The Wayback Machine and the Constitutional Crisis

08.19.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | National Affairs | 5 Comments
What will it take to awaken Bush supporters to the irresponsibility of their position? Perhaps some historical perspective.

Consider this: It’s early 1929 and Herbert Hoover’s new business-friendly administration is coasting on the quick millionaires created through margin buying in the stock market. You’re a successful businessman, yet know what we know today: that paper wealth lasts only as long as everyone remains hypnotized and that we stand on the cusp of a worldwide depression. Do you stuff your pockets as quickly as you can, or do you sound the alarm and weather the anger of your fellow greed-hounds?

Not vivid enough? OK. Let’s say it’s 1935 and you’re an “Aryan” in comfortable circumstances in Berlin. Government edicts scapegoating Jews are popular yet you know what comes next. Would you stick out your neck to try to prevent the coming nightmare, or would you enjoy your privileges while you could?

Too extreme? Then let’s set the Wayback Machine to the early 1950s. You’re a U.S. Senator, and you can see that the sheet of paper in your colleague Joe McCarthy’s hand is blank as he intones “I hold in my hand a list.” Again, you know what we know now, that the Republican Party is arrayed to do more damage to the Constitution you swore your oath to than the pathetic Communists who do indeed exist in the country. Do you risk your stature as a member of the world’s most exclusive club, or do you sit back and wait a few years till Edward R. Murrow and others finally take down the Wisconsin demagogue?

Too easy? Then let’s set the Wayback for Florida, soon before the November 2000 election. You know that if Bush is elected, we’re certain to suffer the attacks of September 11. You know that these will be followed by a futile and ill-conceived war in Afghanistan that restores the country to the warlords and opium profiteers who had preceded the Taliban. And you know that an utterly pointless war against Iraq will kill tens of thousands of civilians and insure that America becomes the most reviled nation on earth, especially as we’re revealed to condone widespread torture. As Reagan cheerfully emptied the federal treasury to turn the world’s most beneficent nation into history’s greatest debtor, so future president Bush will squander the nation’s moral credit following 9/11 and endanger its citizens for generations to come. What would you do with this knowledge? Would you tell your black friends in Florida to bring lawyers to the polls and warn them to make sure they properly punch their chads, or would you lean back and let it all play out?

Too partisan? Then get a load of this one: It’s 2004 and the president, who swears an oath only to the Constitution, sets aside many of its provisions as they apply to Arabs and Muslims, many of them American citizens. Ordered by the Supreme Court to give so-called “detainees” certain legal rights, he instead institutes a kangaroo court in no way as independent as the Court compelled. American citizens are murdered in foreign lands as part of assassination campaigns of the sort most Americans associate with the rogue nations that we make war on, not with our own policies.

A single day’s defeat, with minimal losses in historical terms, is used to justify a worldwide reign of capricious military adventures and assassination campaigns, along with the suspension of many legal rights. Even though that attack could have been prevented by nothing more imaginative than Israeli-style airline security, the government uses it as a pretext for imposing its authoritarian instincts, keeping the population (and the news media) cowed through politically motivated terror alerts, false suggestions (Saddam was behind 9/11), and out and out lies, such as the insupportable suggestion that we’re “winning” our various wars or that the nation is somehow safer, now that we have more — and more determined — enemies than ever.

A constitutional system which survived terrorists behind every door in the 1860s, which thrived while tens of millions died in the 1940s, is treated as a dangerous luxury by those sworn to defend it after the loss of only 3,000 citizens and several large office buildings.

Suppose you found yourself in that situation, knowing what you know now.

What would you do?


I think this piece is Mr. Steinhardt at his worst. Always seemingly the staff leftist, Mr. Steinhardt has taken it much too far in this instance.

"Again, you know what we know now, that the Republican Party is arrayed to do more damage to the Constitution you swore your oath to than the pathetic Communists who do indeed exist in the country"

That's a total misrepresentation of the facts. Most of the members of Congress that would be considered strict constructionists sit on the Republican side of the aisle. Consider a guy like Representative Ron Paul, certainly an extremist, but a man who votes against nearly every spending initiative because he does not believe it to be constitutionally justified. Better yet, consider Barry Goldwater, sort of the godfather of the modern conservative movement. He made a lot of enemies voting against legislation he did not feel was constitutionally justified.

