Balkinization  

Friday, March 07, 2008

A Grumpy Observation abourt the Limited Range of Pundits' Critiques

Sandy Levinson

Needless to say, many pundits are now commenting on the rules of the Democratic Party re the selection of its presidential candidate. See, e.g., E.J. Dionne's column in today's Washington Post, where he writes that "Democrats have contrived a nominating contest that even Rube Goldberg would have considered too convoluted, too dysfunctional and too improbable to name as his own." Save for the certainly peculiar way by which Texas names its delegates--I had the pleasure of voting twice for Barack Obama, once in early voting (in a secret ballot) and then several days later at my local caucus (which is definitely not secret)--I don't share the hostility to a preference-sensitive proportional representation system that does not negate the votes of everyone who doesn't vote for "the winner" (who may, as with McCain in a number of states, get distinctly less than a majority of the vote). But I've already made such arguments, and I won't rehearse them again. My current grumpiness is about something else, though regular readings of Balkinization shouldn't be surprised by what I'm about to write.

Pundits and editorial cartoonists are having a field day dissecting the Democratic Party's rules and accurately noting, to cite my earlier posting, that electoral systems have consequences. But none of these pundits or editorial cartoonists, however admirable I usually find their observations--which is certainly true of Dionne--seem interested in directing their critical intelligence to a far more important set of institutional structures that I, at least, consider even more "convuluted" and "dysfunctional" than the Democratic Party's rules. Obviously, I am referring to our Constitution. That remains completely undiscussed in this campaign.

Consider the "real meaning" of Hillary Clinton's disgusting "3AM ad": We are electing, in substantial measure, a "constitutional dictator," given the freedom of action, relating to foreign policy and the use of military force, that is the province of contemporary president's either, depending on one's favorite constitutional theory, because that's what Article II really means or because presidents over many years have successfully established themselves as "great deciders" in those realms. Independent of whether one places most trust in McCain, Clinton, or Obama--I obviously believe the correct answer is Obama, given the demonstrated capacity for misjudgment of the other two--there ought to be someone asking whether any of them should have the kind of power that the Constitution is deemed to grant our president. The abysmal George W. Bush is rapidly receding into history. But his can't-come--too-soon eviction from the White House doesn't change at all this "constitutional reality" of our political system.

And, of course, some of the sarcasm directed at the Democratic Party might be directed at the byzantine process established by the Constitution with regard to the passage of legislation. The NY Times has an article discussing the optimism some Democrats have about the prospects of gaining 60 seats in the Senate, which is the new number required in order to pass legislation. Why is it that our pundits don't write outraged columns about this farcical distortion of democracy (not, incidentally, required by the Constitution), especially when one combines the fact that the successful filibusters can be mounted by senators representing relatively small fractions of the American populace? Or why are there no columns discussing the consequences of the presidential veto for our "dysfunctional" political system? My partisan instincts tell me it's great that Clinton or Obama might be exercising the veto power beginning next January (though neither would have much occasion to do so, given the presumption of a Democratic Congress). But, frankly, I would gladly sacrifice that partisan pleasure in return for a constitutional amendment significantly limiting the power to either explicitly Constitution-based vetoes (i.e., the argument that the legislation violates the Constitution) or, perhaps, specific line-item vetoes directed at "earmarks" on the basis that they don't come close to satisfying the requirement of the "general welfare" clause, which is also, in its own way, a Constitution-based argument. No one has demonstrated to my satisfaction why we ought to have a tricameral legislative system that gives one person, who may have been rejected by a majority of the electorate (given our "convoluted and dysfunctional" electoral college) basically dictatorial authority to negate the views of majorities of both the House and the Senate when the basis of the veto is nothing more than policy disagreement with the congressional majority. Perhaps a pundit will see fit to discuss this feature of our system, in which the President is a one-person "superdelegate" with a vengeance.


Comments:

We are electing, in substantial measure, a "constitutional dictator," given the freedom of action, relating to foreign policy and the use of military force, that is the province of contemporary president's either, depending on one's favorite constitutional theory, because that's what Article II really means or because presidents over many years have successfully established themselves as "great deciders" in those realms.

