April 21, 2006--
exposed in Carl Bernstein's April 19, 2006, Vanity Fair commentary calling for "Senate Hearings
on Bush, Now" as prelude to impeachment.
Carl Bernstein's commentary (published on April 19, 2006, in Vanity
Fair) urged the Senate to commence Watergate-style hearings into whether the House should
draw articles of impeachment against Bush. Since Bernstein's opinion on such matters is
certainly not held in high esteem outside the feverish cadre of his Bush-hating soul-mates in the
media, the entertainment industry and the Left Fringe, it could be seriously argued that no one
should bother to counter the absurdities and fallacies in his commentary. Nevertheless,
because it feels good to do so, I decided to do it anyway on the slim chance that some
non-Bush-hating fence-sitter might have had the extraordinarily masochistic ability to have actually
read Bernstein's tediously tendentious tirade and possibly been misled by it. Otherwise, my
preference would be to encourage him to continue encouraging Left Wing Donkeys to continue galloping
towards the let's-impeach-Bush cliff and thereby snatch electoral defeat from what many
"pundits" in the Formerly Dominant Media (FDM) now seem to think is a nearly-certain
victory for them in the 2006 Senate/House elections.
One of the inferences I draw from his ponderously prevaricativeº¹
pontifications is that he desperately longs to return to the "Center Stage" of
"Journalism," across which he strutted in the Watergate Era. To some this might seem
too cynical, but it's difficult to be too cynical about those who so righteously ruminate ruinous
rantings predicated on ultra-cynicism in purporting to judge their adversaries' motives and
pronounce them to be morally corrupt, venal, vicious, contemptible and criminal.
To facilitate analysis of his highly repetitive, disjointed commentary I've reproduced his text
below, highlighted it in blue and numbered his paragraphs with my counter-commentary being likewise
numbered to follow the thus-numbered paragraphs of his text.
a word, so I've hereby coined it as an adjective form of "prevaricate."
of Carl Bernstein's April 19, 2006 commentary in Vanity Fair (Text below highlighted in blue with ¶
numbers added to facilitate cross-references with counter-commentary)
(in black with ¶ numbers added to facilitate
by Jim Wrenn, Editor@PoliSat.Com.
Hearings on Bush, Now
By CARL BERNSTEIN
In this VF.com exclusive, a Watergate veteran and Vanity Fair contributor calls for
bipartisan hearings investigating the Bush presidency. Should Republicans on the Hill take the high
road and save themselves come November?
If the Democrats make "impeaching" or "censuring" Bush the centerpiece of the
2006 Senate/House election campaign (as their Left Wing, nay, Fuselage, seem determined to do),
they will lose, not gain, seats in one or both houses.
Worse than Watergate? High crimes and misdemeanors justifying the
impeachment of George W. Bush, as increasing numbers of Democrats in Washington hope, and, sotto
voce, increasing numbers of Republicans—including some of the president's top lieutenants—now
fear? Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the
country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans—nearing 50 percent in some
polls—who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied
to justify going to war in Iraq.
arguendo, that there have been "some polls" purporting to show that "near[ly]
50 percent" of the people polled "would favor impeachment if the president were proved to
have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq," what's amazing is that the percentage
wasn't "near[ly] 100%." It's like asking people whether they would favor
criminal charges against a person if such person were "proved to have [molested a child]."
John Dean, the Watergate conspirator who ultimately shattered the Watergate conspiracy, rendered
his precipitous (or perhaps prescient) impeachment verdict on Bush two years ago in the affirmative,
without so much as a question mark in choosing the title of his book Worse than Watergate. On
March 31, some three decades after he testified at the seminal hearings of the Senate Watergate
Committee, Dean reiterated his dark view of Bush's presidency in a congressional hearing that shed
more noise than light, and more partisan rancor than genuine inquiry. The ostensible subject:
whether Bush should be censured for unconstitutional conduct in ordering electronic surveillance of
Americans without a warrant.
disciplinary counsel for the Virginia State Bar, I prepared the charges for John Dean's disbarment,
which case was prosecuted (successfully and expeditiously) by a Commonwealth's Attorney before a
special, three-judge court in Virginia. Virginia made him one of the first, if not the
first, Watergate lawyer/criminal to be disbarred in the country. The wealth of evidence
presented (which I obtained from the Office of the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Sam Dash) to
support Dean's disbarment made it self-evident that he was merely a criminal seeking to minimize the
consequences of being caught. For him to claim moral insight to characterize Bush's conduct of
the Presidency as "Worse than Watergate" is yet further evidence that he's the same
moral cripple now that he was then-- only now, he's pandering to the fringe-left to sell his book
rather than seeking to extract compassion from Sam Dash. Indeed, for one to be "view[ed
darkly]" by John Dean is more likely a compliment than an insult.
Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to
answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad
back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown
transparent expressions of hope don't merit factual responses.
In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the
president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is
essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming
support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of
George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the
presidency of Richard M. Nixon.
