The Twilight Zone

Be sure to read Paul Krugman’s column today, brought to you by the brave folks at Welcome to Pottersville. He begins by noting the famous “How’s your boy?” exchange between James Webb and George Bush, then continues,

We need people in Washington who are willing to stand up to the bully in chief. Unfortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, they’re still in short supply.

You can understand, if not condone, the way the political and media establishment let itself be browbeaten by Mr. Bush in his post-9/11 political prime. What’s amazing is the extent to which insiders still cringe before a lame duck with a 60 percent disapproval rating.

Look at what seems to have happened to the Iraq Study Group, whose mission statement says that it would provide an “independent assessment.” If press reports are correct, the group did nothing of the sort. Instead, it watered down its conclusions and recommendations, trying to come up with something Mr. Bush wouldn’t reject out of hand.

In particular, says Newsweek, the report “will set no timetables or call for any troop reductions.” All it will do is “suggest that the president could, not should, begin to withdraw forces in the vaguely defined future.”

And all this self-abasement is for naught. Senior Bush aides, Newsweek tells us, are “dismissive, even condescending” toward James Baker, the Bush family consigliere who is the dominant force in the study group, and the report. Of course they are. That’s how bullies always treat their hangers-on.

That’s pretty much what I was saying here. Everyone in Washington is still tip-toeing around His Majesty in fear of … something. The Iraq Study groups was supposed to provide an independent evaluation of how to handle Iraq. Instead, it was working on how to handle George W. Bush.

The Reptile writes in today’s Washington Post:

The notion bruited about Washington that James A. Baker is a deus ex machina imposed by President Bush to resolve the entangled Iraqi plot is nonsense. The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton, is out of the White House sphere of influence. The White House certainly did not ask Congress for help by creating this commission. Baker has made sure that the report, though leaked in part to the press, has not gone to the White House.

As a creature of Congress (an institution that Bush dislikes), Baker’s group spells trouble for Bush when it releases its report Wednesday. It will propose, however muted its tone, gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq before the president is ready for it. The hope is that Baker will nuance the report’s words sufficiently and hedge calls for withdrawal in such a way that Bush can say that is what he has been doing anyway.

Remember the Twilight Zone episode about the six-year-old boy who held a town in terror because he could change or destroy anything at will? Washington is starting to remind me of that. Even the Reptile frames his column around what kind of problems the ISG might cause Bush, not whether it will provide a good plan for Iraq. He continues,

Bush has not stepped back from the decisions he has made on Iraq. At the core of Bush’s Iraq dilemma is the fact, still denied at the White House, that the president has lost his political base on the overriding issue of the war. In contact mainly with fawning campaign contributors, Bush may not appreciate the steady decline in support of his war policy that I have seen deepening among Republicans in the past year.

And those Republicans haven’t marched into the Oval Office to explain this to the President … why, exactly?

This New York Times editorial
offers more testimony that the whole bleeping planet is being held hostage to George Bush’s ego.

Commission members say they concluded that Mr. Bush’s strategy so far has created an expectation that the United States will always be there to hold Iraq together. Breaking that culture of dependency, they concluded, is the key to making the long-discussed “Iraqification” of the country’s security a reality. But they are uncertain whether they can persuade a famously stubborn president to adopt that view.

“Is George Bush ready to hear that?” one commission member asked over the weekend. “I don’t think any of us really know. I don’t know if the president himself knows.”

There is much flapping around about how George W. Bush is the “commander in chief,” meaning he’s the only one who can make decisions about war. But earlier in our nation’s history it was understood by most that the power to declare and conduct war belonged to Congress (see Findlaw’s annotations to Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution). My reading of the authorities granted to Congress and the President say that Congress is responsible for the political decision to make war, not the President. The “commander in chief” powers granted the president in Article II (again, see Findlaw for further discussion) originally were understood to be “supreme command and direction of the Military and naval forces, as first general and admiral,” according to Alexander Hamilton. In other words, he was supposed to be responsible only for the conduct of military campaigns.