OK, if you want to vent your usual obsession, I will vent mine. One of the main reasons our system of government is unbalanced is that the executive power of government -- not just the US federal government, but all government everywhere -- has grown almost immeasurably since the 18th century. As everyone knows, the Founders divided the legislature in two (or, arguably three) on the assumption that it was the strongest branch of the government and gave the President the veto in the belief that he needed it to protect the weaker executive.

The executive has grown a great deal since then, and the rules that were enough to keep an 18th century executive in check do, indeed, tend to make Presidents today "constitutional dictators." Most states have responded to the growing power of the executive by dividing it, i.e., by making the leaders of many different executive departments separately elective and leaving the governor in charge of only a part of the executive branch.

I can see serious problems with such an approach on the federal level and am not recommending it. But it does seem to me that if we want to make major constitutional changes, our top priority should be figuring out what to do about the immense growth in the executive and how to keep it from running out of control
 

Sandy:

Consider the "real meaning" of Hillary Clinton's disgusting "3AM ad": We are electing, in substantial measure, a "constitutional dictator," given the freedom of action, relating to foreign policy and the use of military force, that is the province of contemporary president's either, depending on one's favorite constitutional theory, because that's what Article II really means or because presidents over many years have successfully established themselves as "great deciders" in those realms. Independent of whether one places more trust in McCain, Clinton, or Obama--I obviously believe the correct answer is Obama, given the demonstrated capacity for misjudgment of the other two--there ought to be someone asking whether any of them should have the kind of power that the Constitution is deemed to grant our president. The abysmal George W. Bush is rapidly receding into history. But his can't-come--too-soon eviction from the White House doesn't change at all this "constitutional reality" of our political system.

Why is the issue raised by the "3 am" ad "disgusting?" Almost every President is guaranteed to receive one or more telephone calls or taps on the shoulder by an aide informing him or her that some group or country has attacked the United States.

It is generally accepted that part of a President's responsibility under the Article II CiC power is to act to defend the United States. Indeed, it is hard to discern a more important presidential responsibility. Are you really arguing that the President does not have this responsibility and he or she would be acting as a dictator if they acted immediately to defend the United States without a declaration of war?

Clinton's "3 am" ad simply raises the question in voter's minds of which candidate they think would do the best job defending the United States when that inevitable telephone call comes. This seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate question which demands to be asked during every presidential election.

What is disgusting is that this question has not been posed by the press in any Dem debate which I have seen and had to be raised first in an attack ad.

I can almost guarantee that this question will be repeatedly raised by Mr. McCain this summer and fall. If Mr. Obama cannot answer Mrs. Clinton's relatively gentle jab in the "3 am" ad, he is in for a very rough next few months.
 

I substantially agree with much of both of the preceding comments. "Enlightened layperson" is obviously correct that we need more serious conversation among serious pundits about the modern executive state, its strengths and its dangers. And I agree with Mr. DePalma that Obama certainly has to come up with a convincing answer to the question. (He has already convinced me, but, obviously, that's pretty much beside the point.) What is "disgusting" about the ad is that Sen. Clinton, in her zeal to win at any cost, has basically made the McCain commercial for him. Should he get the nomination, and should she go out on the campaign trail, she's going to have to explain why somebody she believed fatally inexperienced in February has more-or-less suddenly picked up the requisite experience by September.

It's also "disgusting" in quite a different sense: She has not pointed to a single "crisis" in which she has been forced to make decisions. She's illegitimately playing on her tenure as First Spouse. So she should tell us if she ever remonstrated with Bill about one or more of his own dubious decisions, or, perhaps, pushed him, against his initial judgment, into making a decision that we think displayed the requisite "grace under pressure." Until then, she's not to be taken seriously with regard to the basic claim of the ad.
 

Sandy:

I can see why an Obama supporter would be disgusted with Clinton over the "3 am" ad.

Last week, I made the observation that Clinton is running a free ad for McCain when she challenges Obama's lack of qualifications to be CiC because Clinton herself has no particular military or foreign policy expertise and this will be McCain's signature issue.