See ¶01, supra.
How much evidence is there to justify such action?
None-- See ¶¶07 through 67, infra.
Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president
and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has
done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal,
unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while
the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information
policies of the modern presidential era.
The now-hackneyed phrase, "what [someone] ... knew and when [he] knew it" (coined by
Republican Senator Howard Baker as a member of the Watergate Committee questioning a witness)
signifies nothing more than the political motives of the person uttering it in an effort to clothe
himself with moral authority. Persons reasonably knowledgeable about the administration of
Lyndon Johnson (of which Bernstein is one) cannot credibly equate, much less unfavorably compare,
the Bush administration with that of Lyndon Johnson. Maybe Bernstein defines the "modern
presidential era" as beginning in 2001. Maybe he thinks the Draconian secrecy and massive
disinformation in which Churchill and Roosevelt collaborated in World War II should have warranted
impeachment of Roosevelt. Never mind that "loose lips" actually did "sink
ships" and that Churchill's and Roosevelt's massive disinformation campaigns played a vital
role in preventing permanent entrenchment of Nazism in Europe (and beyond) and feudal barbarity in
the Pacific. The Islamic Fascism now confronting the concept of human rights developed by
Western Civilization is no less dangerous than Nazism and the only thing making it less dangerous to
Western Civilization than the totalitarianism embodied in the Soviet Union during the Cold War is
that the Soviet Union's temptation to use nuclear weapons was deterred by Mutual Assured Destruction
in the then-absence of widespread proliferation of nuclear-weapons technology.
"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American
people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, on April 9. "The President of the United States owes a specific
explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did." Specter was speaking
specifically about a special prosecutor's assertion that Bush selectively declassified information
(of dubious accuracy) and instructed the vice president to leak it to reporters to undermine
criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the senator's comments would be even more
appropriately directed at far more pervasive and darker questions that must be answered if the
American political system is to acquit itself in the Bush era, as it did in Nixon's.
Notwithstanding Arlan "Scottish Verdict" Specter's alleged assertion that Bush "owes
a specific explanation to the American people ... [what's missing?] about exactly what he did ...
[in] ... selectively declassif[ying] information (of dubious accuracy) ... and instructed the vice
president to leak it to reporters to undermine criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq,"
Bernstein conveniently ignores the fact that the 9-11 Commission (or Intelligence Committee
inquiries) found that Joe Wilson had published
false information in his New York Times article and that the contrary information subsequently
released (by Bush's declassification of same) served the legitimate purpose of refuting such false
information. The rest of ¶08 is so self-evidently
full of bombast as to not merit a serious response.
Perhaps there are facts or mitigating circumstances, given the extraordinary nature of
conceiving and fighting a war on terror, that justify some of the more questionable policies and
conduct of this presidency, even those that turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into a
catastrophe of incompetence and neglect. But the truth is we have no trustworthy official record of
what has occurred in almost any aspect of this administration, how decisions were reached, and even
what the actual policies promulgated and approved by the president are. Nor will we, until the
subpoena powers of the Congress are used (as in Watergate) to find out the facts—not just about
the war in Iraq, almost every aspect of it, beginning with the road to war, but other essential
elements of Bush's presidency, particularly the routine disregard for truthfulness in the
dissemination of information to the American people and Congress.
These propagandistic, conclusory assertions remind me of the kinds of assertions invoked by Rep.
Henry Gonzales (Democrat) during the Reagan administration to demand an impeachment inquiry into
Gonzales' demonstrably frivolous assertions, inter alia, giving credence to bizarre claims
that then-Vice-President-Elect George Herbert Walker Bush had flown in the Blackbird to France
to conduct a secret meeting with Iranians to dissuade them from releasing the American hostages
until after Reagan's inauguration in January, 1981. Regarding the "conduct of [Bush 41's]
presidency" which Bernstein alleges to have "turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into
a catastrophe of incompetence and neglect," Bernstein ignores the fact that most of the
judgmental errors that led to the stranding of so many in New Orleans flowed directly from decisions
by the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans. Bernstein, like most in the Formerly Dominant Media
(FDM), has a preference for focusing on the images of the people stranded at the Superdome and
elsewhere rather than on the image of the thousands of school buses left by Mayor Nagin in a
predictably flooded parking lot rather than having been used to evacuate those without
transportation who remained in the city despite warnings to evacuate. [See http://polisat.com/du2005/du0509-01--10.htm#20050903-01.]
Bernstein, like most of
the FDM, likewise has a preference for focusing on those stranded at the Superdome without adequate
food or water rather than on orders issued by the Governor of Louisiana (or her staff) directing the
Red Cross NOT to deliver food and water to the Superdome in an effort to avoid creating an
"incentive" for people stranded there to remain there. What Bernstein describes as
"the routine disregard for truthfulness" is more aptly descriptive of much of what he
asserts in most of ¶¶01--67.
The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice
president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza
Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to
Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation
of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome
truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and
his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed.
