Balkinization  

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What Bush's Veto Means: His Endgame and His Legacy

JB

Today President Bush vetoed an intelligence authorization bill which would have required the CIA to abide by the Army Field Manual. The Army Field Manual outlaws waterboarding and a variety of other coercive techniques that the Administration euphemistically calls "enhanced interrogation techniques." The White House announced previously that it had waterboarded people before and might do so again in the future. Bush's veto is, in effect, an attempt to retain the option to violate the Geneva Conventions, the Federal Anti-Torture statute, and the McCain Amendment. He would only retain this option, however, because his lawyers have made unreasonable interpretations of U.S. law to conclude that the most egregious of these techniques-- including waterboarding-- are lawful, instead of what they actually are: violations of federal law and breaches of Geneva.

The New York Times described the veto as Bush cement[ing] his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers. He has certainly cemented a legacy of making unreasonable claims about executive power. He has also created a lasting and shameful legacy of torturer-in-Chief. What he has not done is placed a lasting imprint on the powers of the Presidency (although he has not seriously weakened it either.) By itself, Bush's veto does little to cement presidential power. For example, nothing prevents a future Congress controlled by Democrats and a Democratic president to pass the same legislation after Bush is gone.

Rather, it is worth recognizing Bush's veto-- and indeed, many other future actions and acts of intransigence-- as part of an endgame strategy. At this point in Bush's Presidency he deals from a position of weakness, not strength. His major goals are to prevent criminal prosecutions of himself (unlikely in any event) and his aides (more likely), to keep the public from finding out much of what he and his advisors actually did and ordered done during his presidency (his fight for immunity for telecom companies who engaged in illegal surveillance should be understood as part of this larger strategy), to entrench the U.S. presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, and do what he can to ensure that John McCain becomes President, or failing that, Hillary Clinton as a second best solution. He figures that McCain, and, to a lesser extent Clinton, are most likely to continue aspects of his policies and keep troops in Iraq for some time. The longer that the next president continues his policies-- including warrantless surveillance, his interrogation practices, and his war in Iraq, the longer these features will become normalized and/or the next President's problem.

What Bush does not want, above all, is to be followed by a repudiationist or reconstructive Presidency that establishes a new political order through systematic rejection of the themes of his Presidency, thus making Bush the modern day equivalent of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter rather than Harry Truman. (See my previous discussion of the larger issues
here, here, here, and here.) Bush's presidency is a failed presidency; the only issue now is how badly he has failed.

Comments:

Professor Balkin:

[N]othing prevents a future Congress controlled by Democrats and a Democratic president to pass the same legislation after Bush is gone...

What Bush does not want, above all, is to be followed by a repudiationist or reconstructive Presidency that establishes a new political order through systematic rejection of the themes of his Presidency, thus making Bush the modern day equivalent of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter rather than Harry Truman.


I would suggest that you have your historical analogies reversed. If a weak President Obama and a radical Dem Congress are successful in reinstating many of the late 70s limitations on Executive CiC power, that would mean that Obama and not Bush will be reinacting what you admit to be an utterly failed Carter presidency,

The one thing you can say about Mr. Bush is that he does not seem to be overly concerned about his legacy. Bush has always taken what he considered to be the correct course, polls and pundits be damned. Therefore, I doubt that his veto of this bill has anything at all to do with protecting his legacy. Bush simply thinks this bill is wrong.

BTW, I am curious exactly what you consider to be "failed" about Mr. Bush's administration apart from the fact that he successfully acted in ways with which you disagree?

For example, Mr. Carter's administration was failed because he left the United States economy and power seriously weakened and allowed our enemies to become stronger. It is hard to make the same argument about the Bush Administration with a straight face.
 

I cannot forbear asking Mr. DePalma if he believes that the Administration's imposition of tariffs on imported steel around 2002, which had primary effect vis-a-vis the steel industry in Ohio, was an act of principle unrelated to polls and the permament campaign for re-election in 2004.
 

Similarly, it is EASY to argue that Bush has left this country is a VASTLY weakened international position. Troops committed so that the U.S. cannot easily respond to crises elsewhere (including Afghanistan), allies more wary than ever about backing U.S. initiatives, a colossal national debt incurred by a war coupled with a tax cut, oil prices at recored levels (for which Iraq by any conservative estimate partially responsible for), Iran acting to expand its influence with the destruction of its traditional enemy, the destruction of U.S. moral authority. The comparison with Carter may be both apt, and ironic, as the impulses guiding their respective actions were polar opposites.
 

sandy levinson said...

I cannot forbear asking Mr. DePalma if he believes that the Administration's imposition of tariffs on imported steel around 2002, which had primary effect vis-a-vis the steel industry in Ohio, was an act of principle unrelated to polls and the permament campaign for re-election in 2004.