Indeed, in an amusing Freudian slip, Clinton pollster and self appointed chief strategist Mark Penn indirectly endorsed Senator McCain in this discussion of the Clinton "3 a.m." television ad:

Penn said the ad, which began airing Friday, effectively framed the question of "who's ready and prepared to be commander-in-chief." Penn added: "Just by merely asking the question and nothing more, millions of people understood what is the answer to that question." He called it a "tipping point" in the race that has signaled a "change in momentum."

Penn also suggested that Obama's alleged inability to stand up to Clinton on the national security question bodes poorly for his (and Democrats') chances of winning that argument against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the fall. "If Senator Obama can't be seen to be commander-in-chief against Senator Clinton, how can he possibly expect to be seen as someone who can win the commander-in-chief question against Senator McCain?" Penn asked.

 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

McCain has no more experience responding to 3am calls than either Clinton or Obama. His claim to fame was knowing it was time to punch out of a crippled aircraft and being a brave punching bag for the Vietnamese.

When his 3am call did come, he voted to give Bush the ok to invade Iraq. Expect Obama to mention that a lot if he is the Dem nominee. Don't expect Hillary to bring it up quite so often.
 

bb:

McCain is a very active member of the Armed Services Committee who has been dealing with foreign policy and military issues for two decades now.

You are quite correct that McCain, as the main proponent of the Surge long before Bush jumped on the bandwagon, will be citing its success as part of his resume.

I also expect Mr. Obama to attempt to argue that the Surge was a failure.

Then the voters get to decide whether who has the temperament and grasp of the actual facts on the ground to be CiC.

Everyone knows where we both stand on this issue so lets get back to the Dem politics which Sandy raised.
 

Sandy: I tend to think your concerns can only be addressed "with the blood of patriots and tyrants." I'm in no rush for that day, but I can't imagine anything less shaking loose the powers that have over time been foolishly granted to the executive. I agree completely, I don't want anyone having that kind of power, much less anyone who would seek it.
 

McCain is a very active member of the Armed Services Committee who has been dealing with foreign policy and military issues for two decades now.

Do they get many 3am calls on that committee that don't involve a booty call with their mistress?

You are quite correct that McCain, as the main proponent of the Surge long before Bush jumped on the bandwagon, will be citing its success as part of his resume.

Actually, I didn't mention the surge, I was talking about the idiotic decision to invade. I'll bet McCain won't be citing that portion of his resume very often.
 

Bart: "....citing its success..."

A nice example, as it doesn't fit as neatly in the TOAC system. bb says "invade Iraq", Bart interprets that as "the Surge"; I suppose the closest fit is TOAC 2: The Homonymy, in which the confounder extends "a proposition to something which has little or nothing in common with the matter in question but the similarity of the word; then to refute(s) it triumphantly, and so claim(s) credit for having refuted the original statement." Of course, in this case to "refute" the confounder has to avail himself of TOAC 14: Claim Victory Despite Defeat, as seen in the dubious contention that "the Surge" has succeeded in anything other than wasting more money and lives on the neo-con adventure in Iraq, which dubious claim, almost recursively, rests on yet another Homonymy in which the confounder tries to equate the deposing of our former ally, Saddam Hussein, with "victory in Iraq."

That's a lot to pack into the three words quoted. He's a good advocate.
 

When the "3am call" ads do start from McCain, I hope the Dems run tape of the most recent Rightwingnut "3am call" (not involving booty), and show tape of Dumbya's "deer in the headlights" moment in that Florida classroom on 9/11.
 

Almost every President is guaranteed to receive one or more telephone calls or taps on the shoulder by an aide informing him or her that some group or country has attacked the United States.

While this guarantee is thin if not invisible, this situation has never ocurred, and will never occur. If Bush can wait a day or two to tell the US what's up with the whole 9/11 thing, 3am won't make a difference. Whoever is President will get up at some point and talk to their advisors like they do every day. Bush taught us that there's no hurry; the 3am scenario is a red herring.
 

I find it peculiar that you should complain of "the byzantine process established by the Constitution with regard to the passage of legislation.", and then cite as an example the need to achieve 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. Is it even conceivable that a constitutional scholar would be unaware that the Senate cloture rules are not constitutional in nature?
 

