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A Failure We Won’t Forget

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January 15, 2009

With less than a week before the end of George Bush’s Presidency, we are seeing numerous retrospectives on the successes and failures of the Bush Administration.  Of course, the failures have been plentiful and catastrophic.  Quite a bit of attention has been focused on the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina.  The use of warrantless wiretaps has become a rallying cry for those calling for the prosecution of Bush Administration officials.  The politicization of the Justice Department is back in the news with the disclosure that a former Justice Department official, Bradley Schlozman, refused to hire attorneys he considered too liberal.  The Administration’s use of torture at Guantanamo is also in the headlines with the revelation by Susan Crawford that Mohammed al-Qahtani (a man alleged to have been the would-be twentieth hijacker from September 11, 2001) was tortured.  Crawford explained that as a result of the treatment of this prisoner, she would be unable to bring him to trial.  Crawford is a former Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, who in 2007, was appointed to the position of convening authority for military commissions.  In that post, she is the top Bush Administration official overseeing the military trials of suspects held at Guantanamo.

As we reach the end of his second term in office, we cannot help but realize that George W. Bush, as Commander in Chief of our armed forces, never caught America’s worst enemy:  Osama bin Laden.  Despite the cowboy posturing, the “wanted: dead or alive” rhetoric and the numerous assurances to the contrary, George Bush has been unable to capture or kill bin Laden.  Once bin Laden escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, fleeing into the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, many observers believed Bush had lost his chance at bringing this villain to justice.  These critics turned out to be right.  Some of my friends believe that Bush never really wanted to catch bin Laden.  Under that theory, bin Laden was more valuable as a “bogeyman”, who could be used to justify the infringements on our liberties and the “harsh interrogation methods” employed by the Bush Administration.  Regardless of whether such theories are true or not, Bush’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden has become yet another abject failure of this administration’s legacy.  If the al-Qaeda attack against the United States had taken place at a later time during Bush’s tenure, he could invoke the excuse that he “didn’t have enough time” to catch bin Laden.  As it turned out, Bush had seven years and four months to capture or kill bin Laden, yet he failed to do either.

In a villa somewhere in western Pakistan, bin Laden is probably watching an American cable newscast and chuckling with delight about his victory over George Bush.  Bush never got him, nor will he ever have a chance at it again.  He must enjoy watching the video clips of Bush doing his little bounce, squinting in attempt to make a tough, cowboy face, cranking up the faux Texas accent, and making some hollow threat to “get bin Laden”.  In his latest audio message, bin Laden taunts President Bush by emphasizing the harsh reality that Bush has been unable to catch him.  As reported by Khaled Wassef and Tucker Reals of CBS News, bin Laden’s newest discourse includes a dig at Bush’s low approval rating:

“Can America keep up the war with us for more decades to come?  All reports and analysis indicate that this is not possible. In fact, 75 percent of American people are happy with the departure of the president who got them into wars they could not possibly win.”

Bin Laden goes on to say President Bush “drowned” the American people in economic woes and “left his successor a difficult legacy, and left him one of two bitter choices … The worst heritage is when a man inherits a long guerrilla warfare with a persevering, patient enemy – a war that is funded by usury.  If he (Obama) withdraws from the war, that would be a military defeat, and if he goes on with it, he’ll drown in economic crisis.”

As President Bush and his minions struggle to re-define the Bush Legacy, we have America’s worst enemy providing an assessment of the Bush years in terms that are painfully close to the truth.  Heckuva’ job, Bushey!

Obama The Centrist

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January 12, 2009

It was almost one year ago when the conservative National Journal rated Barack Obama as “the most liberal senator in 2007”.  Of course, that was back during the primary season of the 2008 Presidential campaign, when many people believed that the “liberal” moniker should have been enough to sink Obama’s Presidential aspirations.  Now, with the Inaugural just a week away, we are hearing the term “centrist” being used to describe Obama, often with a tone of disappointment.

On Sunday, January 11, David Ignatius wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, entitled:  “Mr. Cool’s Centrist Gamble”.  Mr. Ignatius spelled out how Obama moved toward the political center after his election, beginning with the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, to appointing a Cabinet “which is so centrist it almost resembles a government of national unity”:

Since Election Day, he has taken a series of steps to co-opt his opponents and fashion a new governing majority.  It’s an admirable strategy but also a high-risk one, since the “center,” however attractive it may be in principle, is often a nebulous political never-never land.

