Rogue President

I say David Broder is the pure distillation of everything that is bleeped up in Washington. Take today’s column, for example.

Writing about the Iraq War, Broder says “A clear national mandate is being blocked.”

The public verdict on the war is plain. Large majorities have come to believe that it was a mistake to go in, and equally large majorities want to begin the process of getting out. That is what the polls say; it is what the mail to Capitol Hill says; and it is what voters signaled when they put the Democrats back into control of Congress in November.

This is exactly right. Clearly it is the will of the people to haul our national butt out of Iraq. Clearly that will is being blocked. But who is blocking it? Our blockheaded President, who vetoed timetables for withdrawal and who has made it plain he won’t even consider withdrawal as long as he’s in the White House? Republicans in Congress, who prevented an override of the veto?

No, of course not. Broder complains that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the will of the people and keeping the troops in Iraq. My only question is whether Broder is a perfect idiot or more of a slapdash, hit-or-miss sort of idiot. I’m leaning toward the former.

Broder also blames the Constitution.

It makes the president commander in chief of the armed forces, the only elected official whose orders every general and every private must obey.

Congress shares war-making power under the Constitution but can exercise it only through its control of the money the president needs to finance any military operation.

Geoffrey Perret has an op ed in today’s New York Times that argues the Constitution has been pretty much abandoned regarding war power. Perret is a highly regarded biographer and military historian; I’ve been one of his fans ever since I read his book on Ulysses S. Grant (highly recommended). He has a new book out called Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power into a Threat to America’s Future that looks very promising. In today’s op ed, Perret makes a nice argument that the role of “commander in chief” as George Bush interprets it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the powers the Constitution actually gives him.

Since Lincoln’s day the war powers of the presidency have been pumped up like a balloon. It is current American policy that the president has the power to order the kidnapping, torture, indefinite secret imprisonment and even the death of almost anyone, anywhere. Can this really be what the Founding Fathers intended?

And the answer is no, it can’t. But Broder makes the common — and wrong — assumption that the Constitution gives Congress only “the power of the purse,” and says,

Most Democrats are unwilling to exercise their right to cut off funds for the war in Iraq, lest they be accused of abandoning the troops in the middle of the fight.

Lacking the will to do that, they are forced to an uncomfortable alternative. They are proposing to continue financing a war that most of them oppose, while placing conditions on the conduct of the war that the president says will reduce the chances of his strategy succeeding.

That claim, whatever its merits, places the Democrats on the defensive. It is not a comfortable position, but it is where they find themselves — for now.

Broder has a remarkable capacity for believing what he’s told:

In this moment, the commander in chief has a clear plan — to apply more military force in and around Baghdad in hopes of suppressing the sectarian violence and creating space for the Iraqi politicians to assemble a functioning government.

It is a high-risk policy with no guarantee of success. But it is a clear strategy.

In today’s St. Petersburg Times, Philip Gailey explains the true nature of this “clear strategy.”

Contrary to what his critics say, President Bush does have a timetable for ending the war. He plans to hand the disaster over to his successor at high noon on Jan. 20, 2009.

If Iraq is going to have an ugly ending, as it almost surely will, Bush is determined to see that it doesn’t happen on his watch, and there’s not much the Congress can do to foil him short of cutting off funds for the war, a step Democrats apparently are not ready to take.

Bush will keep asking for more time and money. As long as American forces are in Iraq, as long the fighting goes on, the war cannot be labeled a failure, at least in Bush’s mind. To admit defeat, to acknowledge that they blundered and destroyed a nation in the process, and maybe set the stage for even greater mayhem in the Middle East, is not the way of the swaggering pseudo-cowboy from Texas or his delusional and treacherous vice president.

As Ross Perot used to say, it’s just this simple: President Bush is the impediment to ending the war. There he stands, like a stone wall.

But both Broder and Gailey think that Congress could stop Bush if only the Dems would get the courage to cut off funding to the war. I disagree. Bush is a psychopath who is holding the troops hostage. If you’ve ever had to deal with one, you’ll understand when I say you cannot back a psychopath into a corner. Just when you think you’ve got the varmint boxed in, he’ll do some utterly unimaginable thing to get free. I think if funds were cut off Bush is likely to siphon money from other parts of government to keep the war going. And every Republican politician would be off the hook; instead of being forced to take a firm stand for or against the war, they could continue to scapegoat the Dems as “surrender-crats” who don’t support the troops.

