Thursday, November 03, 2005

How Will He Be Remembered?

The past week has seen a spate of news that all seem to coalesce around the question of how, and for what, will the current President be remembered?
  • Last Friday, the Vice-President's Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor (who also happens to hold title -- or held title -- as a Special Advisor to the President) was indicted by a federal grand jury for 5 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. "Scooter" Libby was forced to resign those positions, and will be arraigned today.
  • This Monday, the President announced his third choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor -- Judge Samuel Alito.
  • On Tuesday, the Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid invoked a seldom-used rule to focus attention on the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee has dropped the ball on its investigations of the Administration's activities regarding the justifications for war prior to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
  • On Wednesday came revelations about a covert worldwide CIA prison system for Al Qaeda detainees, along with descriptions of the internal policy debates about how much of international law and the Geneva Conventions should be ignored in the treatment of these detainees.
How each of these threads plays out will have tremendous implications for how the Bush Administration, and the President himself, will be remembered. They seem to resolve themselves into three questions:

First, did the President and his minions mislead us about the need to invade Iraq and the reasons for doing so?

As important as the Libby indictment may be on its own in terms of respect for the rule of law, it seems all too emblematic of the ability of these guys to play fast and loose with the truth when it suits their purposes. This is, of course, a proud tradition in American politics, but shouldn't the historical legacies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon provide a reality check? Whatever good these two may have accomplished -- and both did accomplish some good -- is all but entirely overshadowed and diminished now by their lies and cover-ups.

The unwillingness or inability of the Republican Congress to complete the investigation of the run-up to the war only highlights what we now seem to know -- that intelligence was cherry-picked (or flat-out distorted) before the war in order to bolster a pre-packaged invasion plan, and that post-hoc justifications for the war have been floated and rotated until all we're left with is the current stay-the-course mantra that justifies our being there on the basis of the fact that we're there.

Second, has the invasion of Iraq, and the other actions taken in the name of national/homeland security, actually made us safer in the long run?

It is thankfully true that America has not suffered a follow-on attack after 9/11 (although Britain has, and Spain has, and Indonesia has a couple of times, and now India has), but that doesn't fully answer the question of whether the President's actions have truly made us safer.

If the 9/11 attacks were merely a tactic in a longer-term strategy to destabilize the Middle East and prepare the ground for Wahhabist theocracies throughout the region, could the strategy be any more enhanced than it has been by the seemingly endless occupation of Iraq? An occupation that continues to eat away at our fiscal situation even as it erodes our military capabilities and shreds our diplomatic positions? It's simple enough to label the "evildoers" as such, but what if they did have an objective beyond random killing?

And even if you believe that Iraq was the right place and the right time to push back in a strategic drive to democratize the region, how can you countenance the lack of tactical foresight, preparation and realistic planning that resulted in the dreary, bloody mess that Iraq is today? That mess now seems all but certain to result in little better than a theocratic Iranian client state.

And on the homeland security front, the real issue of Katrina is not the persistence of poverty in this country -- that issue has been so thoroughly marginalized that no real discussion is possible -- but the startling lack of preparedness that it uncovered at all levels. In addition to highlighting a rickety infrastructure, the experience begs the question of what would the response be in a sizeable emergency for which there was no advance warning? Perhaps the experience will bring the question into sharp enough relief that specific actions will be taken, but can we count on that when the four years since 9/11 haven't been enough?

Finally, as the country moves deeper into the 21st century, will the Supreme Court -- led by its new and relatively young Chief Justice -- be a place where personal and privacy rights are respected or ignored? I'm convinced that privacy and privacy rights will be the most important legal issue of the next few decades -- and I'm not talking about abortion.

How will our 4th Amendment be interpreted with regard to the evolving use of DNA testing, for instance? I feel certain that privacy issues which we cannot predict now will be of incredible importance 10 or 20 years from now, and Roberts and Alito (and whoever Bush selects to replace John Paul Stevens?) will be right in the middle of the issue. Will they uphold "the right of the people to be secure in their persons," or will we get some "strict constructionist" claptrap instead?

And none of this even touches upon what I believe will be the single most important oversight (willfull or otherwise) of the President and his single most important legacy (or lack thereof) -- the continuing dependence of this country on oil and the almost shameful lack of interest and investment in developing a strategy for weaning our economy off of our oil dependence.


Post a Comment

<< Home