Sandy,
Your comments on the "3 am" ad started me to thinking about lonely decisions made by top people. Someone tried a few years ago to compare Eisenhower and the decision to launch the Normandy invasion in 1944 to President Bush and decisions-to-be-made on the Iraq War.
Yes, Eisenhower took a walk that night and came back with the decision to "Go!" But the decision to launch a cross-channel invasion was made by many people almost as soon as British & French troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk. The place had been decided upon many months earlier. Everyone was so well-practiced that on D-Day, there wasn't a single collision between any of the watercraft. All Eisenhower was deciding upon was the timing.
Nah, most C-in-C decisions don't need to be lonely ones. Most of them can be arrived at by consensus after thorough discussion.
 

I am disappointed that Brett clearly did not read my posting with sufficient care. I explicitly noted that the filibuster is not required by the Constitution. I might even have added that some people believe it is unconstitutional, though I strongly suspect that is a minority view.
 

Try to avoid the "pun-dit-to-heads." Also the ranters. But humor can be revealed in their humorlessness. Practice being a mugwamp.
 

But this still leaves the question of why you didn't follow up the complaint of "byzantine process established by the Constitution" with, you know, an actual example of a byzantine process established by the Constitution.

The legislative process as established by the Constitution strikes me as relatively straightforward. There are some rules tacked on top of the Constitutional substrate, which could fairly be described as byzantine, but they're examples of what I think our real problem is: A huge accumulation of institutional knowledge on how to work around an otherwise fairly decent Constitution. The perhaps inevitable consequence of running the same constitution for a long period of time.

We need a reboot, but it's not the Constitution that's at fault, it's political culture.
 

Brett,

I agree that the non-constitutional reboot is needed, but the heart of it was called by the first president:

"Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection."


Now pick out which party more closely adheres to that description of factionalism, let alone Washington's admonition against overgrown military establishments.
 

Frankly (as I usually am), the MSM seems bent upon creating racial and perhaps gender tensions as Barack and Hillary go forward, egging them and their supporters on for the benefit of lousy journalism (which is of course protected by the First Amendment speech clauses).

I remember back in 1968 when Nixon won, a close friend and law school classmate expressed his concern with Nixon's win. I tried to console him by saying that Nixon's election won't ruin the country. It almost did. We knew more about Nixon back then than we knew about George W in 2000 when SCOTUS's 5-4 split put him in the Presidency. Since then we have observed George W's on-the-job training. George W has come closer to ruining this country than Nixon did. Lessons were learned from the antics of Nixon and his cohorts. Also, lessons were learned about our venture in Vietnam. But lessons are often forgotten. We have been survivors. So too George W will come to pass. But what new lessons will be learned?

I ponder this as a mugwamp, sitting on the fence with my mug on one side and my wamp on the other. The more attention we pay to Orwell's cautions, the more they seem to become self-fullfilling prophesies.
 

rich said...

Sandy, Your comments on the "3 am" ad started me to thinking about lonely decisions made by top people. Someone tried a few years ago to compare Eisenhower and the decision to launch the Normandy invasion in 1944 to President Bush and decisions-to-be-made on the Iraq War.
Yes, Eisenhower took a walk that night and came back with the decision to "Go!" But the decision to launch a cross-channel invasion was made by many people almost as soon as British & French troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk. The place had been decided upon many months earlier. Everyone was so well-practiced that on D-Day, there wasn't a single collision between any of the watercraft. All Eisenhower was deciding upon was the timing.

Nah, most C-in-C decisions don't need to be lonely ones. Most of them can be arrived at by consensus after thorough discussion.


The only consensus needed about D-Day was between FDR and Churchill on the location and time window. Everything else was delegated down the military chain of command.

D-Day was not a consensus decision between the President and Congress. Congress had declared war and then got down to the business of raising and funding the military necessary to fight the war. When and where to fight the war were command decisions of the President.

It appears that you fundamentally misunderstand how military operations work. There is no touchy freely consensus of all the stake holders. There is one commander who makes the decisions or delegates that power to his subordinates. That commander is the President.

