspirational public spokesperson for Cheney’s initiatives.

At first, Vice-President Cheney enjoyed a lot of success against Bush administration rivals like Colin Powell and Christine Todd Whitman. Cheney over-ruled Whitman on carbon dioxide emissions and the much more formidable Powell on North Korea, Iraq intelligence, and torture. However, the many foreign policy failures of “the Cheney doctrine” have gradually shaken Cheney’s choke hold on the policy apparatus. Apart from Saddam Hussein’s government, all of the antagonistic governments are stronger now than they were five years ago. Although the Iraq invasion is failing by almost any measure, it is especially failing to bring about the Bush administration’s goal of a democratic transformation of the Arab Middle East. Indeed, it’s hard to think of an Arab country that is not now a fertile ground for terrorist recruitment and thus a real threat to American security. As a result of the crucial foreign policy failures, Cheney is now the subject of ridicule for the false claims he made about Iraqi WMD and connections with al-Qaeda. Likewise, he’s losing much of his clout in American government. Not only is his former chief of staff Scooter Libby under indictment for outing a CIA operative, but many of Cheney’s most effective allies in the bureaucracy were either forced to resign (Wolfowitz and Feith) or transferred out of the policy loop (Bolton). As a result, Cheney’s office does not have the clout it used to have in the State Department or Pentagon.

The unpopularity of the war also guarantees that Cheney won’t have a legacy beyond 2008. One of the first things that a winner between John McCain and Hillary Clinton will do is clean Cheney’s supporters out of the national security apparatus and wipe out the memory of Cheney’s initiatives. Condoleeza Rice, the current choice of fantasy conservatives and increasingly public persona herself, would do the same.

Vice-President Cheney’s current crusade for the right of American forces to torture captured suspects is a strong indication of the extent to which he has been forced on the defensive. Not only has the Senate passed Sen. John McCain’s legislation to ban the use of torture, but the State Department and military lawyers in the Pentagon are drawing up their own guidelines for re-affirming Geneva standards for handling prisoners. Cheney and his supporters are using all of the tricks of the bureaucratic trade to resist these initiatives. Cheney himself has been meeting with the Republican caucus in the Senate while his staff has been threatening vetoes of major defense legislation, holding meetings without informing bureaucratic opponents like Secretary of State Rice, and holding up final approval for new policy guidelines. Cheney has become a one-man filibuster for torture, but the significant point is that he is playing bureaucratic defense now and it’s only a matter of time before Cheney’s enemies break through his defenses and get his torture policies reversed.

Given Vice-President Cheney’s influence on President Bush, he won’t become just “another guy” in the Bush administration. However, it’s becoming evident that Dick Cheney is no longer a driving force in American government.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Has Bush Made Us All French?

Friday's poll numbers had surprising news. It turns out that most people have become French. Or is it African-American? Is it Vive le George or my peeps George. Let's see how the numbers work out.

George W. Bush's poll numbers have sunk to levels that would have embarrassed even his father. In today's CBS poll, Bush had a disapprove--57%/ approve--35%; the Washington Post had it 60%/39%. Tough numbers. What makes it interesting is that the Republican base--the Republican faithful that kept pushing for Clinton's impeachment in 1998 and mobilized for Bush in 2004--stands at about 33%. That means that somewhere between 2 and 6 percent of the rest of the population is supporting Bush. Two percent is a significant number for Bush. That's how much support he has from the African-American population these days. Perhaps the black population serves as a good mirror for Bush's situation with the rest of the non-Republicans in this country. The white part of the non-Republican coalition might not suffer from employment discrimination, redlining, racial profiling, or Republican calls to stop being black. But we still might be coalescing into an African-American nation anyway.

