Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lord High Admiral Bush

We can't be emotional about these things. That is, we can't be controlled by emotion. The War. The Imperial President. The Unconstitutional Bush. When we're confronted with clearly wrong opinions, we have to remember that wrong opinions are not generally held out of malice. Thus, Adam Cohen's NY Times effort of last week.

"The nation is heading toward a constitutional showdown over the Iraq war. Congress is moving closer to passing a bill to limit or end the war, but President Bush insists Congress doesn’t have the power to do it. 'I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war,' he said at a recent press conference. 'I think they ought to be funding the troops.' He added magnanimously: 'I’m certainly interested in their opinion.'"

Hm. There may certainly be a showdown, here. Would it be over the constitution? The evidence Mr. Cohen presents is flimsy unto flaccidity. Mr. Bush doesn't think Congress should try to run the war. Well? First, he has a right to his opinion. Second, Congress does not have the right to run the war. Congress doesn't even have the constitutional power of oversight. It has only the power to approve or withhold funds. That's a yes or a no -- a lot of power, and hardly any, and none over policy, tactics or goals. Bush is not unreasonable in supposing that "they ought to be funding the troops." There is nothing imperial in such sentiments. He is interested in Congressional opinions. Mr. Cohen responds with tepid sarcasm. I'll teach him a thing or two about sarcasm.

Having asserted the truth of his case, Cohen indicts the Bush administration for "trying to expand its powers beyond all legal justification." We shall see. "In the looming showdown, the founders and the Constitution are firmly on Congress’s side." We shall see.

Comparing the Presidency to Monarchy, Cohen cites the Federalist Papers: "absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal." While this is certainly true, it is irrelevant to Mr. Cohen's charges. The stated reasons for the war -- with which Congress agreed and used to justify their funding of the war -- make no reference to personal power. Any supposed private agenda is unsupported speculation -- less politely, we'd call it the fantasies of the lunatic fringe. They have no place in mainstream reportage. Pace Madison, who, as Cohen quotes, warned that "It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle." All rational men are aware of the lure of power. No prudent man would assert that this is the only or even a major reason a president would lead this nation into war. Admonitions do not make, or even support, a case. So far, Cohen's case is all hand waving.

Cohen concedes that the Constitution makes the president Commander in Chief, "a title President Bush often invokes. But it does not have the sweeping meaning he suggests. ... Alexander Hamilton emphasized in Federalist No. 69 that the president would be 'nothing more' than 'first general and admiral,' responsible for 'command and direction' of military forces." Alas for Mr. Cohen, words do have meaning. "Command and direction" are not "sharply limited" authorities, in Cohen's words. They are the same powers that George Washington had in winning independence. They represent full authority, save for purse strings. So far, Cohen has said nothing.

"The founders would have been astonished by President Bush’s assertion that Congress should simply write him blank checks for war." I think not. It is the same assertion that General Washington made, albeit in more supplicating tones. Cohen's strawman, who asserts that Congress should simply write a blank check -- well, that sure do make Bush sound imperial, don't it. I think it's quite a leap, however, to get here from Bush's actual words: "I think they ought to be funding the troops." It's almost as if Cohen had an agenda that was served by twisting the president's words and meaning.

"The framers expected Congress to keep the president on an especially short leash on military matters." Who could argue with that? Alas, the only support Cohen can offer is that "The Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money for an army, but prohibits appropriations for longer than two years." Hm. Looks we can argue with that. Two years is a long time. A lot of war can be waged, on two years' wages. It actually seems like the hounds of war have an extraordinarily long leash. Puppies become grandparents in two years. The two years, as Cohen states (apparently thinking it supports his argument), is in contrast to perminent funding. Well, yes, by that measure, two years is a short leash. Eternity is such a very long time.

"As opinion turns more decisively against the war, the administration is becoming ever more dismissive of Congress’s role. Last week, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman brusquely turned away Senator Hillary Clinton’s questions about how the Pentagon intended to plan for withdrawal from Iraq. 'Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq,' he wrote. Mr. Edelman’s response showed contempt not merely for Congress, but for the system of government the founders carefully created."

Goodness. That Cohen. How catty. He's like an ex-wife. "Decisively." "Dismissive." "Brusquely." "Contempt." But it boils down to philosophies. Ms. Clinton wants surrender plans to be published for the enemy to read. Mr. Edelman wants ... well, he's pretty clear as to what he wants and why he wants it: "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq." They say that liberal and conservative brains are wired differently. There is a case to be made for this, but it's a bit too deterministic for me to use here. I won't offer up reasons for the difference in vision and foresight. Regardless of the wisdom or folly with which this war has been conducted, it seems utter insanity to prepare a blood enemy for his victory.

Cohen concludes, "If the founders were looking on now, it is not Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who would strike them as out of line, but George W. Bush, who would seem less like a president than a king." Cohen's ouija board must be a little greasy. He's getting some misspellings. Madison would have rushed to include an additional Article in the Constitution, specifically forbidding anyone with the name Pelosi -- however spelled -- from holding elected office. George Washington would have driven a stake through Reid's heart.

Well then? Did Cohen support his case? Did he show that Bush is grabbing power beyond all legal justification? Did he show that the Framers would be "firmly" against Mr. Bush? He offered Bush's desire that Congress fund the war. He adduced the fact that wars may be funded for no longer than two years at a time. He reminds us of the truism that humans like power and glory. He cites the unpopularity of the war -- evidently unaware that the War of Independence was highly unpopular. He doesn't like Edelman's attitude.

With characters like this shaping public opinion, no wonder the war is unpopular. Five years of this noise screamed into an ear could drive anyone mad. Y'know, it's almost like he wants us to lose. Almost. Just going on the evidence of his words and where he puts his intellectual energy. All I'd need to be really sure is a ouija board. Hope that doesn't sound like malice.


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