Indeed, the one place where the term "dictator" can be fairly applied to the President under our Constitution is the President's CiC authority over the military. Congress pretty much rules the roost setting domestic policy. However, the military has never been and never will be a democracy. It consists of a vertical chain of command starting with the President and ending with the lowest private which every member of the military is sworn to obey.

Congress has never been part of this chain of command. If a Senator arrived at our base, we would not salute them or follow their orders as we would the President. The Congress does not enact plans for operations like D-Day.

The only negative limits on the authority of this chain of command are laws enacted by Congress under an enumerated (not imaginary or implied) power of Article I and the law of war. However, affirmative command authority is reserved to the President under Article II.

It seems to be difficult for civilians without military experience here to understand that a single chain of command is absolutely necessary for carrying out military operations. If you want to see what we in the military call a "cluster f_ck," watch a military unit with a weak leader who allows his subordinates to do what they want and rule by consensus. The unit either fragments or comes to a screeching halt like our gridlocked Congress. While having a gridlocked Congress unable to enact legislation taking my money or freedom is often a very good thing, having a gridlocked military is a prescription to get our soldiers and citizenry killed.
 

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. So what if, in the chain of command, the weak link is the Commander-in-Chief? Is the credo of this chain "My country right or wrong"? And what if the "wrong" is at the top of the chain?
 

shag from brookline said...

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. So what if, in the chain of command, the weak link is the Commander-in-Chief? Is the credo of this chain "My country right or wrong"? And what if the "wrong" is at the top of the chain?

The reality is that, when Presidents make mistakes, soldiers die in places like Desert One, Mogadishu or the Sunni Triangle after being denied readily available equipment and troops or permission to attack.

A good President like Lincoln or Bush will learn from their mistakes and change generals and strategies until they find a winner like Grant or Petreaus.

A bad President will simply cut, run and surrender in the face of adversity.

The reality is that, when things go wrong, a SecDef like Aspin or Rumsfeld usually takes the fall, not the President. Unless Congress is willing to impeach, the citizenry and its soldiers are stuck with the President they elected.

This is why the most important question you need to ask of a candidate auditioning for President is how he or she will handle those "3 am" calls.
 

Or, a bad president will make idiotic decisions like the "Surge." The military strongly opposed it, Bush said "#$%@ it, do it anyway!" (Well, words to that effect), casualties are now starting to climb back up because it was never anything more than a temporary solution to begin with, as the military pointed out in the first place.

Having been a sailor (During the last two years of the Elder Bush and during pretty much the whole of Clinton's Administration), I have a pretty nuanced view of military authority. In theory, yes, it's very absolute and unequivocal. In practice, not nearly so much. By "consensus," I don't mean that people up and down the chain of command formally agree on what to do but that people do, in practice, agree on what needs to be done and the guy or gal in charge usually agrees with the advice that's given to them.

Yes, Bush as C-in-C did indeed have the right to overrule his commanders and to insist upon the "Surge" (really an escalation), but no, it didn't work out well and Petraeus is hardly a genius. Petraeus is a political general (In the worst sense of the term) who knew what his superiors wanted to hear.
 

Rich:

Here are the voices of the "victorious" al Qaeda who "defeated" the "idiotic" Surge. They sound more like the Japanese being hunted down and exterminated by the Marines in the "Letters from Iwo Jima" than a victorious army...

Last month, the Washington Post published an amazing article today on al Qaeda in Iraq's current state of collapse based on interviews with al Qaeda surviving al Qaeda leaders and captured enemy documents.

The article begins with an interview of the al Qaeda "emir" (local commander) in Garma region of eastern Anbar province, where al Qaeda has been all but destroyed and has not carried out a significant attack in months:

The U.S. military says it destroyed much of the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, killing 2,400 suspected members and capturing 8,800, while pushing the group almost completely out of Baghdad and Anbar province. Although U.S. officials and their Sunni allies caution that al-Qaeda in Iraq remains dangerous and could find ways to regenerate, they assert that the group now is largely a spent force.

"We do not deny the difficulties we are facing right now," said Riyadh al-Ogaidi, a senior leader, or emir, of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the Garma region of eastern Anbar province. "The Americans have not defeated us, but the turnaround of the Sunnis against us had made us lose a lot and suffer very painfully."