But there's a problem with the African-American scenario. The non-Republican part of the population is about 66% divided with rough equality among independents and Democrats. If Bush is getting 39% approval among the whole population, the 6% that he gets from non-Republicans would represent 9.1% of the 66% non-Republican population. Actually, that's more French than African-American. On the eve of the invasion in 2003, 90% of the French population was surveyed as opposing American policy in Iraq. The French were more united than the Spanish, Polish, and Italians (all of whom only achieved 75% disapproval) and even more united than the Turks who were going to have a war on their doorstep. It was a miracle. Bush single-handedly made the French the most single-minded nation in Europe. Emile Durkheim, the sociologist of the collective mind, would have been proud.

It looks like President Bush has created the same kind of unity among non-Republicans in the United States. With African-Americans leading the way, non-Republicans have coalesced around a single bright, shining thought. They disapprove of the Bush administration. Actually, "disapprove" is a rather weak term for the state of public opinion. David Brooks wrote a couple of weeks ago that Republican congressmen were finding that their constituents found the Bush administration and Bush himself to be "repugnant." United we stand in our revulsion. No doubt the French would be proud of us. As the trailblazers in Bush revulsion, they will be more than happy to welcome us aboard.

But we can do better. Non-Republicans can move from the excellent levels of unity achieved by the French to the greatness of our African-American brothers and sisters. We can achieve 98% unity. All we have to do is get our approval rating down to 1.32 out of 66%.This, my friends, is attainable. We just need to ask the Bush administration to fail even more spectacularly than they're failing now. How hard can that be? Write letters to the President asking him to follow John Poindexter's advice and invade Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, renominate Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, breathe new life into Social Security privatization, and really promote their scheme to eliminate mortgage deductions. President Bush WANTS to do all these things. Why not give him more encouragement? Be innovative. Suggest unpopular policies that the Bush administration hasn't thought of yet. Does Dick Cheney know there's oil under the Statue of Liberty? Shouldn't the Mississippi River be named after Ronald Reagan? "Oh Reagan River, keep on rolling." Maybe the Doobie Brothers could re-record "Black Water" to jump start the campaign. With the Bush administration, the potential for failure is unlimited. We just have to point them in the right direction. Act now before Bush fails without your help.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Democrats Seize the Day

I was stunned to see that Harry Reid used an obscure procedural technique to force the Senate into executive session to discuss pre-war intelligence. As a result, the Democrats were able to cut through the clutter of Avian flu, the Alito nomination, and Scott McClellan's credibility problems to put the spotlight on the Bush administration's incompetence and failures.
For once, maybe the first time since the 2000 election, the Democratic leadership seized the day.

It's worth highlighting the qualities associated with this manuever. INNOVATION, POLITICAL COURAGE, PUSHING THE ENVELOPE, CONFRONTATIONALISM, BRILLIANT TIMING--all of these qualities are much more readily associated with Tom DeLay, Mitch McConnell, and the Republican right than House and Senate Democrats. Equally stunning is the fact that the Democrats were able to take the offensive on an issue where most people agree with them. More people oppose the Iraq War, support abortion rights, support broader environmental protections, and support greater aid to the poor than the opposite. Nevertheless, the Democratic leadership has lacked the political vision, rhetorical skill, and policy ideas needed to turn public opinion into votes for Democratic candidates. Today's action is a hopeful sign that the Democrats can start competing with the Bush administration on the war issue.

The Democrats still have weaknesses. Anybody who read the daily newspapers (I get a Knight-Ridder paper in Kentucky) knew that Cheney's Iraq claims were a particularly thin tissue of lies. So, it's not like the Democrats shouldn't have figured out the Iraq intelligence issue before the invasion. Likewise, the Democrats still haven't come up with a alternative to the Bush administration's failed policies. So Bill Frist is right when he says that Senate Democrats "have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas.” After today, however, it is not as easy to say that the Senate Democrats are "gutless" and "inept" as well.

So, there's no reason to get over-optimistic. Perhaps the Senate Democrats won't be able to sustain today's aggressive posture. Perhaps, they're only fitfully capable of carrying out these kinds of manuevers. However, I'm perfectly willing to take "fitful effectiveness" from the Senate Democrats. It's a definite improvement.