Bernstein's assertion that the "first fundamental question ... is whether lying,
disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of
policy" is yet another, repetitive manifestation the kind of neural masturbation to which he
and the fringe-left are addicted. (I used the term "neural masturbation," rather
than "intellectual masturbation" because the latter would unscientifically attribute
Bernstein's assertions to a higher level of cerebral activity than the apparently pre-cortical
neural functions producing his shrill diatribes.)
Most of what we have learned about the reality of this administration—and the disconcerting
mind-set and decision-making process of President Bush himself—has come not from the White House
or the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security or the Treasury Department, but from insider
accounts by [A]
disaffected members of the administration after their departure, and from distinguished journalists,
and, in the case of a skeletal but hugely significant body of information, from a special
prosecutor. And also, of late, from an aide-de-camp to the British prime minister. Almost
invariably, their accounts have revealed what the president and those serving him have deliberately
torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and
its apparent authorization by presidential fiat; [C]
wholesale N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in
contravention of specific prohibitive law; [D]
brutal interrogations of prisoners shipped
secretly by the C.I.A. and U.S. military to Third World gulags; [E]
the nonexistence of W.M.D. in Iraq; [F]
the role of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief
of staff in divulging the name of an undercover C.I.A. employee; [G]
the non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in
the events of 9/11; [H]
the death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman
(whose mother, Mary Tillman, told journalist Robert Scheer, "The administration tried to attach
themselves to his virtue and then they wiped their feet with him"); [I]
the lack of a coherent post-invasion strategy
for Iraq, with all its consequent tragedy and loss and destabilizing global implications; the
failure to coordinate economic policies for America's long-term financial health (including the
misguided tax cuts) with funding a war that will drive the national debt above a trillion dollars; [J]
the assurance of Wolfowitz (since rewarded by
Bush with the presidency of the World Bank) that Iraq's oil reserves would pay for the war within
two to three years after the invasion; and Bush's like-minded confidence, expressed to Blair, that
serious internecine strife in Iraq would be unlikely after the invasion. Editor's
note: This ¶11
is such a tour-de-force in syntactical ineptitude in
aggregating diatribes that I've added bracketed sub-paragraph designations-- [A],
[B], etc.-- to facilitate responses in ¶11
somehow comforts himself with the lower-than-average rate of self-serving, caustic criticisms of a
presidential administration by "disaffected
[insiders] ... after their departure" as though it
were a higher-than-average rate. (Remember when Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, Cyrus
Vance, resigned over Carter having authorized the ill-fated attempt for a military rescue of our
hostages in the American Embassy in Tehran?) One must search in vain to find any
"distinguished journalist" with genuine insight into Bush's "mind-set
and decision-making process" (rather than the neurally masturbatory "insights"
claimed by outspoken and barely-transparently antagonists of Bush in the FDM) who would characterize
Bush's "mind-set" or "decision-making process" as generically
"disconcerting." That's not to say there are not genuinely distinguished
journalists (translate: commentators) who have expressed strong criticism of Bush. What
President in all of American history has failed to generate criticism (even strong criticism) from
his own supporters? If you answer is "none," give yourself an "A."
Regarding the post-invasion-of-Iraq war-at-any-price characterization of the Bush/Blair strategy by
to Blair, see above regarding Jimmy Carter's Cyrus Vance.
Bernstein asserts that "the
president... deliberately concealed ... torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."
Regarding Abu Ghraib, it's useful to remember that the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast
characterizing itself as an exposé of "torture at Abu Ghraib," it was reporting on an
ongoing, well-under-way military investigation previously announced to the world by the military,
which investigation (like civilian grand-jury investigations) was subject to legal
proscriptions and requirements set by military law (enacted by Congress). Indeed, in
broadcasting the report at that time, CBS 60 Minutes ignored pleas from the then Joint Chiefs of
Staff Chairman, Gen. Richard Myers, to delay such broadcast to avoid impeding the military's ability
to conduct the investigation in accordance with the law and to exhibit due sensitivity to the potentially
adverse battlefield effects of premature reporting speciously implying that such investigation would
not be thorough or comport with our law. [Regarding that 60 Minutes broadcast, see http://polisat.com/images/CBSNewsContemptForTheTroops.gif
Regarding Guantanamo, see ¶39, infra.
What Bernstein mischaracterizes as "wholesale
N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in contravention of specific prohibitive law," is what anyone not
living under a rock understands to have been without-warrants wiretapping of communications into the
U.S. from terror suspects abroad (and vice-versa) bears about the same relationship to
"wholesale domestic wiretapping" as warrantless stop-and-question procedures by police
bear to "wholesale" search-and-seizure invasions of private residences. If
Bernstein's icons on the left choose to run on such mischaracterization of the issue the 2006
Senate/House elections, they'll be doing Bush a favor by charging off a cliff (see also ¶01,
Regarding Bernstein's assertion that Bush "deliberately
concealed .... brutal interrogations of prisoners shipped secretly by the C.I.A. and U.S. military
to Third World gulags," see ¶39, infra.