If Bush is as crazy as I think he is, the only way a troops withdrawal will begin before 2009 is if Bush is removed from office. And, like it or not, it’s going to take some Republican support to accomplish that, because it requires two thirds of the Senate.

For that reason, I see no alternative to the step-by-step, bill-by-bill, vote-by-vote work of forcing Republicans to take a stand for or against the war. Sooner or later, Bush must be forced to either withdraw troops or defy a veto-proof majority of Congress. And even the Artichoke says “It is hard to imagine the Republicans going into the presidential election of 2008 with 150,000 American troops still taking heavy casualties in Iraq.” I think that if forced to make a clear choice between loyalty to Bush and their own political ambitions, Republicans will throw Bush under the next bus.

Conventional wisdom says that the Great Republican Defection will begin in August or September. CW can be wrong, and I have no doubt that Bush and his fellow psychopath Karl Rove already have a plan for keeping Republicans in line. On the other hand, Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times that Defense Secretary Gates may not be following Bush’s playbook.

President Bush has mobilized his administration, including his top general in Iraq, in a major push to win more time and money for his war strategy. But one crucial voice has been missing from the chorus: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’.

In fact, Gates’ recent comments seem to run counter to the message from the White House. During a recent trip to the Middle East, Gates told the Iraqi government that time was running out and praised Democratic efforts in the U.S. Congress to set a timetable for withdrawal, saying it would help prod the Iraqis. He reiterated that point during a meeting with reporters last week.

Whatever. I’m skeptical that anyone who works for Bush is going to be allowed more than a couple of inches off the reservation. We’ll see.

We’re all playing against the clock. Bush is trying to run it out, and he might succeed. On the other hand, time will soon be up for Republicans in Congress who face re-election in 2008. Will the realities of politics finally force Congress to take down a rogue president?

See also: The soft bigotry of Iraq and Bring them home.

21 thoughts on “Rogue President

  1. It’s fascinating to me that the same minds that can hold the image of ‘Commander-in-Chief’ as a position with extraordinary war powers (quite invisible in the Constitution) lay the blame for our stay in Iraq on Congress being weak-willed.

    Would Broder have us believe that “the only elected official whose orders every general and every private must obey” could not order the troops home, right now, if he were to decide to follow the clear statement of public will?

    Mr. Broder has the ability to think several contradictory things before breakfast, of course, which allows him to believe that the “surge” is a clear strategy, despite the reports from the ground saying that few of the essential components of that strategy seem to actually be followed.

    As I recall, artichokes like to grow in a sandy soil. I think this one must have grown up in a pile of horse manure.

  2. Making an historical analogy..It’s the difference between McClellan and Grant. One has to wait for everything to align and all preparation to be in place before engaging— resulting in the perfect condition never coming about.While the other takes the battle to the enemy,slugging it out and wearing down the enemy’s resources.
    I believe the Democrats should squat on presenting another supplement.. Bush has already gotten one that was approved with republican consent. They should introduce articles of Impeachment, even if its sure to go will bring the issue front and center, and the same for the supplemental. Bush is a coward, a bully and a child in his behaviour, but when he knows his antics will no longer work he’ll change them, he’s not that sick that he can’t be corrected.He’s doing what he’s doing because he knows he can get away with it.

    In short.. so much for a reasoned strategy. Press in at every point and bring that pimple to a head.

  3. Off topic..but relevant to me.. I was once in the artichoke capital of the world..somewhere in California. My memories are kinda clouded due to time and drugs..But I know I was there. Does anybody know where I was?

  4. Swami — yeah, I was there, too, in my hippiechick days. I thought it was Salinas, but The Google says Castroville.

  5. I’d keep impeachment off the table until there’s a reasonable chance at least 57 Republican senators would be willing to vote against Bush. Then I’d put it back on the table real fast.

  6. I agree with you that there is something wrong with Bush, something pathological.
    The Democrats need to cut off the funding and stop the war, the Republicans are Responsible for dealing with Bush. He will do something crazy like invade Iran but the reubs created the monster they need to deal with “IT”.

    OR we can impeach Bush and Cheney.

