Thursday, September 27, 2007

Judge Mukasey and the Justice Department

My latest column can be read over at the Legal Intelligencer. Here is the lede:
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has resigned his position, and President Bush has now nominated Judge Michael Mukasey to take over a department in disarray.

Mukasey, recently retired from the Southern District of New York, would be stepping into the Justice Department at perhaps its most controversial moment, with significant concerns still being raised about inappropriate politicization of U.S. attorney investigations and the Justice Department as a whole, stalled congressional inquiries, unfulfilled document requests, and embarrassingly strained arguments from government lawyers defending torture, indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, and illegal wiretapping and electronic surveillance.

Gonzalez has left the Justice Department in a state of disrepair, and Congress would do well to ask Mukasey many deep, probing questions about his position on that legacy.

The Spanish Downing Street Papers

Yet more confirmation that Bush was determined to go to war with Iraq in March 2003, regardless of diplomacy, and despite his public statements to the contrary. What is more, Bush apparently sent our troops to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power despite receiving an offer from Saddam Hussein to go into exile.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Quote of the day

Bartnett Rubin from the Global Affairs Blog:
As a wonky, moderate, highly respected, and thoroughly analytical scholar, I do not express myself in simplistic partisan formulae. But politicians do. That's their job. If I were a politician, for instance, I might say something like this:

The Bush-Cheney administration has surrendered much of Afghanistan to the Taliban and much of Pakistan to al-Qaida. They have turned most of Iraq over to Iran, creating the very danger over which they now threaten another disastrous war; they have strained the U.S. Armed Forces to the point of exhaustion, turned the Defense Department over to private contractors, the Justice Department over to the Republican National Committee, and the national debt over to foreign creditors, while leading a party whose single most basic belief is supposed to be that individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions. And they dare to lecture us on national security?
Rubin then goes on to "illustrate these (slight) overstatements with a few current reports." Take a look.

Well that's one way to put it, Bob

With the Justice Department in disarray and mired in scandals, was Bush wrong to nominate Judge Mukasey as Attorney General? According to Bob Novak, YES:

"You need someone who knows where the bodies are buried, like Ted Olson."

Friday, September 21, 2007

"Thank you for the pleasure of serving today"

Would you say something like that to your boss every morning? Would you accept that kind of sycophancy from your employee every day for years on end?

Well, Bush is an odd fellow. Check out this review of the new Bush biography by Robert Draper, Dead Certain:
Nonetheless, Draper's unusual access enabled him to collect valuable anecdotes as well as to put a microphone in front of a president who, when interrupted by an aide, told him not to worry because the interview was "worthless." Letting down his guard, Bush does not understand what he reveals.

In his interviews with Draper, he is constantly worried about weakness and passivity. "If you're weak internally? This job will run you all over town." He fears being controlled and talks about it relentlessly, feeling he's being watched. "And part of being a leader is: people watch you." He casts his anxiety as a matter of self-discipline. "I don't think I'd be sitting here if not for the discipline ... And they look at me -- they want to know whether I've got the resolution necessary to see this through. And I do. I believe -- I know we'll succeed." He is sensitive about asserting his supremacy over others, but especially his father. "He knows as an ex-president, he doesn't have nearly the amount of knowledge I've got on current things," he told Draper.

Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket." In front of other aides, Bush joked repeatedly that he would fire Rove. (Laura Bush's attitude toward Rove was pointedly disdainful. She nicknamed him "Pigpen," for wallowing in dirty politics. He was staff, not family -- certainly not people like them.)

Bush's deployed his fetish for punctuality as a punitive weapon. When Colin Powell was several minutes late to a Cabinet meeting, Bush ordered that the door to the Cabinet Room be locked. Aides have been fearful of raising problems with him. In his 2004 debates with Sen. John Kerry, no one felt comfortable or confident enough to discuss with Bush the importance of his personal demeanor. Doing poorly in his first debate, he turned his anger on his communications director, Dan Bartlett, for showing him a tape afterward. When his trusted old public relations handler, Karen Hughes, tried gently to tell him, "You looked mad," he shot back, "I wasn't mad! Tell them that!"

At a political strategy meeting in May 2004, when Matthew Dowd and Rove explained to him that he was not likely to win in a Reagan-like landslide, as Bush had imagined, he lashed out at Rove: "KARL!" Rove, according to Draper, was Bush's "favorite punching bag," and the president often threw futile and meaningless questions at him, and shouted, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

Those around him have learned how to manipulate him through the art of flattery. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played Bush like a Stradivarius, exploiting his grandiosity. "Rumsfeld would later tell his lieutenants that if you wanted the president's support for an initiative, it was always best to frame it as a 'Big New Thing.'" Other aides played on Bush's self-conception as "the Decider." "To sell him on an idea," writes Draper, "aides were now learning, the best approach was to tell the president, This is going to be a really tough decision." But flattery always requires deference. Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: "Thank you for the privilege of serving today."

End the War by Not Funding It

All the talk by the Democratic leadership and the press of continual Republican filibusters and presidential vetoes and unattainable 60 vote or 67 vote threshholds seems to be missing a rather big point: Republican filibusters and presidential vetoes CANNOT stop Congress from ending the war, if the political courage to end it can be mustered. All Congress needs to do is DON'T PASS A SPENDING BILL FOR THE IRAQ WAR PAST A DATE CERTAIN. The power of the purse is the greatest power Congress has, and the power not to spend doesn't require any votes at all.