Bernstein's assertion of the "nonexistence
of WMD in Iraq [before the war]" is evidence that
Bernstein fails to understand that absence of proof (now) is not proof of absence (then). In
fact, there's far more evidence that chemical and biological weapons existed in pre-war Iraq than
there is to support virtually any of Bernstein's reckless assertions and mischaracterizations in his
commentary. Indeed, there were infinitely more "dots" connecting to form a picture
of WMD stockpiles in pre-war Iraq than pre-9-11 "dots" connecting to form a picture of
that impending attack, which "dots" Bernstein's icons on the fringe left are fond of
claiming Bush "ignored."
Bernstein also alleges that Bush "deliberately
the role of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of
staff in divulging the name of an undercover C.I.A. employee."
Not only does Bernstein ignore that the special prosecutor, Fitzgerald, been unable to charge anyone
with criminality for "divulging" that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA; he also ignores
the fact that most of the "dots" about Valerie Plame's status before Robert Novak's
column, which is alleged to have "outed" her, make it abundantly clear that neither she
nor her husband, Joe Wilson, had conformed their social and political behavior and professional
conduct to the standards one would expect to be followed by a "covert" CIA employee and
the husband of same-- indeed, her and her husband's pre-Novak-column lifestyle and conduct created
enough "dots" for all but the most obtuse "foreign agent" (as well as all but
the most obtuse Beltway socialites and members of the media well-connected into the Beltway social
scene and Georgetown cocktail circuit) to know she worked for the CIA. See sources described and linked in the following: http://polisat.com/du2003/du030930.htm#20030930-01;
CIA employees genuinely perceiving themselves to be "covert" (in contrast to
merely still retaining some degree of bureaucratic classification short of being
"publicly" identified as a CIA employee) tend to scrupulously attempt to avoid even
accidentally (much less intentionally) create such "dots."
Bernstein alleges that Bush "deliberately
concealed ... the
non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the events of 9/11,"
which assertion is yet another manifestation of Bernstein's apparent inability to grasp the concept
that absence of proof is not proof of absence. There were more than ample pre-Iraq-war
"dots" from which one could have reasonably inferred possibly indirect abetting, if not
aiding, in the 9-11 plot by Iraqi intelligence agents, and it's a virtual certainty that there was
an absence of "dots" logically capable of proving the opposite.
Bernstein also attempts to glom onto the grief of
Pat Tillman's parents and their anger over the mishandling of the inquiry into the circumstances of
his death. He asserts that Bush "deliberately
concealed ... the
death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman." To
sympathize with them in their grief (and anger over being misled) does not warrant the illogic of
condemning the military for having publicized and attempted to honor the nobility of Tillman's
sacrifice of millions of dollars as a professional football player in favor of serving his country for
comparatively meager financial reward. Before Tillman's death, when the military sought
to use him as what anti-war critics would describe as a "poster boy" for recruitment, did
Tillman's parents object to such efforts? Apparently not. Why would anyone who actually
supports our military find that objectionable? (Well, there are, of course, those
fringe-lefties who oppose allowing the military to recruit on college campuses.) Is there any
evidence for Bernstein to attribute to Bush the apparently bungled aspects of, and possible
misconduct in, the investigation of Tillman's death? In a captain-of-the-ship sense, any
president is "responsible" for misdeeds of his crew, but Bernstein seems unable to grasp
the difference between "responsibility" and "culpability."
Bernstein says Bush "deliberately
concealed ... the
lack of a coherent post-invasion strategy for Iraq."
That's like interpreting the Battle of the Bulge as evidence that Eisenhower had lacked a
"coherent post-[Normandy-landing] strategy for [freeing Europe]." Did Bush
almost certainly expect more success sooner? Of course. Does the inevitable necessity to
modify strategic plans render the pre-modified plans "incoherent"? If that's the
test, the strategies for virtually all undertakings on a comparable scale could be viewed in
hindsight as having been "lack[ing in] coheren[ce]." Bernstein also claims
that Bush "deliberately concealed
.... the failure to coordinate economic policies
for America's long-term financial health (including the misguided tax cuts) with funding a war that
will drive the national debt above a trillion dollars."
Would America's "long term financial health" be better if we were to have allowed Saddam
Hussein remain in power, covertly reconstitute his weapons programs and covertly support those who
would terrorize our allies and us?
By syntactical error, Bernstein accuses Bush of
"deliberately concealing ... the assurance
of Wolfowitz (since rewarded by Bush with the presidency of the World Bank) that Iraq's oil reserves
would pay for the war within two to three years after the invasion."
Not only did Bush not "conceal" such assurance; he (through Rumsfeld and other
administration officials) public touted it. But despite Bernstein's syntactical error, it's
obvious he meant to claim that Bush "deliberately conceal[ed his clairvoyant perception that
such] 'assurance' [was overly optimistic]." Given the pre-war confidence that Bush,
Rumsfeld and our military planners had that our special-forces teams would be able to prevent
massive destruction of Iraq's oil industry between the launching, and conclusion, of the invasion, and
given the fact that they were virtually 100% successful in attaining that goal, there was more than
ample reason for Bush to have expected such "assurance" to be proven reliable.