Resting on a blanket in the garden of a squat concrete house in Garma, Ogaidi lamented al-Qaeda in Iraq's reversal of fortunes over the past year.

Ogaidi, 39, once traveled with 20 bodyguards in a four-vehicle convoy. But during the recent interview, he was nearly alone, wearing a white cap on his bald head and a gray dishdasha, or floor-length tunic, to disguise himself as a poor villager.

"We made many mistakes over the past year," including the imposition of a strict interpretation of Islamic law, he told a Washington Post special correspondent. Al-Qaeda in Iraq followers broke the fingers of men who smoked, whipped those who imbibed alcohol and banned shops from selling shampoo bottles that displayed images of women -- actions that turned Sunnis against the group.

Ogaidi said the total number of al-Qaeda in Iraq members across the country has plummeted from about 12,000 in June 2007 to about 3,500 today.

By all accounts, the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has plunged. The U.S. military said the number sneaking in from Syria has dropped from 110 a month in late summer to about 40 to 50 a month now. Ogaidi said the total number of foreign fighters in Iraq is "in the tens -- not more than 200." Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a predominantly Iraqi group, but the U.S. military says it is led by Arabs from outside the country...


The military keeps claiming that al Qaeda in Iraq is primarily an Iraqi group, but Ogaidi speaks of the Iraqi Sunni as a people outside of al Qaeda and the Post's other sources only speak about the trials and tribulations of foreign terrorists.

The Post article continues with the account in a captured al Qaeda letter of the terrorist group's inability to carry out further suicide bombings because of the Iraqi Sunni Awakening Councils and how their foreign fighters instead end up being hunted down and killed or flee the country in fear:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq's change in tactics comes in response to the turmoil and self-doubt that arose among its members as they lost the support of Sunni tribesmen, a process vividly described in a letter by an unnamed al-Qaeda in Iraq emir that the U.S. military said it seized last November.

"This created weakness and psychological defeat," the emir wrote. "This also created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight. The morale of the fighters went down."

The emir cited Muhammad, a 6-foot-3 computer major born in a Western European country, who crossed the Syrian border about a year ago with dreams of carrying out a suicide bombing in Iraq.

But when he arrived in Anbar, there was no mission for him.

"He was discouraged and asked his emir to transfer him to another district," the emir wrote to senior leaders in the 49-page letter, of which four full pages and other excerpts were provided to The Post by U.S. military officials. "His request was denied."

The letter said Muhammad was eventually summoned to carry out a small raid on a local "apostate resident," only to be shot in the arm. U.S. troops later found the village in which Muhammad was hiding and surrounded it. "He was killed by a sniper and died," the letter says.

The emir said potential suicide bombers were told by coordinators on the border that they could choose a suicide mission, which would kill 20 to 30 U.S.-led troops or their supporters, the letter says.

Yet a would-be bomber would then wait in the desert for months. "At the end he will be asked to do a small operation, such as murdering someone or blowing up a police car," the emir wrote. The foreigners would then become discouraged, he said, and return to their home countries.

The letter, which referred to the situation in Anbar as an "exceptional crisis," was found in an al-Qaeda in Iraq safe house in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, along with a half-dozen hard drives, thumb drives and more than 100 CDs and DVDs of material from the group, U.S. officials said. The authenticity of the document could not be independently confirmed.

In the letter, the emir said the difficulty in assigning tasks to potential suicide bombers was caused by increases in U.S. military operations and the formation of U.S.-backed Sunni tribal groups, known as Awakening councils, to fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq...

"We found ourselves in a circle not being able to move, organize or conduct our operations," he wrote. "There was a total collapse in the security structure of the organization."


And more of the letter from a subsequent Post article:

"We lost cities and afterward, villages ... We find ourselves in a wasteland desert," Smith quoted the document as saying.

The next day, the Post followed up with a shorter article reporting on a diary captured from a third al Qaeda commander reporting on the gradual defeat of his terror gang:

The author of the diary seized near Balad wrote that he was once in charge of 600 fighters, but only 20 were left "after the tribes changed course," a reference to how many Sunni tribesmen have switched sides to fight alongside the Americans, Smith said.

