31 July 2007

Impeachment

I have been thinking a lot about the issue of impeachment lately. The case that it would be justified seems to grow stronger and stronger the more we know (this is, of course, a separate issue from the very important question of whether a move to impeach could succeed). Aside from the Iraq conflict (and whether one considers the invasion justified or not, there is no question that Bush and Rumsfeld's execution of it was disastrouly inept), there have been the abuses of the PATRIOT act, the Katrina response fiasco, the Pat Tillman cover-up, the firing of several US attorneys apparently for partisan reasons, the use of "signing statements" to undermine the intent of laws, and on and on. I'm not sure whether any of these things qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanors", but they certainly add up to a level of incompetence and abuse of power which would justify firing a chief executive in any normal private-sector situation.

I will freely admit that there are also many other reasons why I and many other people would like to see Bush out of office even though they are policy differences and not impeachable offenses. His fervent support for illegal-alien amnesty, his opposition to stem-cell research, his manipulation of foreign aid to push the fundamentalist taboo on abortion upon foreign countries, his failure to confront Saudi Arabia for its fostering of Islamic extremism, the attitude of elite privilege symbolized by the Libby pardon, and the risk that another year-and-a-half in power will give him the chance to appoint yet another Supreme Court judge who would further endanger Roe vs. Wade -- he is simply on the wrong side of too many issues.

Finally, this essay in The Nation makes another argument for impeachment: that if the new powers that Bush and Cheney have arrogated to the Presidency are not explicitly repudiated, they will become entrenched as precedent, permanently distorting the Constitutional system.

Set against all this, to be fair, is one singular but huge success: the country has not been attacked again since September 11. Knowing Islam and the jihadist ideology as I do, the reason is clear. Citing precedents such as Mogadishu and the Beirut Marine-barracks bombing, Osama bin Laden argued that the United States was a "paper tiger" which retreats when attacked. It's unclear exactly what the jihadists expected September 11 to accomplish, but most likely they imagined that a super-attack would lead to a super-retreat -- perhaps total withdrawal of American power from the Middle East, or abandonment of Israel -- a victory al-Qâ'idah could trumpet, enormously enhancing its prestige in the Islamic world. Instead, Bush attacked two Muslim countries and overthrew their governments, while most of al-Qâ'idah's leadership has been killed off. It was a response with some flaws -- not nearly forceful enough in my view, and several other countries would have been more logical second targets than Iraq was -- but at least it was a military response, and it must have left the jihadists seriously nervous about what the consequences might be if they attacked American territory again. Yet even this achievement is now in danger. Due to the administration's inept management of the Iraq campaign, we may end up having to withdraw before the country is stabilized (indeed, stabilizing the country may now be impossible), allowing the jihadists to claim that bin Laden was right and the US is a paper tiger after all -- and thus hugely increasing the risk of another attack on our home territory.

And as I've pointed out before, if the surge strategy succeeds in Iraq, then Petraeus will deserve credit, but Bush will not. If this strategy was the key to success, why did Bush wait four years to implement it, and then only under the duress of the Republicans' 2006 electoral defeat?

The only real arguments I can see against impeachment are (1) that it could easily fail, leaving Bush in a strengthened position, and (2) that a successful impeachment of both Bush and Cheney would leave Nancy Pelosi as President, and I'm not sure we can afford that while the Iranian nuclear program still remains to be dealt with.

It's a conundrum. The country should never have gotten itself into this position in the first place, which is a kind of vindication of the much-ridiculed comment by Michael Dukakis. Competence does matter.

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