However, the war against Medieval Islamic Fascism and Baathist Totalitarianism in Iraq has drawn
more-than-expected pre-Iraq-war ideological enemies of the human-rights values of Western
democracies (best exemplified by the United States) into terroristic warfare in Iraq, which they hope
will prevent successful evolution of such rights in Iraq. However, those ideological
enemies of human rights would not have otherwise been serving as volunteers in middle-east versions
of the Kiwanis Club; rather, they would more likely have been able to devote their resources to
striking the West at weaker points. It's not sophistry to recognize that absent the toppling
of Saddam Hussein, those same people would be directly involved in, or at the very least lending
indirect support to, expansion of terroristic warfare against the West in general and the United
States in particular. Indeed, by now, absent Saddam having been toppled by Bush, Saddam would
have now had more than three years (following collapse of sanctions that would have accompanied a
mid-2003 conclusion by Hans Blix that there were "no WMD's" to be found in Iraq) to
reconstitute his WMD programs and resume his pre-Iraq-war efforts to acquire enriched uranium
(notwithstanding Joe Wilson's false assertions that Saddam had not attempted to do so). Saddam
would now be in a position to strike a covert, collaborative bargain with al Qaeda against a common
enemy-- the United States-- in exchange for al Qaeda not overtly supporting Islamic dissidents
against Saddam's regime. Just as Stalin and Hitler made pre-World-War-II pacts for their own
tactical advantages, both al Qaeda and Saddam's Baathists would have perceived such tactical
agreement as one to serve their own strategic interests despite the incompatibility their respective
long-term strategies and goals. To have expected Saddam Hussein (and al Qaeda) to
have done otherwise would be to have expected the Godfather (one of Saddam's favorite
icons/role-models in addition to Joseph Stalin) to become a "legitimate businessman" or
for a sociopathic pedophile to become a great protector of children.
But most grievous and momentous is the willingness—even enthusiasm, confirmed by the so-called
Downing Street Memo and the contemporaneous notes of the chief foreign-policy adviser to British
prime minister Tony Blair—to invent almost any justification for going to war in Iraq (including
sending up an American U-2 plane painted with U.N. markings to be deliberately shot down by Saddam
Hussein's air force, a plan hatched while the president, the vice president, and Blair insisted to
the world that war would be initiated "only as a last resort"). Attending the meeting
between Bush and Blair where such duplicity was discussed unabashedly ("intelligence and
facts" would be jiggered as necessary and "fixed around the policy," wrote the
dutiful aide to the prime minister) were Ms. Rice, then national-security adviser to the president,
and Andrew Card, the recently departed White House chief of staff.
The "so-called Downing Street Memo"
reflects Blair's foreign-policy advisor's interpretation of planning that, in essence, recognized
the need to battle propaganda with propaganda. Fighting (or preparing for) a physical war
without fighting (or preparing to fight) the opponent's propaganda war is to reduce the chances of
success in fighting (or becoming prepared to fight) a physical war. That American U-2 planes
were flying over Iraq under U.N. auspices (to facilitate "inspections" and observations of
efforts to deceive inspectors) was not merely known but was overtly revealed to the public.
Indeed, I remember seeing a news interview with an American U-2 pilot flying over Iraq for such
stated purpose. Bernstein's mischaracterization of this is nothing less than jaw-dropping.
Bernstein also seeks to make much of a British advisor having written that Blair, Bush, Card, and Rice, inter alia, agreed that
"'intelligence and facts' would be jiggered as necessary and 'fixed around the policy.'"
That a foreign advisor less-than-enthusiastic about the foreign policy would characterize the
strategy in such way is not shocking. Planning ways to most effectively frame the facts
around an issue is an integral part of statecraft but apparently not a part of Bernstein's
repertoire of journalistic skills. Would Bernstein consider Cyrus Vance's
pre-military-rescue-attempt objections to Jimmy Carter to have been the equivalent of a
"Downing Street Memo"? Of course not.
As with Watergate, the investigation of George W. Bush and his presidency needs to start from a
shared premise and set of principles that can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans, by liberals
and centrists and conservatives, and by opponents of the war and its advocates: that the president
of the United States and members of his administration must defend the requirements of the
Constitution, obey the law, demonstrate common sense, and tell the truth. Obviously there will be
disagreements, even fierce ones, along the way. Here again the Nixon example is useful: Republicans
on the Senate Watergate Committee, including its vice chairman, Howard Baker of Tennessee
("What did the president know and when did he know it?"), began the investigation as
defenders of Nixon. By its end, only one was willing to make any defense of Nixon's actions.