The switch by the Sunni tribes, whose resulting U.S.-backed groups are often referred to as awakening councils, has been credited with helping reduce violence across the country.

The councils were key to helping push al-Qaida out of Anbar province, once one of the country's most violent. The terror group's top leaders are now based somewhere in northern Iraq, Smith said, having moved out of Anbar and into Diyala province last year...

He said the documents are believed to be authentic, Smith said, because they contain details that only al-Qaida in Iraq leaders could know about battlefield movements and tactics.

 

Ed Driscoll remixed the Hillary "3 am" ad for John McCain here showing how Hillary really created a GOP ad.

Somehow, this ad is easier to take seriously when Hillary is not the one answering the phone.
 

It is absolutely correct that AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) is a foreign group and that's it's fallen on hard times. AQI was being driven out of Anbar Province before the "Surge" even began.
The two main reasons the Iraqis in general are quieted down are that the Sunnis have been bribed and because the Shiites who follow Muqtada al-Sadr are obeying his instruction to "stand down."

It just really "gets up my nose" to see these endless Bush-Lincoln comparisons. Lincoln was a Commander-in-Chief who displayed a lot more common sense than many of his commanders did. If Bush had much of that, he would have realized in August 2003 that he was facing a dug-in, long-term guerrilla war and would have spent serious time wrestling with how to deal with plans that had gone sour. Instead, he putzed around on his ranch, clearing brush, twiddling his thumbs and generally being useless.
 

Brett:

Professor Levinson did point to constitutional defects w/r/t filibusters, though.

First, while the 60-vote threshold is not constitutionally required, it is certainly possible that a constitution could preclude it.

Second, the post also made the point, which you don't seem to have addressed, that allowing filibusters is particularly problematic when your constitution mandates that some Senators represent much smaller populations than others (and therefore that the anti-democratic effects of filibusters could mitigated by a different way of apportioning Senators--clearly a constitutional issue).
 

Daniel, the filibuster, like many other Congressional rules, (The Enrolled Bill rule is particularly egregious.) may make the process of passing legislation "byzantine", but they are not the Constitution, they aren't even legislation pursuant to it. In many instances, they're arguably not even compliant with it.

This is a longstanding sticking point between me and Prof. Levinson: He's continually making complaints about the Constitution, which are properly addressed to political culture, or even violations of the Constitution.

As I'm fond of saying, "The Constitution has it's problems, but it's better than what we have now." There's no point in fixing the very real problems of the Constitution, if we're not going to establish that constitutions are binding on government. Otherwise any fixes we make will just be 'interpreted' away.
 

Here's a comparison:

Bush is to Lincoln as Bart Simpson is to his sister Lisa.
 

What do you want the President to do when s/he gets that 3am call? Have his aides try to locate the members of Congress, wake them up (if they can), ask they to fly back to D.C., and wait until a piece of legislation can be drafted, sent to committee, marked up, sent to the floor, amended on the floor, passed, sent to the other house, sent to another committee, marked up again, sent to the floor, amended on the floor, passed, sent to conference committee, marked up in conference committee, sent to the floor, passed in the House, and passed in the Senate?

Whatever the situation is that warrants waking the President up at 3am (terrorist attack on U.S. soil, earthquake that levels San Francisco, diplomatic crisis created by rash action by the U.S. ambassador to Russia), someone needs to be acting ASAP. How could that kind of thing be the job of anyone other than the executive?
 

Hillary might answer and then say,

'Bill, its for you."
 

Baghdad, do we have any Al Qaeda "letters" telling us where the WMD is hiding?
 

Elliot,
If you'll note my post at 11:26, I note that there are indeed situations that call for individuals to make lonely decisions. But I also note that such decisions are rare and that there's normally time for consultation and consensus-building.
 

Rich:

It is absolutely correct that AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) is a foreign group and that's it's fallen on hard times. AQI was being driven out of Anbar Province before the "Surge" even began.

It was never very popular (or very effective). But it was even less popular back when Saddam was in power. Compared to those days, nowadays Diyala is the Elysian fields....

Cheers,
 

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