This is a slightly edited copy of a reply I sent to an old friend, a very intelligent man, who somehow remains a loyal follower of George Bush’s attempts to expand military control of others in the name of democracy:
Dear _______.
This reply may cause a break between us. If so, I will sincerely regret it, but if it is to be, so be it. You wrote:
“All of this accusation of Bush lying or violating our rights or breaking the law is bogus and I am no longer surprised you are falling for it. However, Bush can fairly be faulted for failure to back Ward Connerly, failure to control domestic spending, failure to build a large enough military, too paltry a defense budget, not putting us on a war footing, and failure to demand prosecution of those who leak classified info in ways that treaten our security. Also, one can legitimately fault many mistakes in Iraq — although historical hindsight might show the same or worse about other wars! We were winning in Vietnam (Tet was a huge vistory)when the opposition here succeeded in losing the war for us. They are trying it again. The left is a menace.”

I have been slow to respond because it was the end of the semester, and because I have been unsure how to. Not because I find your argument to be strong- but because I think they are unusually weak and I consider you a very smart guy, so there is a subtext here that I am missing, I think. But for what it is worth, here is my reply on each point you raise.
Bush violating our rights. The doctrine of the “unitary executive” is in complete defiance of the principles this country is founded on. I suggest taking a new look at Federalist 51, where Madison explains what he means by checks and balances, and why no branch of government can be safely considered unitary.
I urge you to read the piece by Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe about the Bush administration’s claiming their right to ignore hundreds of laws whenever the President finds them in conflict with his reading of the constitution. That kind of reasoning violates the principles our country was founded upon.
When Bush’s lawyers can find that legal, their opinion on anything at all carries as much weight with me as the views of George III did with the Continental Congress. That is the context from which I look at everything our would-be Caesar does.
If you can show me how unitary executive and signing statements as practiced by Bush harmonize with Fed. 51, and therefore with the Constitution, I will reconsider my views.
Failure to control domestic spending is an under-statement. Bush and Congress have increased spending far beyond what any Democrat has ever done. Further, they are doing it in order to create a political machine, one that transfers the style of big city politics to the nation. That is what the K Street project is about, why Alphonso Jackson at HUD said what he said, and where Jack Abramoff and others come in. The strategy the Bush administration is pursuing DEPENDS on increased spending going to “privatization” and then having some coming back as political support as a way of evading civil service regulations. It has nothing to do with decreasing the size of government, quite the contrary. I pointed this out several years ago- and I have the sad experience of having been proven correct.
In addition, because of the escalating deficit spending over and beyond even the war, this increase is also a tax increase, where the wealthy of today get a tax cut so future generations can support their self-indulgence, regardless of what our needs may be then. And given potential Social Security problems, let alone Medicare, we KNOW the future will be squeezed. No matter, the most selfish and unpatriotic bastards of today have gotten theirs, haven’t they?
Failure to build a large enough military Large enough to do what? We can obliterate anyone we want to as it is. Where is our enemy that requires big increases in spending? Yes, we should do R&D because there is no telling what will be the case with China in 20 to 30 years. Look at the record of fraud, of no bid contracts, and all the rest in our war spending, and you see what this is all about. It is not defense. Increasing military spending on our present power to kill people only weakens us economically in the long run. Not that manufacturing has done well under the Bush administration in any case. I recommend taking a look at Kevin Phillip’s American Theocracy. Philips is as you probably know, a conservative, and long a major strategist for the Republican Party.
Not putting us on a war footing? We got a war under false pretenses. It was also conducted in such a way as to be used for domestic politics. Compare how Bush Sr. handled the decision to liberate Kuwait (which I supported) with how Bush Jr. handled Iraq- to deliberately marginalize the Democrats and win a mid term election. The constitutional implications of fomenting foreign wars to influence domestic politics and undermine the legitimacy of the opposition is 100% subversive to the principles of our Constitution. I support those principles, always have. I am sorry you no longer seem to.