Bernstein's "premise" ("that the
president of the United States and members of his administration must defend the requirements of the
Constitution, obey the law, demonstrate common sense, and tell the truth")
is one that's easily shared but does not lead to the conclusion he advocates. (However, he's
right in unwittingly pointing out that Republicans showed more integrity in Watergate than Democrats
showed in Clinton's Perjury/Obstruction-of-Justice-Gate.) (Buy the way, I'm not a Republican;
nor am I a Democrat.)
The Senate Watergate Committee was created (by a 77 to 0 vote of the Senate) with the formal
task of investigating illegal political-campaign activities. Its seven members were chosen by the
leadership of each party, three from the minority, four from the majority. (The Democratic majority
leader of the Senate, Mike Mansfield, insisted that none of the Democrats be high-profile senators
with presidential aspirations.) One of the crucial tasks of any committee charged with investigating
the Bush presidency will be to delineate the scope of inquiry. It must not be a fishing
expedition—and not only because the pond is so loaded with fish. The lines ought to be drawn so
that the hearings themselves do not become the occasion for the ultimate battle of the culture wars.
This investigation should be seen as an opportunity to at last rise above the culture wars and, as
in Watergate, learn whether the actions of the president and his deputies have been consistent with
constitutional principles, the law, and the truth.
What's most laughable about this highly-repetitive diatribe by Bernstein is that it
reads like a manifesto for the fringe-left culture war against Bush. By the way, I'm also not
religious-- I'm a non-theist without the overt hostility toward non-fanatical religion too often
exhibited by another non-believer whom I otherwise admire (despite his lack of enthusiasm for
capitalism): Christopher Hitchens. (Although Hitchens is a great intellect, his best
intellectual prowess was surprisingly at rest when he joined a group challenging, and
mischaracterizing, the warrantless intercepts of telecommunications from suspected terrorists to
persons inside the United States and vice-versa.)
Karl Rove and other White House strategists are betting (with odds in their favor) that
Republicans on Capitol Hill are extremely unlikely to take the high road before November and endorse
any kind of serious investigation into Bush's presidency—a gamble that may increase the risk of
losing Republican majorities in either or both houses of Congress, and even further undermine the
future of the Bush presidency. Already in the White House, there is talk of a nightmare scenario in
which the Democrats successfully make the November congressional elections a referendum on
impeachment—and the congressional Republicans' lockstep support for Bush—and win back a majority
in the House, and maybe the Senate too.
Like the preceding paragraph, this one is laughable but for a different reason: It equates a
willingness to take Bernstein's low-road diatribe seriously as the sine qua non for "tak[ing]
the high road."
But voting now to create a Senate investigation—chaired by a Republican—could work to the
advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves
and the White House.
This suggestion would, of course, provide cover for an otherwise politically suicidal
pro-impeachment Democratic campaign-theme seeking election (or re-election) this fall by enabling them to say,
"Even Republicans want an investigation into whether Bush should be impeached," after
which they would add, "but vote to give Democrats control of both houses because the
Republicans will prematurely end such 'investigation' after the election."
Bernstein claims this strategy would "work
to the advantage of ... Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White
House." What planet does
Bernstein live on? (Pardon my ending this cliché with a preposition-- as Churchill was
fond of saying, "A preposition is something up with which one should not end a sentence.")
The calculations of politicians about their
electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous
five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency.
Contrary to Bernstein's assertion, "the most disastrous five years of decision-making in any
modern American presidency" were the last five years of Clinton's administration, during which
time (to paraphrase Bob Kerrey) we knew al Qaeda was at war with us but we weren't at war with them
and were instead viewing their activities as law-enforcement problems.
There are huge differences between the Nixon presidency and this
one, of course, but surprisingly few would appear to redound to this administration's benefit,
including even the fundamental question of the competence of the president.
Lincoln was viewed by contemporaries as "incompetent" until the War Between the States
ended. Bernstein confuses "competence" with his leftist theology.
First and foremost among the differences may be the role of the vice president. The excesses of
Watergate—the crimes, the lies, the trampling of the Constitution, the disregard for the
institutional integrity of the presidency, the dutiful and even enthusiastic lawbreaking of Nixon's
apparatchiks—stemmed from one aberrant president's psyche and the paranoid assumptions that issued
from it, and from the notion shared by some of his White House acolytes that, because U. S. troops
were fighting a war—especially a failing one against a determined, guerrilla enemy in
Vietnam—the commander in chief could assume extraordinary powers nowhere assigned in the
Constitution and govern above the rule of law. "When the president does it that means that it
is not illegal," Nixon famously told David Frost.
Bush and Cheney have been hardly less succinct about the president's duty and right to assume
unprecedented authority nowhere specified in the Constitution. "Especially in the day and age
we live in … the president of the United States needs to have his Constitutional powers
unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national-security policy," Cheney said less
than four months ago.
Much of what the United States Supreme Court has found to be included among inherent powers of the
three branches is "nowhere specified in the Constitution," and among such unspecified,
inherent powers is the Supreme Court's declaration in the early Nineteenth Century that it had the
power to declare congressional legislation and/or executive actions "unconstitutional."