On the other side of the aisle are the Democrats. They've given us the welfare state and other paternalistic social programs that would make the Founding Fathers cringe. Still, Democrats have been more vocal in opposing detainee treatment measures and the Federal Marriage Amendment among other things. This may or may not be the result of partisan concerns, but that's irrelevant.

Which party is tearing up the Constitution? I would say both of them are, so it's a wash. You can hardly make this a one-way charge against Republicans.

"You know that if Bush is elected, we're certain to suffer the attacks of September 11"

How would Al Gore have prevented 9/11? Really, I'd like to know. The man who had the best chance to stop the attacks was Bill Clinton, but his version of the war on terror was more of a fire a couple cruise missiles and run away mentality. You really can't be serious about blaming Bush for 9/11.

"And you know that an utterly pointless war against Iraq will kill tens of thousands of civilians and insure that America becomes the most reviled nation on earth, especially as we're revealed to condone widespread torture"

For one thing, where does this statistic come from? Tens of thousands? Certainly seems exaggerated to me.

For another, you call America the most reviled nation on earth. Fine, have it your way. I would ask you to show me a time in world history when the unquestioned global superpower wasn't the most reviled nation on earth. That's a ridiculous charge, of course they don't like us. Every nation wants what is best for itself. Every nation wants to be on top. Every nation doesn't like the guy who is on top, because they want to be that guy.

"As Reagan cheerfully emptied the federal treasury to turn the world's most beneficent nation into history's greatest debtor"

Don't forget the Reagan deficits also managed to end the Cold War without a shot being fired. Clinton would have never come close to a budger surplus if he had not been able to reduce or at least level off defense expenditures, vis a vis the so-called peace dividend. Now we know that was an irresponsible policy, but you seem willing to forget that in blaming GWB for 9/11.

"A single day's defeat, with minimal losses in historical terms, is used to justify a worldwide reign of capricious military adventures and assassination campaigns, along with the suspension of many legal rights"

Historical terms be damned. America was attacked that day, and innocent people died. It doesn't matter how many died, it proved to all of us that we had no choice but to defend our nation like never before against the first real threat to our borders since the British in 1812.

The "capricious military adventures and assassination campaigns" you speak of represent the only way to really win the war on terror. What would you have us do, sit back and wait for the terrorists to attack us again? Judging by the fact that you are a Kerry supporter, I would say yes, since that seems to be official Kerry policy. We must take the fight to the terrorists and beat them on their own turf. We don't want this battle to be on our land ever again. If we don't cut off the terrorist forces at the head, they will just keep reproducing ad infinitum. I don't want to ever see America reduced to a state of mind in which terrorist attacks are an accepted part of daily life.

"Even though that attack could have been prevented by nothing more imaginative than Israeli-style airline security"

That's a first, a leftist supporting Israeli security measures.

"such as the insupportable suggestion that we're 'winning' our various wars or that the nation is somehow safer, now that we have more -- and more determined -- enemies than ever"

The fact that we are winning produces more determined enemies. Why do you think the insurgency is growing more heated in Iraq? Because the Islamofascists realize how close the Iraqis are to really achieving something which would fundamentally alter the Middle East and its love of the repressive status quo. This is why they are attacking with what seems an even greater fervor--they don't want our noble Iraqi experiment to work. Victory breeds resentment, Mr. Steinhardt.


In closing, let me just say that I find all of this talk ludicrous. I guarantee that if Bill Clinton or John Kerry had taken these measures, very few Democrats would be running around screaming about it. Look at Kosovo. We had very little strategic interest in Kosovo, although I supported the war as a humanitarian effort. Democrats united behind Kosovo, Republicans opposed it. This was a case of Republican partisanship. Now fast forward to 2004. Democrats are acting as if Iraq is some sort of Vietnam, which would breed the sort of disillusionment very convenient for them, the sort of disillusionment that almost cost us the Cold War. It is entirely a partisan effort. As with the Constitution, neither party has any principle when in second place. Democrats and Republicans alike crow to high heaven whenever it seems most convenient to score political points.