Obama’s bet is that at a time of national economic crisis, the country truly wants unity.

The President-elect’s appearance on ABC’s January 11 broadcast of This Week with George Stephanopoulos motivated Glenn Greenwald to write on Salon.com that the interview:

. . .  provides the most compelling — and most alarming — evidence yet that all of the “centrist” and “post-partisan” chatter from Obama’s supporters will mean what it typically means:  devotion, first and foremost, to perpetuating rather than challenging how the Washington establishment functions.

Mr. Greenwald (an attorney with a background in constitutional law and civil rights litigation) began his article by taking issue with the characterization by David Ignatius that Obama’s centrist approach is something “new”.  Greenwald pointed out that for a Democratic President to make a post-election move to the center is nothing new and that Bill Clinton had done the same thing:

The notion that Democrats must spurn their left-wing base and move to the “non-ideological” center is the most conventional of conventional Beltway wisdom (which is why Ignatius, the most conventional of Beltway pundits, is preaching it).  That’s how Democrats earn their Seriousness credentials, and it’s been that way for decades.

Greenwald then focused on a point made by Mr. Obama in response to a question posed by George Stephanopoulos concerning whether the detention facility at Guantanamo will be closed within the first 100 days of the new Presidency.  The President-elect responded that:

It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize and we are going to get it done but part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication.  And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it’s true.  And so how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn’t result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.

The magic words in Obama’s response that caught Glenn Greenwald’s attention were:  “creating a process”.  Why should due process require creation of a new process outside of our court system?  Mr. Greenwald suspects that this “new process” will be one that allows for the admission of evidence (confessions, etc.) obtained by torture.  If what Mr. Obama has in mind is a process that will protect the secrecy of legitimately-classified information, that is one thing.  Nevertheless, I share Mr. Greenwald’s skepticism about the need for an innovative adjudication system for those detained at Guantanamo.

George Stephanopoulos made a point of directing Mr. Obama’s attention to “the most popular question” on the Change.gov website.  It came from Bob Fertik of New York City, who asked:

Will you appoint a special prosecutor ideally Patrick Fitzgerald to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

The response given by the President-elect involved a little footwork:

We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing.

Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of Mr. Obama’s performance on This Week, did not overlook that part of the interview:

Obama didn’t categorically rule out prosecutions — he paid passing lip service to the pretty idea that “nobody is above the law,” implied Eric Holder would have some role in making these decisions, and said “we’re going to be looking at past practices” — but he clearly intended to convey his emphatic view that he opposes “past-looking” investigations.  In the U.S., high political officials aren’t investigated, let alone held accountable, for lawbreaking, and that is rather clearly something Obama has no intention of changing.

Obama’s expressed position on whether to prosecute the crimes of the Bush administration is fairly consistent with what he has been saying all along.  Frank Rich covered this subject in his January 10 New York Times editorial:

The biggest question hovering over all this history, however, concerns the future more than the past.  If we get bogged down in adjudicating every Bush White House wrong, how will we have the energy, time or focus to deal with the all-hands-on-deck crises that this administration’s malfeasance and ineptitude have bequeathed us?  The president-elect himself struck this note last spring.  “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” Barack Obama said.  “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”

Henry Waxman, the California congressman who has been our most tireless inquisitor into Bush scandals, essentially agreed when I spoke to him last week.  Though he remains outraged about both the chicanery used to sell the Iraq war and the administration’s overall abuse of power, he adds:  “I don’t see Congress pursuing it. We’ve got to move on to other issues.”  He would rather see any prosecutions augmented by an independent investigation that fills in the historical record.  “We need to depoliticize it,” he says.  “If a Democratic Congress or administration pursues it, it will be seen as partisan.”

Welcome to Barack Obama’s post-partisan world.  The people at the National Journal are probably not the only ones disappointed by Obama’s apparent move to the political center.  It appears as though we will be hearing criticism about the new administration from all directions.  When he disappoints centrists, you can read about it here.