Through the years there has been considerable tension between Congress and the President on these matters, and on the question of when a President may act without the express permission of Congress. Little by little, the “war power” trickled from Congress to the President. And now all of Washington is tip-toeing around some petty martinet who thinks he’s Napoleon, and everyone is afraid to tell him, um, you know that war you started? Well, we’ve decided it’s turning out badly, and we’d like you to wind it up now.

I don’t think this is how the Founders intended the government to function.

Don’t think even Republicans aren’t stewing about this. George Will wrote today,

Sen. John Warner put down a marker.

Four months ago the Virginia Republican said that Congress must “examine very carefully” what it authorized the president to do in 2002 when it authorized military action against Iraq. Warner wondered whether, if there is an “all-out civil war,” the president must “come back to the Congress to get further indication of support.”

Yet there is faint hope. Walter Pincus writes that a pack of House Democrats who opposed the war all along are about to move into key positions.

Although given little public credit at the time, or since, many of the 126 House Democrats who spoke out and voted against the October 2002 resolution that gave President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq have turned out to be correct in their warnings about the problems a war would create.

With the Democrats taking over control of the House next January, the views that some voiced during two days of debate four years ago are worth recalling, since many of those lawmakers will move into positions of power. They include not only members of the new House leadership but also the incoming chairmen of the Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget and Judiciary committees and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Notice, these are Dems who had the spines to say no to war before saying no to war was cool. You’ll want to read this article; it will cheer you up.

Anyway, I believe Congress would be within its constitutional authority to order Bush to end the war, whether he wants to or not. They probably don’t want to do this, because Bush would certainly refuse, and who’s going to make the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, Justice Department, and various espionage agencies obey? Congress’s only recourse would be impeachment.


By the way, here’s how Krugman’s column ends:

Well, here’s a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully’s ego?

See also:
Today’s Dan Froomkin column; in Salon, “Dems Gear Up for Oversight“; in Newsweek, Eleanor Clift writes about Jim Webb.

Update: Evan Thomas, “So Now What, Mr. President?”

14 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone

  1. Thanks to you and Krugman for telling the truth so often and so well, Maha. Incredibly, I’ve been thinking of that same Twilight Zone episode you mention in connection with the behaviour surrounding the Current Occupent. Though it made more sense on Twilght Zone. As I recall, the kid could blink anyone who disagreed with him “into the cornfield.” What could Current Occupent do?

  2. Remember the Twilight Zone episode about the six-year-old boy who held a town in terror because he could change or destroy anything at will? Washington is starting to remind me of that.


    I’ve only seen the ’80s movie remake of this episode, but I’ve thought about it in relation to Bush for years.

  3. Maha (a-HA!)

    (Old 3 Stooges ref).

    Thanks for the link but thus far, Pottersville has but one mayor and that would be l’il ole me. I don’t if the adjective “brave” applies in this case. Copying and pasting doesn’t require bravery and if I get deleted and/or banned, I can always start up somewhere else.

  4. Everyone in Washington is still tip-toeing around His Majesty in fear of … something.

    Maybe they’re afraid he’ll decide they are enemy combatants and ship them off to Gitmo.

  5. “Everyone in Washington is still tip-toeing around His Majesty in fear of … something.”

    Perhaps it is the absence of social conventions like mutual regard, value for personal boundaries and a sense of fair play. There appears in body language and voice tone the slight telegraph of a volatility that can plunge into an irrationality that easily overrides conscience. And most of all there is the advantage offered by the tendency of most of us to observe these conventions of civilization and thus fueling the intimidation by ruthlessness.