Given that Mr. Bush is generally a free trader, this act was pretty self serving and hypocritical.

I am not arguing that Mr. Bush always acts on principle. I have never seen a politician who does. What I am arguing is that Mr. Bush does not appear to care whether his principled or unprincipled decisions affect his legacy.

Do you think that a President fixated on his poll numbers and his legacy would have taken the all the actions which have tanked his current popularity?

More to the point of this post, do you think that Mr. Bush vetoed this particular bill to boost his popularity?

I simply do not see it.
 

chausovsky said...

Similarly, it is EASY to argue that Bush has left this country is a VASTLY weakened international position. Troops committed so that the U.S. cannot easily respond to crises elsewhere (including Afghanistan)...

Think about the implications of this argument. You are essentially saying that we cannot send troops to war because they will not be able to rapidly deploy to another war.

In fact, there are very few potential crises which would require the ground troops unless the North Koreans decide to invade the South again. The troops we have staged to reinforce the South are still there.

As for Afghanistan, the troops we need there are easily transported from nearby Iraq. Indeed, we are moving 3000 Marines from the pacified Anbar Province in Iraq to Afghanistan.

...allies more wary than ever about backing U.S. initiatives...

You mean the same "allies" who refuse to allow their troops to actually fight in the Afghan campaign they supposedly back? Apart from England and some of the Eastern EU countries, NATO has been less than useless.

a colossal national debt incurred by a war coupled with a tax cut

Our spending on the Iraq and Afghan operations amounts to an annual outlay of about 1% of GDP, which is a fraction of any prior war of this length.

Moreover, our economy and the resulting tax revenues have grown many times that amount since the tax rate reductions went into effect in 2003.

oil prices at recored levels (for which Iraq by any conservative estimate partially responsible for)

The President has no real control over oil prices.

Furthermore, freeing Iraq from the Baathists and the UN sanctions applied to their regime has and will continue to increase Iraqi oil production. Iraq's potential reserves are enormous. Thus, I do not see how freeing Iraq causes oil prices to rise.

Oil prices are rising simply because about 1/3 of the world's population has freed its markets and needs far more oil to fuel its resulting prosperity, just like we do.

I suppose you could blame those newly freed markets on the example of the world's wealthiest nation, but is that something you really want to reverse?

Iran acting to expand its influence with the destruction of its traditional enemy

Are you actually arguing that it would be better to have Iran and Iraq on the brink of or waging war?

Iran has been causing problems for the United States and its neighbors since Carter threw the Shah under the bus and allowed a theocracy to be installed in Iran. Yet another failure of that Administration. Can you imagine Mr. Bush allowing that to happen today?

...the destruction of U.S. moral authority.

There is nothing more moral than freeing other people. I am proud of what my brother and all the other military members have accomplished.

The bottom line is that Mr. Bush is leaving the US economy substantially larger, US power unchallenged and victorious, and our enemies either destroyed or decimated. This is the polar opposite of the mess Mr. Carter left to Mr. Reagan.
 

Shades of advance revisionism about the accomplishment and legacy of our feckless leader that fly in the face of facts on the ground! Some ranters are looking through the wrong end of the telescope of history, guilty of BUI (blogging under the influence), building up bloggable hours, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.
 

"For example, Mr. Carter's administration was failed because he left the United States economy and power seriously weakened and allowed our enemies to become stronger." -- Bart

"The President has no real control over oil prices." -- Bart

Well then, Jimmy Carter didn't have any control over the inflation-inducing sharp rise in the price of oil during his administration. And just who do you mean by "enemies" Bart? We were never at war during the Carter Administration. You referring to the Soviet Union? Iran? Can the U.S. really dictate to other countries how strong or how weak they are to be, or is such an argument ludicrous?

Part of the reason Jimmy Carter eventually received the Nobel Peace Prize was his establishment of a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel. When will George Bush win the Nobel Peace Prize? You don't get those kinds of things for waging war based on lies, pre-emptive wars that turn out to be not-so-pre-emptive after all.

"Iran has been causing problems for the United States and its neighbors since Carter threw the Shah under the bus and allowed a theocracy to be installed in Iran." -- Bart

What an arrogant piece of shit argument this is!! Is your position Bart simply "We are the United States, and we dictate to the other countries of the world what kind of government they are to have!"? Get this through your thick skull, Bart: The Iranians themselves installed their theocracy, the U.S. had no moral authority to intervene, especially on behalf of an unelected dictator hated by the most of the country's people (and such intervention undoubtedly would have led to a bloodbath).

Maybe Bart longs for the days of the Republican President Eisenhower, who overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran and replaced it with the oppressive Shah, and who also overthrew the democratically elected government in Guatemala, leading to three-plus decades of bloody military dictatorships there. Those days are gone, Bart, and they're not coming back.