Thus, just as it would be correct for a Supreme Court to assert that it "needs to have [its]
Constitutional powers unimpaired," it was constitutionally correct for Cheney to say "the
president of the United States needs to have his Constitutional powers unimpaired" --
especially on issues of national-security, with reference to which too many legislators head for the
tall grass at the first sound of trouble.
Bush's doctrine of "unimpairment"—at one with his tendency to trim the truth—may
be (with the question of his competence) the nub of the national nightmare. "I have the
authority, both from the Constitution and the Congress, to undertake this vital program," Bush
said after more than a few Republican and conservative eminences said he did not and joined the
chorus of outrage about his N.S.A. domestic-surveillance program.
I, like many constitutional scholars, agree with Bush on this issue. In an era of world-wide,
speed-of-light communications and rapidly changing technology, I'd almost want to impeach a president
unwilling to authorize warrantless wiretaps of communications from suspected terrorists to persons
within the United States and vice-versa.
"Terrorism is not the only new danger of this era," noted George F. Will, the
conservative columnist. "Another is the administration's argument that because the president is
commander in chief, he is the 'sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs' … [which] is refuted
by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund
and regulate military forces, and make laws 'necessary and proper' for the execution of all
George Will is one of my favorite writers, but like the rest of us, his judgment isn't correct on
every issue. (Bernstein's name-dropping quotation of George Will, who is not an advocate of
impeachment, serves the same purpose of the Democrats desperately wanting to be able to say
"Even some Republicans favor investigating Bush.")
A voluminous accumulation of documentary and journalistic evidence suggests that the policies
and philosophy of this administration that may be unconstitutional or illegal stem not just from
Bush but from Cheney as well—hence there's even greater necessity for a careful, methodical
investigation under Senate auspices before any consideration of impeachment in the House and its
mischievous potential to create the mother of all partisan, ideological, take-no-prisoners battles,
which would even further divide the Congress and the country.
The unintended transparency of this effort by Bernstein to clothe his ideological body in non-partisan attire
obviates the need for such comments to be countered or taken seriously.
Cheney's recognition of the danger to him and his patron by a re-assertion of the Watergate
precedent of proper congressional oversight is not hard to fathom. Illegal wiretapping—among other
related crimes—was the basis of one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon passed by the
House Judiciary Committee. The other two were defiance of subpoenas and obstruction of justice in
the Watergate cover-up. "Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both
during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority … [that] the president needs to be
effective, especially in the national-security area," Cheney has observed. Nixon did not share
his decision-making, much less philosophizing, with his vice president, and never relegated his own
judgment to a number two. Former secretary of state Colin Powell's ex-chief of staff, retired army
colonel Larry Wilkerson, has attested, "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of
the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues
that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."
The distilled essence of the premise of this paragraph is that with respect to "critical
issues," leaders duly elected (or duly appointed and confirmed by elected leaders) must not make
"decisions that the bureaucracy [does] not know [are] being made." My understanding
of our form of government is that such leaders are supposed to make such decisions, after which they
are expected to issue instructions to bureaucracies, who are then expected to obey them unless such
instructions were to be self-evidently criminal or unconstitutional. In our form of
government, un-elected bureaucrats are not our protection against leaders responsible to the
voters-- instead, it's the other way around. Indeed, what most successful congressmen
(congress-humans) do is bend stubborn, entrenched bureaucracies to the wills of their constituents
(to their will as elected leaders).
Here it may be relevant that Powell has, in private, made statements interpreted by many
important figures in Washington as seemingly questioning Cheney's emotional stability, and that
Powell no longer recognizes the steady, dependable "rock" with whom he served in the
administration of George W. Bush's father. Powell needs to be asked under oath about his reported
observations regarding Cheney, not to mention his own appearance before the United Nations in which
he spoke with assurance about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and
insisted that the United States was seeking a way to avoid war, not start it.
I know not who are (and whether there are) "important figures in Washington" who have
inferred that Powell intended to imply that Cheney is emotionally unstable. I doubt that if
Powell were to believe it to be so that he would merely hint about, rather than
overtly expressing, such belief. One of the problems with people such as Bernstein is that
they tend to think others think the way they do. It's the same phenomenon that makes a liar
distrustful of others and an honest person sometimes too trusting for his own good.
Because Powell was regarded by some as the administration "good guy," who was
prescient in his anxiety about Bush's determination to go to war in Iraq ("You break it, you
own it"), he should not be handed a pass exempting him from tough questioning in a
congressional investigation. Indeed, Powell is probably more capable than any other witness of
providing both fact and context to the whole story of the road to war and the actions of Bush,
Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the others.
Dream on, Bernstein. Powell may have been a dissenter in some respects, but he's not a hatchet
man, nor is he prone to the kind of ideologically venomously vitriolic invective as is Bernstein's
stock in trade.