  7. The Democrats should at least announce an advisory panel to ” reluctantly” explore impeachment possiblities. The more impeachment and Bush are associated together in the public mind, the greater the pressure will be generated on Bush’s ass. Turn up the heat! Bush has already lost the public confidence..he teethering..push him over the edge.

  8. I agree with you on most of what you wrote Maha, and as an ex-pat Californian, you are right about Castroville.God, I miss the big fresh artichokes I grew when I lived on the “left coast”!
    Something we seem to be over looking is the emergence of Ron Paul in the Republican Party. Most Republicans I know (who are at least somewhat savvy politically) are really revved up over the dude.An friend of mine who is an old John Bircher has a client that has a large business which is an American icon of its own, they are both fed up with Bush /Cheney and the cliff we’re headed to.They are both pushing for Ron Paul. The right REALLY loves Paul’s idea about abolishing the IRS, and even the hawks I know are fed up with Iraq.( that old friend was really pissed at me because I came out against Bush from the start, he now agrees with me)
    I hope enough Republicans can be brought to the side of truth and throw Bush out before we have an incident in the Green Zone that kills a lot of our people. I hate to say it, but that is likely to happen.Sadly if such a thing were to happen, the right would scream to “nuke” the whole place, and no doubt want to attack Iran as well.
    As far as turning up the heat goes Swami, out new gas prices over the $3.00 mark should do the trick. A lot of people thought they’d get cheap gas after Iraq was won, as dumb as that sounds. Now we have a bunch of pissed off people who will blame Bush and their reps.( it’s not even the “season “yet!)

  9. Alas, Barabara, the artichoke has a heart, making it a poor emblem. Might I suggest the dreaded Jerusalem artichoke (a mishapen, somewhat bitter tuber)?

    Re Iraq: the Dems should just keep passing the toughest things they can pass. More Blue Dogs and moderate GOPers will carve off on each pass.

    Re impeachment: Keep investigating. When the proper impeachable offense comes to light, go after it. The 5 yrs the GOP spent noisily looking for an impeachable offense was not good PR.

    Swami – artichokes generally grow in the farmland E of Santa Cruz and N or NE of Monterey Bay. Castroville is a wide spot in the road, not too far from Salinas.

  10. I don’t feel your psycopath classification is the correct one. Also, it demonizes and personifies the problem, and we are facing a whole hell of a lot more than one pretender psycopath.

    First, Bush isn’t really the one runnning things, he’s just the front man. He has a PR team telling him how to present himself to the public and a political team around him doing the planning and implementing policies from grand to detailed.

    Second, if there is a real executive at the top, I would say Cheney is the one making the decisions. Even if he’s the real CEO he sits at the top of an organized group of people with a strategic purpose. This group includes ideologues and neocons; it also includes a lot of authoritarian Republican politicians, voters, and funders. So if it is a psyco-pathology, it is shared by a whole group of them, not just by un presidente selvaje.

    More than that, a lot of people & corporations have benefitted immensely from the war. What is the “risk-premium” on a barrel of oil these days? If you’ve got ownership of oil assets in the ground, why would you want the Iraq war to end?

    That may be immoral, but it isn’t psycopathological.

    (Maybe you are too used to the polite, moderate Republicans in the Northeast. Look a bit more into all the wacko-winger in the State legislatures. Look at the hard-core 30% that stick by the war. That 30% is 51% in a lot of political districts, even if it is only 10% in the Northeast.)

  11. MetaData — I think it’s hard to know how much influence Dick (who has his own psychological pathologies) has over Dubya. I no longer believe Dick controls the White House. He probably did for a while, mostly because he was interested in running the government and Bush wasn’t; Bush was just in it for the glory of the thing. But now I ‘spect the “White House” really does mean Bush, or more correctly, the symbiotic creature known as “Karl Rove George Bush.”

    I realize that calling someone a “psychopath” sounds over-the-top, but if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with one day in, day out, for a long time, after a while you can spot ’em a mile away.

    The thing with the Iraq War that many don’t grasp is that there wasn’t just one rationale for starting it, and there isn’t just one rationale for staying in. The Iraq War came into being because a bunch of stakeholders in different interests and ideologies converged in a kind of perfect storm, and they all saw the invasion of Iraq as the perfect plan to carry out their agenda. But they didn’t all have the same agenda. Some were in it for the oil, and some were in it for Israel, and some were in it for the defense industry, and some saw it as the stuff of grand political strategy, and a few are in it because of religion. Or some combination thereof.