  6. Well of course you are right to want to get the troops out of harm’s way as soon as possible and stop bleeding tax payer money down a rathole, but I think the only reason anyone is tiptoeing around a duck that is so lame he is on life support is that they do not want to give the GOP the talking point that the Democrats are weak on national security and “lost” Iraq. Of course Dumbya is a bully, he has always been a bully and pretty childish one at that, but he has been shown to have no power or political capital left and all that is left is how he can try and shift the blame for Iraq. I think Baker is still trying to protect Dumbya–daddy would have it no other way-and they are trying to goad the Democrats into lowering the boom so Dumbya gets some cover. I think the Democrats will be content to apply the death of a thousand cuts until Dumbya quits–and he will, bullies always do and he always has. Of course that will be of no solace to the families who will lose loved ones while this plays out or to all the legitimate needs for those tax dollars, but that is the price we pay for being governed by politicians not patriots.

  7. Iwas thinking about bully jerks in conjunction with the SCOTUS hearing about public schools, when half the court never saw the inside of a public school ( they all went to the Catholic/jesuit variety.) Kinda like all those men making abortion decisions. anyway ,the other day Scalia was making jerkoid comments about how he didn’t like science and didn’t want to be bothered about global warming. Kinda like Dubya, a jerk who doesn’t want to do the job at hand and wants to intimidate everyone who comes before him. As Echidne said what if a justice named Antonia said that? For some reason the jerkier and bullyinger they are( males that is) , the more everyone kisses up to them and the higher they are elevated. Instead of rising to their level of incompetence they rise to their level of jerk in chief or jerk in justice. We need therapy to figure out why these particular types of dingdongs are elevated so and why we are afraid of dissing them or bringing them down.

  8. There is the political perception of the no-win scenario. Americans are not satisfied with the failure in Iraq. But our fearless statesmen perceive that voters are not eager to embrace defeat and the humiliation that goes with it. Bush is on to that sentiment, which is why his speeches, though incoherent, are peppered with the word ‘victory’.

    Failure is the inevitable outcome in Iraq. (The only long-shot political option was to get ALL the surrounding mid-east countries involved and the US commit to a total withdrawl.) Damn few politicians have the nuts to call the war a defeat – an un-winnable failure. So the gutless wonders in Congress will have it both ways – calling for ‘change’ but deferring to George to decide on the change so there is no chance for a congressional challenger to shift blame to them (individually) for the ‘defeat’ in Iraq.

    In this regard, I can at least respect McCain for staking out an unpopular and wrong position. And Webb for sticking to his guns with an opposing view. But the other wimps waffling in the middle playing politics have my utmost contempt.

  9. Indeed we have our very own “Anthony” and our very own version of occupied Palestine in occupied Iraq ( as per my comment many months ago).I am sad to say our executive branch is on the verge of crashing and burning ( straight jacket soon come), a constitutional crisis may insue, and an economic crash may follow. I have been a life-long optimist, but the tea leaves show rough times ahead.
    Hang on chillins’…..

  10. I think Baker is still trying to protect Dumbya–daddy would have it no other way-and they are trying to goad the Democrats into lowering the boom so Dumbya gets some cover.

    As I see it, the democrats lowering the boom or making it to the finish line ( Nov 08) is his only option out.

  11. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Twilight Zone II

  12. Congress probably does NOT have the power to “order Bush to end the war, whether he wants to or not.”

    Congress has the power to cut off spending for the war by simply refusing to appropriate money for it. Thus, the troops would have to come home.

    But, this would be endlessly spun in the media as “not supporting the troops”, so they can’t do that.

    The CAN simply refuse to appropriate more money for the war when Bush is forced to come to them and ask for it.

    They can override his veto of their spending measures that don’t include any money for Iraq, if they have the guts.

    Of course they don’t have the guts to do either one of these things.

  13. Congress probably does NOT have the power to “order Bush to end the war, whether he wants to or not.”

    I disagree. My reading of the Constitution says they most certainly can decide to stop a war. I explained in the post why I think this; see also the Findlaw articles cited.

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