We are not “at war.” No more than the war on drugs. We have a terrorism problem, potentially a catastrophic one. It would best be dealt with primarily by law and order approaches, not imperial adventures abroad.
Classified leaking? Bush and his administration have often leaked the names of people doing legal things to fulfill domestic political agendas. (Valerie Plame is the worst example. And don’t give me any BS about her not really being undercover. She was – and even if she wasn’t, the CIA front company she “worked” for undercover was – and it is now also outed. Finally, Bush himself initially said anyone involved would be eliminated from the administration. I believe Rove is still very much there and Libby was until Fitzgerald nailed him.)
They criticize those who leak their doing illegal or arguably illegal things. Anything that embarrasses the administration is hidden behind the label “national security.” here is a recent example. Do you feel good supporting people who could make the following argument?
THE STRANGE CASE OF KHALED EL-MASRI…. Back on New Year’s Eve of 2003, a German citizen named Khaled El-Masri had a fight with his wife and decided to blow off steam by getting on a bus and going to Macedonia. Unfortunately for him, his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker, so he was picked up at the border by Macedonian police, who in turn contacted the CIA.
“There was apparently no evidence of any kind against Masri, but the CIA took custody of him anyway. He was handcuffed, blindfolded, drugged, and put on a plane for Afghanistan, where he was beaten, kicked, and interrogated by American agents for weeks. He says he was told, “You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know.”
“Finally, in March of 2004, the CIA figured out they had screwed up. Masri’s passport was genuine, and he was just some poor unemployed schmoe who had had a fight with his wife. But they kept him for two more months anyway because they weren’t sure what to do. Eventually, they flew him to Albania and dumped him off at a narrow country road at dusk. “They asked me not to look back when I started walking,” Masri said. “I was afraid they would shoot me in the back.” Three men met him and drove him to an airport, where he was flown back to civilization.
“Charming, no? But mistakes can happen. The important thing is that you fess up and make good on them, which is exactly what Condoleezza Rice promised a month after Masri’s release:
When mistakes are made, we work very hard to rectify them. I
believe that this will be handled in the proper courts, here in
Germany and if necessary in American courts as well.
“Well, guess what? It turns out the United States isn’t quite as interested in judicial oversight as Rice claimed. When Masri went ahead and asked an American court to hear his case, the Bush administration argued that he should be denied a trial because it might compromise national security. On Thursday a judge reluctantly agreed. Nadezhda has the details.
Here is a bigger context provided by Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University:
“When the government claims the ‘state secrets privilege,’ the courts tend to look no further, and the cases are dismissed. It was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year. The Justice Department describes this tactic as an ‘absolute privilege’ — in effect, a neutron bomb that leaves no plaintiff standing.
“But can we trust the government when it tells us that national security is at stake? Should the government’s claim of secrecy result in an immediate, no-questions-asked dismissal? Probably not, given the government’s track record.
“….President Reagan’s executive secretary at the National Security Council, career Navy officer Rodney McDaniel, told a blue-ribbon commission looking at classification in 1997 that only 10% of the secrecy stamps were for ‘legitimate protection of secrets.'”
Your “left is a menace” statement is bizarre to me. We have a national government overwhelmingly dominated by a single party that is more unified than virtually any party in our entire history. A majority of judges are their appointees. Even many leading Democrats support the war in Iraq- such as H. Clinton. The media gives the Republicans far more slack than they ever gave Clinton. And you still say the left is a menace? I guess so long as those who disagree with the government can be heard they are a menace, yes?
In addition, the liberal critics of today are for the most part way more conservative than many liberals in the 60s. Some are still captivated by the old multicultural bullshit, but even that, bad as it is, I prefer to the denial that anyone can criticize the so-called commander in chief without being unpatriotic.
The left in this country is very weak – but what the radical right has done is gradually make everyone who disagrees with them into a “leftist.” John Murtha, leftist? Give me a break. Maybe some 65-70% of the American people are now leftists?