    But Bush, I’m sure, is at least a narcissist, and narcissistic personality disorder is just next door to full-blown psychopathy. Psychopaths are not psychotic. They don’t hear voices, and they can be utterly rational about what they do. What makes them treacherous is that they have no compunction or conscience whatsoever. They’ll do whatever it takes to win, and they’ll do things that are so outrageous no one will have imagined it until it’s too late.

  12. I don’t know if these kind of people are psychopaths or narcissists but I have had the bad luck to know two that fit the behavior patterns.
    They absolutely never back down unless they meet up with a bigger bully or someone rational that has much more power than they do.
    They do want to “win” at all costs even if the “winning” is ultimately to their own detriment. They don’t care about consequences to other people but can’t recognize that they are also their own worst enemies.
    If they are a boss, they are hell on employees or anyone they have power over. They bully, play head games & basically bat people around like a cat with a mouse.
    I knew someone who was almost driven around the bend by a psychopathic boss. The boss actually wanted to come to the employee’s therapy session! The therapist said no way, told the employee that the boss should be under intense pscychiatric care!
    The other thing is that rational people have a hard time fathoming that the psychopath is really that bad. I & others would tell people to under no circumstances work for the psychopath. They thought we were exaggerating until they did take the job & found out we were right, the boss was really that off the wall.
    Once you’ve known one of these creatures, your antennae immediately starts vibrating.

  13. President Roosevelt came up with “Lend-Lease” because he couldn’t give the UK arms because Congress had passed a law against that. Note that this was done in an act passed through Congress (11 March, 1941). Presidents used to treat the Constitution as a serious matter.

    How we have fallen since then.

  14. Can we all agree that Bush is a liar and a fraud? Seems like two indisputable points to me from which to build a solid foundation of agreement.

  15. Maha,

    I appreciate your position that Bush may be a pathological (possibly narcissist) personality, having just read the DSM description; also, I have personally experienced “that” ex-spouse, enough said.

    My problem is that it may be sufficient to explain Bush, but insufficient to explain the system that keeps him in place. I attribute that more to power and self-interest, not psychological interpretations.

    And, I have to insist on a White-house cabal, not the Bush individual. Bush may be signing the checks, but I don’t think he is actually the decider.

  16. Nope. Bush is one of the only honest politicians left in America (I hope he needn’t turn off the lights…). You may disagree with what he says or does, but he has that nearly extinct quality of not giving a damn what the press say. He does what he believes is right, whether it is or isn’t. Compared to Hilary the ping-pong ball or Algore the nut-job, Bush stands heads above them all.

  17. My problem is that it may be sufficient to explain Bush, but insufficient to explain the system that keeps him in place. I attribute that more to power and self-interest, not psychological interpretations.

    Think of a dysfunctional family. Washington is one big nest of co-dependency.

    Seriously — I’m not proposing that Bush’s personal psychology is some kind of unified theory of Why Washington Is Screwed Up, only to explain why he’s not going to order a withdrawal from Iraq no matter what Congress does.

    Bush may be signing the checks, but I don’t think he is actually the decider.

    He’s pushed away everyone who used to help him make decisions, except for Karl Rove. I don’t think Cheney has the influence he used to have. Condi is in the State Department; Rummy is gone. Karen Hughes seems to have disappeared. Who’s left? Just Karl.

  18. Bush is one of the only honest politicians left in America

    A pathological inability to admit to mistakes and a stubborn refusal to listen to anything he does not want to hear is not “honesty.” It’s a profound dishonesty, because Bush is dishonest with himself. And if you are dishonest with yourself, your whole life is a lie. He’s probably the most dishonest President we’ve ever had, actually.

  19. Bush is one of the only honest politicians left in America

    WHAT ! Does the “politicians” qualify the word honest? Bush is a bold face liar. Don’t confuse rebelliousness against a moral imperative for conviction. He’s a liar. He’s a soul without substance who is morally unfit for the trust that been bestowed upon him. He’s a deceiver incapable of mustering the slightest degree of integrity, honesty or sincerity. And all those things that erode the possibility that he could form a character of marginal acceptability within the fraternity of honest men are precluded by his own choice. He’s a slave to insecurity.
    He’s a moral degenerate whose radiant arrogance testifies against him.

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