The only difference is that this time around, it's not just political points on the table, but our future as a nation. Islamic fundamentalist terrorists will never compromise with us. The only solution they are willing to accept is our complete and total defeat. Get that through your head. They are completely opposed to us, and we must be to them. Unless they are defeated, our way of life will never be safe. To believe anything else is to deny yourself the truth.
08.20.2004 | Matt Luby
Just to respond to a couple of Mr. Luby's points:

"Why do you think the insurgency is growing more heated in Iraq? Because the Islamofascists realize how close the Iraqis are to really achieving something which would fundamentally alter the Middle East and its love of the repressive status quo. This is why they are attacking with what seems an even greater fervor--they don't want our noble Iraqi experiment to work."

I really wish that were true. I think it more likely that the insurgency is gaining in strength because of our utter and reprehensible failure to provide basic services and security, our desecration of Muslim holy sites, our capricious torture of innocent people, our failure to spend the money Congress allocated for reconstruction, our installation of a Ba'athist assassin as strongman, etc. etc.

I supported the war, and I don't think it was inherently doomed to failure, but Iraq is "close" to nothing except civil war and strongman rule.

"Islamic fundamentalist terrorists will never compromise with us... Get that through your head. They are completely opposed to us, and we must be to them. Unless they are defeated, our way of life will never be safe."

For exactly these reasons, Bush must be removed from office. From Tora Bora to the failure to spend the money needed to secure Russian nuclear materials to exercising such poor control over the military that decisions on the level of *invading the third-holiest site in Shia Islam* are turned over to commanders on the scene, Bush has been an appalling failure. I have no ideological axe here; my revulsion for Bush here is strictly a result of his innumerable failures. Kerry offers little except steady, technocratic leadership; while unappealing, it is infinitely preferable to the alternative.
08.21.2004 | Tim Marchman
Now to respond to Mr. Marchman's points:

"I really wish that were true. I think it more likely that the insurgency is gaining in strength because of our utter and reprehensible failure to provide basic services and security, our desecration of Muslim holy sites, our capricious torture of innocent people, our failure to spend the money Congress allocated for reconstruction, our installation of a Ba'athist assassin as strongman, etc. etc.

I supported the war, and I don't think it was inherently doomed to failure, but Iraq is 'close' to nothing except civil war and strongman rule."

I have to disagree. Yes, the occupation has been plagued by missteps, most especially, as you point out, our failure to restore and provide basic services. It is exceedingly hard to win the battle of hearts and minds when we cannot even satisfy those demands. We have not run a hugely effective operation in post-war Iraq, and we deserve to be chastised for it.

However, I still think this project is working out. America is never going to be able to defeat the insurgency because every victory for us only engenders more resentment and more insurgent support among the Iraqis. This is why it is so important that we continue to train the Iraqi army and police forces. Once these forces are able to take control of their own security, I think the days of the insurgency will be numbered. No longer will people have to worry about pussyfooting around shrines and civilians--the Iraqis will get the job done, and they will do it without the scrutiny of the world media at every turn.

Politically, sure, things are not going as well as they could be, but they are going better than most people thought they would, I think. Last year at this time, it was popular to predict Iraq would turn into Lebanon, part II with a confederation of ethnic/religious regions. I think that is no longer the case. The new Iraqi government has won support from many Iraqis, most importantly Ayatollah Sistani. Once Iraq holds free elections early next year, things will look even better.

I think the important thing to remember is that looking back twenty years from now, I think America will recognize the Iraq war as incredible for its foresight. If we win this war, which I think we will, and Iraq does become a democracy, the Middle East will have no choice but to make great reforms. Iraq came with a price in lives and money, but in the scheme of things, if it works out, it will have cost infinitely less than it would have cost to continue fighting the byproducts of the repressive Middle Eastern regimes.

"For exactly these reasons, Bush must be removed from office. From Tora Bora to the failure to spend the money needed to secure Russian nuclear materials to exercising such poor control over the military that decisions on the level of *invading the third-holiest site in Shia Islam* are turned over to commanders on the scene, Bush has been an appalling failure. I have no ideological axe here; my revulsion for Bush here is strictly a result of his innumerable failures. Kerry offers little except steady, technocratic leadership; while unappealing, it is infinitely preferable to the alternative."

Bush is not a perfect man, he is not a perfect leader. Most of the accusations you make against him are well founded, although I disagree about desecrating the shrine in Najaf. Bush has gone out of his way to protect that shrine, and every step he takes to protect it puts our soldiers in Najaf in even greater danger.

But, more importantly, I do not think a Kerry presidency would be as moderately benign and inoffensive as you would like to think. John Kerry has provided precious little specific information about what he intends to do. He makes a lot of nice-sounding statements about "A Stronger America," but where is it in his policy platform?

