I shouldn't read this stuff. I know it'll tick me off. But sometimes I just can't help myself.
I spent a good deal of last Sunday reading two articles about the Bush administration. I'm sure the White House isn't happy about either of them. The first, “The Iran Plans”, by Seymour M. Hersh, appears in the April 17, 2006 issue of The New Yorker. The other, available in the online edition of Vanity Fair, is “Senate Hearings on Bush, Now”, by Carl Bernstein (yeah, of Woodward and Bernstein, for those of you old enough to remember Watergate). The first article discusses an administration plan to bomb Iran in order to stop its nuclear development program. The second calls for Senate hearings to investigate the Bush administration. In light of the revelations in the first article, the plea in the second takes on more importance and immediacy.
According to Hersh’s article, the Bush administration, led by civilian leadership in the Pentagon, are determined to attack Iran and destroy its capability to carry out the enrichment of uranium. While the administration claims to be pursuing diplomatic solutions to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear development program, Hersh’s sources say that Mr. Bush sees “saving” Iran as his “legacy” and that the administration thinks the only solution to the problem is regime change, which they believe will only come with war. Perhaps the most troubling claim is that the administration is ready and more than willing to use tactical nuclear weapons in the event such an attack is launched. Also troubling is that Hersh quotes one diplomat as saying that there are clearly those in the administration who would be “unhappy” if a diplomatic solution is actually found and that, at any rate, according to one of Hersh’s European sources, the Bush administration believes that “diplomacy is doomed to fail.”
America’s European allies are not any happier with the idea of a nuclear-capable Iran than the administration is, to be sure, but they think that bombing is a bad idea and that if the US persists in its apparent determination to bomb, it will only strengthen Iranian President Ahmadinejad rather than convincing Iranians to run him out of office. On the other hand, the Bush administration seems to believe that Ahmadinejad will only respond to threats. That is not, apparently, the view of some of the military advisors in the Pentagon who, again according to Hersh’s sources, have been trying to talk the administration at least out of considering the use of nuclear weapons. Some are said to be ready to resign rather than approve of such an action. I don’t know about you, but I find all this quite disturbing. We apparently have a president with a messiah complex, surrounded by top-level advisors - Dick Cheney his vice president, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld leading the pack - only too ready to encourage him. The White House has been incredulous at the military reluctance to use nukes, saying that the option came from them in the first place when it is questioned.
Taking into consideration the contents of Hersh’s article, Carl Bernstein’s article calling for a Senate investigation of President Bush and his administration takes on added importance. Urging such an inquiry is certainly a serious step, but I’m sure Bernstein knows this, given his role in the Watergate affair that culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. In fact, one of the things he addresses in the article is the care with which any investigation should be approached. It must not, he says, be a “fishing expedition”, but be focused on very specific issues and concerns even though, as he says, there are a lot of fish to be had.
Bernstein identifies several possible lines of inquiry that should be pursued in an investigation of the Bush White House. There are the lies Bush and his administration have told, and whether they have been used as a “matter of policy” to hide and defend the president’s and the administration’s actions. What kinds of lies does Bernstein mean? He is referring to the insistence - without any concrete proof produced - by the administration that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to gain support for the war in Iraq, to statements after the fact that “nobody anticipated the breach of the levees” in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina in the face of evidence that the possibility had been reported to Bush before the hurricane made landfall, among many others. There seems to be an almost reflexive concealment by the administration of anything that it feels might reflect badly on it or that might lead to it not being able to do whatever it wishes.
Another issue that Bernstein says should be addressed is the competency of the president, the vice president, and some of his top-level appointees. More than just the competency of the president should be looked at because, as Bernstein writes in the article, there is a good deal of evidence that the policies and ideas of the administration that some see as illegal or unconstitutional come as much from Cheney as they do from Bush. While Bernstein does not come right out and say it, this goes to the question of who is really running the administration. In this regard, the observation of Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, himself a retired colonel, that it seems to him that Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld form a decision-making “cabal” outside the bureaucracy. Also worrying is Bernstein’s report that Colin Powell has been known to make statements in private that call Vice President Cheney’s emotional stability into question. Because Powell served with Cheney in the first Bush administration, he would be in a position to recognize changes in the vice president’s mental state.
A huge issue that Bernstein feels should be investigated is the way that the Bush administration has evaded responsibility for its actions, not only by lying about various issues but also by concealing their actions by claiming executive privilege in order to avoid disclosing information and by fashioning the doctrine of “unimpairment”, through which the administration claims that the president, especially in a time of war, can essentially do anything he wants to do. This harks back, as Bernstein points out, to Richard Nixon’s famous (or infamous) statement to interviewer David Frost that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Even conservative columnist George Will, writes Bernstein, has called that attitude as dangerous as terrorism.
Some of the practical applications of the doctrine of unimpairment are chilling. They include wiretaps without court order (one of the things that got Nixon in trouble all those years ago); the claimed authority to hold prisoners of war, even US citizens, indefinitely and without habeas corpus; and the administration’s unusual attitude toward torture and that position’s repudiation of the Geneva conventions, the provisions of which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reportedly called “quaint” in a memo written when he was White House counsel. Of course, Mr. Bush has claimed that his administration does not condone torture. What he did not say was that it all depends on how one defines “torture”. Another manifestation of the attitude that nothing must stand in the way of what the Bush administration wants is their common tactic of painting any critic as a malcontent, a traitor, or a coward. This has been seen in the leak of Valerie Plame’s position as a CIA agent in order to discredit her husband after he wrote an article contradicting administration statements on the issue of WMDs. It was seen in the attempts to marginalize Representative John Murtha, an ex-marine, after he spoke out against the administration’s position on Iraq. It may also be working in the recent firing from the CIA of Mary McCarthy on allegations that she was one of the sources for information on a network of covert CIA prisons, published in articles that won journalist Dana Priest a Pulitzer Price recently. Not coincidentally, there have been comments by partisans of the administration that journalists who publish such articles should be tried and sent to prison for writing about such things.
The case Bernstein makes for an official investigation into the Bush administration is persuasive. That he isn’t the only one worried about the things the administration is doing only adds to his argument. There are the retired generals who have called for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation (they, too, are being subject to a campaign of marginalization by the administration, by the way). There are the members of Bush’s own party who are beginning to question some of the administration’s actions. There are the European diplomats, cited in the Hersh article, who worry that the administration might be about to do something one called “catastrophic” in Iran, as well as the high-level US military personnel who are said to be ready to resign rather than acquiesce to the use of nuclear weapons by the administration. In light of all this, such an inquiry as Bernstein proposes in his article seems an urgent priority.
There is a lot more in these articles than I've been able to outline here. Both of them make some very good points, and whether you think you will agree with them or not I don't think you'll regret reading them.