Your stuff on Vietnam is true and misses the point. Virtually everyone supported the taking out of the Taliban because they had a direct role is supporting the attack on the WTC and Pentagon. Including me. There is not and has never been any significant disagreement over invading Afghanistan, though some of us think it has been handled incompetently since then.
Iraq was more divisive because many of us were suspicious of the evidence. Events have proven us 100% correct.
Many of us also predicted serious problems in exporting democracy on the point of a bayonet. I used the work of that radical leftist F. A, Hayek to make my case. I have been proven far more right by events than you and the social engineers you apparently now identify with. Far more.
I have consistently been suspicious of wars of choice for two additional reasons. First, they weaken our own democratic institutions. Here’s James Madison on the subject in 1793:
“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debt and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known implements for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended, its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplies; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Madison was referring primarily to direct democracies, but the reasons he raises are equally applicable to ours.
Second, because killing people who have done nothing to me and who are not threatening me isn’t my idea of legitimate behavior.
In a democracy war is not the sport of kings and would-be Caesars. It is for self-defense. Period. When more and more people learned how bogus the reasons for attacking Iraq were, support for it fell. As it should have in a free society. When the predictions about our reception by the NeoCons proved bullshit, support fell further. That is called democracy.
Vietnam became unpopular mostly because the government went in under false pretenses – Gulf of Tonkin . Do you remember that LBJ was elected as the canbdidate who criticized Goldwater as likely to get us into war? That LBJ said American boys would not have to fight for Asian boys? After the war started the government often lied to the public during the conflict. Pentagon Papers exposed that. Now maybe you dislike that believing that whatever the rulers want we should support. But then, please do not tell me about threats to our country, for you are one yourself, an internal threat undermining our constitution and heritage. I do not think you really are- but that is the line many on the right have already crossed because they think of politics as more a Manichean battle between good and evil., or perhaps a sports event where you root for your team no matter what, rather than a process by which people with different points of view can live together peacefully, freely, and even properously.
I doubt that anyone doubted that we had the raw power to exterminate every Vietnamese, just as we have the raw power to exterminate every Iraqi. I didn’t doubt it then and I don’t doubt it now. Perhaps that is what you and Shelby Steele mean by saying we are not willing to be tough enough. But in both cases we justified our wars as efforts to help the people, and in both cases the people in many cases did not appear particularly grateful. So we kill them all, yes? What would you have us do in Iraq? Carpet bomb cities? Expand our use of torture? Drop some nukes? Stalin’s approach? We’ve done nearly everything else. I think NeoCons are as bloody minded now as when they were on the left. Different utopia, but still a lot of corpses. It is not left wing intellectuals that are bloody minded, it is intellectuals in general that are because they arrogantly think they can order everyone else’s lives for them, for their own good.
For what it is worth – if you have read this far – I support protecting the Kurds, just as I supported protecting the Arabs who took Bush Senior’s word and rose up against Hussein. People allied with us and we owe them defense. But that is the ethical limit of our actions over there. That permanent bases are being built in Iraq, and what is I believe the biggest American embassy in the world, proves to me the dishonesty of our government’s reasons for invading, and the willful ignorance of those who still claim we are there to extend democracy or defend ourselves against terrorism or other such BS.
I have been blunt. Maybe to a fault. But I think you will grant I have gone to some trouble to address your charges. For years you talked of how government could not be trusted, how it could not solve really complex problems, how we needed to scale back on intervention, etc., etc. I agreed. Now you and most others on the right appear to have forgotten ALL your principles.
From my perspective, the difference between us is that I have not changed my underlying principles very much since my ICS days, and you seem to have. Maybe a few guys with box cutters have made the Constitution and Bill of Rights irrelevant for you when the Red Army couldn’t. I wrote you some time ago that the decent people on the right were being taken on the same kind of ride by the Bush and Republican right crowd as the decent part of the left was in the 20s and 30s by the Leninists. I still believe it and finally some on the right are waking up. Like Kevin Phillips. I recommend reading him since with him you are less likely to discount everything critical of the Republican rights as “leftist.”
More from Beliefnet and our partners