The promises Kerry does make I do not think he can keep. He promises to internationalize the war effort in Iraq and bring home many of our troops. How can he say this with a straight face? Does he really think Russia, France, and Germany will suddenly decide to help us out? With the exception of Chirac, who would love to spite Bush, I think, I cannot see any of these leaders suddenly deciding to send troops to Iraq. Even with Chirac it is unlikely. And how much manpower could they provide? More importantly, would it even be worth it? Many of the problems we are facing now are the result of ineffective soldiering by the Spaniards and the Poles.

Kerry has now criticized Bush's troop redeployment plan. This cracks me up, people had been suggesting for months that we cut our numbers in Germany and Korea, and now when Bush listens, he is criticized. Nothing more than partisanship. Does Kerry really think it would be effective to keep something like 70,000 troops in Germany when we have much greater needs elsewhere?

The thing that disturbs me most about Kerry is his constant talk of alliances. I do not want a president who is more intent on finding allies and lessening the burden on America than defeating America's enemies. America must act in its own best interest, allies be damned. We are a stage in our development as a nation where we are the world's only superpower, and we really have no need of allies. Of course, we should always try and enlist our friends in the struggles we undertake, and we should maintain close relationships with them, but never should we let our defense of our nation be subject to the whim of another nation, even an allied one. We are the superpower. We dominate the world. Everybody else would love to see us gone. Why give them veto powers over our policy? Furthermore, the allies Kerry is presumably talking about, those of continental Europe, cannot even provide us with that much aid. France and Germany have shown no intention of ever getting very involved in the business of warfare ever again. Why do we need them as allies?

Kerry is trying to paint himself as a safe alternative to Bush. I don't think that's true. Bush is hardly perfect, but Kerry is worse. I think he would put our national security in danger, if not intentionally, just so he could avoid the sort of flak that Bush is taking now, and that is a scary thought.
08.21.2004 | Matt Luby
The numbers of dead as listed by the WHO are 10,000 dead from the war and another 30 to 50,000 from the health consequences. The responsibility for this lies in the complete failure of "The Coalition of the Willing" to fulfill their fourth Geneva Convention obligations. Obligations, which state clearly that the occupying nations are responsible for the security and health of the occupied nation's citizens.
The situation in Iraq, which results directly from there not being enough troops there(General Shinseki was fired for telling congress it would require 500,000 as opposed to the 180,000? currently there), is a war crime.
The third Qalifia of Baghdad said, "The Arab is like a camel. If you treat him well, he will work to the death for you. If you treat him badly, he will do everything he can to kill you."
When people started saying in 1999, "W. is gonna do wat hes daddy wouldna" between reruns of "Hee Haw" and dreams of incest, I was against the war. Partly because it is an immoral, unethical, criminal war, but mostly because I come from a military family and do not want to go to any funerals.
Now after being in the Middle East for a period, I am against the war because it was cretinous, dim witted, moronic, arrogant, way of getting a large number of people killed for no reason. It is inaccurate to say the U.S. is the most reviled nation on the earth, people are quite historical here. They still hate the Ottomans more. Still we win for being viewed as the Stupidest nation ever to be seen in human history.
Other Arabs are scared of Iraqis. The only people that are as frightening are Afghanis and Iranians.
No weapons, no terrorists, but we now have the man who tried to kill W.'s dad.
Make no mistake: a potato would be a better president than W. and so the Democrats have nominated one. Still better than the piece of Aluminum, they nominated last time.
I suggest Mr. Nationalist Luby gets a plane ticket and goes forth to spread Democracy and Freedom. International agencies are paying tons to Brave Patriots to work in Iraq. Maybe he could open up a McDonalds. Maybe he can stay home and cry next time there is a Terrorist attack.
Me, I plan to be poolside.
08.22.2004 | J.E. D'Ulisse
Mr. Luby:
I am afraid that, however you do the math, Bush has now killed more innocent people than bin Laden. Even setting aside his disastrous handling of the economy, George W. Bush must be removed from office because he is a threat to the very people whom he ostensibly represents. He does nothing but sow fear and hatred among populations already prime for recruitment by bin Laden (and others).

Elections are held every four years for a reason. Good Presidents should be (re-)elected. Bad ones must be fired.
08.23.2004 | ts brock

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