"Moreover, our economy and the resulting tax revenues have grown many times that amount since the tax rate reductions went into effect in 2003." -- Bart

You sure about this? The first tax cuts were passed not in 2003 but in 2001. And the most recent forecasts I saw called for a budget deficit of about $400 billion. John McCain himself thinks that we are now in Bush's second recession (the first one lasting from March 2001 to November 2001).

"There is nothing more moral than freeing other people. I am proud of what my brother and all the other military members have accomplished." -- Bart

If I recall correctly, one of FDR's four major freedoms was Freedom from Want. Let's see now. Since Bush took over, there have been what, five million more people falling below the poverty line in the U.S.? And as you Republicans often remark, "Freedom is not free." This "Freedom" that you find so "moral" has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Moreover, your war's cost is going to wind up being at least $3 trillion dollars, according to Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. How many more lives could we have saved had we not spent so much on nation-building in Iraq, but instead increased development assistance to subSaharan Africa, central Asia, and Latin America?
 

De Palma: Take your pick

one
two
three
four
five
six
seven

My favorite concerns Iraq (Bush's defining issue). Peter Galbraith puts it very much in perspective:

In the January 2005 elections, SCIRI became the most important component of Iraq's ruling Shiite coalition. In exchange for not taking the prime minister's slot, SCIRI won the right to name key ministers, including the minister of the interior. From that ministry, SCIRI placed Badr militiamen throughout Iraq's national police.

In short, George W. Bush had from the first facilitated the very event he warned would be a disastrous consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq: the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia. And while the President contrasts the promise of democracy in Iraq with the tyranny in Iran, there is now substantially more personal freedom in Iran than in southern Iraq.


Do yourself a favor and read the entire thing.
 

More to the point of this post, do you think that Mr. Bush vetoed this particular bill to boost his popularity?

No. He vetoed it because he refuses to admit that he's done anything wrong. He's stoopid, but he's like that. His sh*te smells like roses: you can smear it on brioche and serve your friends, and they'd be suffering from BDS if they offered even a hint of a complaint.

Cheers,
 

As for Afghanistan, the troops we need there are easily transported from nearby Iraq. Indeed, we are moving 3000 Marines from the pacified Anbar Province in Iraq to Afghanistan.

Wow. 150,000 in Iraq. We send 3,000 to Afghanistan when the Taliban (who actually had more than a passing acquaintance with the 9/11 attackers) now has effective control of 1/3 the country....

Dubya can do no wrong in the minds of some brain-dead morons (some 19% of the entire U.S. population, apparently).

"Bart" the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem....

Cheers,
 

Re: troops in Afghanistan:

Apart from England and some of the Eastern EU countries, NATO has been less than useless.

Well, Canada might be a little more enthusiastic if we would just stop bombing them.....

Cheers,
 

"Bart" eschews Reaganomics:

Are you actually arguing that it would be better to have Iran and Iraq on the brink of or waging war?

Wasn't that what Reagan promoted? Are you dissing the patron Saint of Republicanism???

Look, "Bart", if you'll admit that was a bad idea then, I'll let you say it's a bad idea now....

Cheers,
 

Iran has been causing problems for the United States and its neighbors since Carter threw the Shah under the bus and allowed a theocracy to be installed in Iran.

Please do yourself a favour, "Bart", and edjoomakate yourself. Read Stephen Kinzer's "All The Shah's Men" (and then his other fine book, "Overthrow"). What happened in 1979 had its roots a century earlier, and came to a peak in 1953. And the Shah was a real piece of work; why you think he deserved to get propped up is beyond me. Get back to us when you have that under your belt.

Not to mention, your implicit attitude that countries that "caus[e] problems for the United States" reveals a rather hegemonistic attitude to international relations. Why does the U.S. get to decide what's good for Iran?

Cheers,
 

It always cracks me up when Baghdad Bart defends the Shah. He is all about spreading freedom...
 

SHAG FROM BROOKLINE SAYS:

Here's proof that the surge in Iraq is working. Because of the surge in the price of oil, Irag is now out of the red and into the black financially. So maybe Wolfowitz was right: Iraqi oil would provide most of the funding for the war. Let's give George W's "strateregy" credit. Wow! When oil hits $200/barrel what will Stiglitz have to say? Who knows, maybe Iraq can get positioned to pay down America's Bush deficit. The late Bill Buckley probably have come up with a syllogism that would do justice to this concept. But think of it. As gas prices here get to $4.00/gal and rising, our consumption of gas will help out Iraq financially so that we can spend less on the war there. Bush-onomics' Misshigus Accomplished! It's time for all of us to put a shine on our Red, White and Blue Surge suits.
 

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