Kurtz said it:
"[M]ore U.S. senators (72) voted today to condemn a newspaper ad attacking Gen. Petraeus than voted yesterday (56) to lengthen the time off troops get from the frontlines in Iraq, thereby reducing individual soldiers exposure to actual attacks. Am I missing something, or is that about right?"
Yglesias too:
"The whole fracas of Petraeus, Crocker, MoveOn, etc. has had, to a good first approximation, no impact whatsoever on anything of any significance. Bush continues to be stubborn. Republicans continue to back Bush. The war continues to go poorly and continues to be unpopular. There was nothing else that ever could have happened. A bunch of editors and politicians talked themselves into believing that this September showdown was crucially significant, but they were all wrong and their theory never made any sense.

"The only showdown that mattered happened months ago. Democrats passed a war appropriation that funded the phased withdrawal of troops. Bush vetoed that appropriation and said he would only sign an appropriation that funded open-ended war. Bush sought to portray a congressional refusal to appropriate money for an open-ended military involvement in Iraq as some kind of plot to leave the troops starving and without bullets in Iraq. The press largely bought into this frame, which was re-enforced by the fact that many leading Democrats immediately decided to buy into as well. The party then decided not to try to fight to reframe the issue but, instead, to accept it. Given that framing of the question, the only thing to do was surrender and give Bush his money. And given that precedent, the only thing to do is to keep on surrendering any time Bush rhetorically holds the troops' well-being hostage to his preference for perpetual war.

"That was a blunder -- a decision that condemned hundreds of Americans to die in Iraq -- and one that appears to have resulted from a total failure of the leadership to do any advance planning about their legislative tactics. All of September 2007 has been a meaningless sideshow."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Media Matters

The media and the "surge." Just as bad as ever.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What the hell kind of plan is this?

Here is one of Petraeus's slides. A brilliant strategy! (note the multiple prominent question marks):

Yet another underpants gnome plan.

Here's the previous nonsense chart from the old "stand up/stand down" strategy for Iraq, which is no longer operative:

Stage three is profit!

A blogger has a better chart here.

Also, Slate actually managed a decent article on the President's speech last night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No Checks, No Balances

Prof Jack Balkin says:
The sad lesson of the past year is that the modern Presidency-- armed with control over military intelligence and a large standing army-- can have its way in matters of war even if the President's policies are very unpopular, and there is very little Congress can do to stop it.

This lesson should be abstracted from one's feelings about the current occupant of the White House. George W. Bush is a failure-- I won't mince words-- but even a failed President can do pretty much what he wants in war given the way our constitutional system has developed following the Second World War and the rise of the National Security State. The ascendant National Surveillance State, if anything, makes the President's hand even stronger.

We are moving, or more correctly, we have already moved, toward a system of one person rule on matters of war and peace. It is a very dangerous tendency in American constitutionalism. If you think that the Iraq episode has been a disaster, imagine an even more foolhardy and reckless President taking even greater and more dangerous risks. The Iraq war demonstrates that, in the context of modern politics and contemporary security threats, the framers' original system of checks and balances has utterly failed us.
Read the whole thing.

U.C. Irvine Law: Infringing Academic Freedom Before the Doors Ever Open

This is not exactly a propitious start for a new law school. Apparently U.C. Irvine, which is opening the doors to its brand new law school in 2009, offered its deanship to Professor Chemerinsky -- and then revoked it because of complaints that he is liberal.

Update 9/17/07: Chemerkinsky has now been re-hired by Irvine. Weird, wild stuff.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Bush and Petraeus Show and 9/11

Bush's man in Iraq, General Petraeus, testified yesterday and today before Congress. Despite months of anticipation and promises of a "Petraeus Report," no such report was ever produced. All we got instead was a bunch of flashy charts and statistics (the methodology behind which is classified and which are contradicted by other governmental and nongovernmental sources), statements about success and progress that are not borne out by reality, and some new excuses and talking points for the Republican Party and its leader, President Bush, to continue their disaster of a war for the foreseeable future. None of them can clearly explain what "success" is, or when we can actually leave. We do know that Bush has every intention of leaving his mess for his successor to clean up.

Gary Kamiya discusses the real lessons of 9/11, the date shamelessly chosen for this testimony (despite the complete disconnect between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq). Ezra Klein shares his thoughts on the continued exploitation of today's tragic anniversary. Dan Froomkin helpfully rounds up reactions to Petraeus's testimony from the mainstream press as well as the blogs. Glenn Greenwald has a video online explaining just how compromised Petraeus's judgments are, as well as an article documenting the shameless propaganda that he engaged in with Brit Hume on Fox News yesterday. Kevin Drum takes on the "chaos hawks." Andrew Tilghman writes an important article in the Washington Monthly on Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Another Iraqi refugee

Riverbend, who has been blogging from Baghdad, Iraq since just after the invasion, has now fled with her family to Syria. Somehow I doubt she shares General Petreaus' upbeat assessment on the "surge."

100,000 troops for 20 years buys you a "long-shot gamble" in Iraq

The surge myth

Read Prof. Cole, On How al-Anbar isn't that Safe and on How its "Calm" is Artificially Produced

Update: Also read Dan Froomkin on how the surge's "success" depends quite a bit on whose "facts" you choose to believe.

Convenient Myths

Good article in the Washington Monthly on the convenient fictions regarding Al Qaeda in Iraq, titled The Myth of AQI: Fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq is the last big argument for keeping U.S. troops in the country. But the military's estimation of the threat is alarmingly wrong:
Five years ago, the American public was asked to support the invasion of Iraq based on the false claim that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to al-Qaeda. Today, the erroneous belief that al-Qaeda's franchise in Iraq is a driving force behind the chaos in that country may be setting us up for a similar mistake.