One of the similarities between Bush and Nixon is their contempt,
lip service aside, for the legitimate oversight of Congress. In seeking to cover up his secret,
illegal activities, Nixon made broad claims of executive privilege or national security, the most
important of which were rejected by the courts.
Every president has a duty to protect what he (and presidents before him) believe to be inherent components of the
executive-branch power just as the Supreme Court Justices and Senators and Representatives Congress have duties to do
likewise for their own respective branches. The
existence of a power struggle between or among the three branches is not a sign that the
Constitution isn't working or that a president seeking to preserve traditional executive powers
thereby becomes a suitable target for impeachment. Bernstein and his left-fringe
soul-mates tend to view any such assertion of inherent power by any non-leftist President as an act
of criminality rather than a constitutionally legitimate effort to preserve constitutional powers of
the Presidency in the context of such struggle.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues have successfully evaded accountability for the
dire consequences of their policies through a tried-and-true strategy that has exploited a situation
in which the press (understandably) has no subpoena power and is held in ill repute (understandably)
by so many Americans, and the Republican-controlled Congress can be counted on to ignore its
responsibility to compel relevant, forthright testimony and evidence—no matter how outrageous
(failure to provide sufficient body armor for American soldiers, for example), mendacious, or
inimical to the national interest the actions of the president and his principal aides might be.
Writings such as this piece by Bernstein, is one of the reasons "the press
... is held in ill repute ... by so many Americans." Regarding "body
armor," it's a sad fact that no military planning can anticipate all contingencies and how and
when they will arise relative to other contingencies. Adaptability to changing circumstances
is an essential characteristic of a successful military, but foreseeing all possible relationships
among a staggering number of contingencies is beyond the kin of any military forced to live within
the real world and at the mercy of legislative funding processes that sometimes force the military
into what hindsight may show to have been a less-than-optimal allocation of funds to resources to
maximize accomplishment of a mission while minimizing risks to the troops. Manifestly, the
failure of the military to correctly predict the quantity and quality of body armor likely to be
needed is not grist for the impeachment mill.
As in Watergate, the Bush White House has, at almost every opportunity when endangered by the
prospect of accountability, made the conduct of the press the issue instead of the misconduct of the
president and his aides, and, with help from its Republican and conservative allies in and out of
Congress, questioned the patriotism of the other party. As during the Nixon epoch, the strategy is
finally wearing thin. "He's smoking Dutch Cleanser," said Specter when Bush's attorney
general claimed legality for the president's secret order authorizing the wiretapping of Americans
by the N.S.A.—first revealed in The New York Times in December.
This is laughable. It's the fringe-left that questions Bush's patriotism by accusing him of
"war crimes" and impeachable offenses. If that's not "questioning" his "patriotism," I
don't know what is. It was Al Gore, who said of Bush (and not Bush who said of Al Gore):
"He betrayed this country." (Actually, Al Gore didn't "say"
it, he bellowed it in the demagogic style and tone of Elmer Gantry condemning "sinners" to
Before the Times story had broken, the president was ardent about his civil-libertarian
credentials in such matters: "Any time you hear the United States government talking about
wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're
talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do
so," Bush said in a speech in Buffalo, New York, in April 2004.
Anyone with common sense would know he was describing domestic-only wiretaps. Ordinary people
with ordinary common sense would assume that the government would covertly tap communications
between enemy combatants abroad and persons in the United States. Ordinary people with
ordinary common sense understand the need for "real time" information on the intentions of
enemy combatants and their leaders in order to protect our forces as well as prevent attacks on
civilian targets or on our allies. This is war, not law-enforcement.
Obviously, Bush's statement was demonstrably untrue. Yet instead of correcting himself, Bush
attacked the Times for virtual treason, and his aides initiated a full-court press to track
down whoever had provided information to the newspaper. "Our enemies have learned information
they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security
and puts our citizens at risk," he declared, as if America's terrorist enemies hadn't assumed
they were subject to all manner of electronic eavesdropping by the world's most technologically
Bush's statement was not "demonstrably untrue"
except in the minds of listeners lacking common sense. Bernstein's last sentence in this
paragraph unwittingly makes the point-- i.e., that "America's
terrorist enemies ... [have] assumed they were subject to all manner of electronic eavesdropping by
the world's most technologically sophisticated nation," which is the same assumption made by Americans with common sense. The difference is that at least some of those enemy
combatants may have assumed that our wire-tap procedures would be too cumbersome to timely
intercept all communications. For example, until recent improvements in telephone-tracking
technology, criminals (such as kidnappers) routinely assumed that the inherent delay in the process
for "tracing" a telephone call would always provide them with a temporal zone of safety
for brief communications to or from unexpected locations. Thus, the New York Times'
revelations emphasizing the absence of cumbersome procedures for domestic/foreign communications
served to put our adversaries on notice to narrow what they may have previously perceived to be
their temporal zone of safety.
As in the Nixon White House, the search for leakers and others in the executive branch who might
be truthful with reporters has become a paranoid preoccupation in the Bush White House.
"Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our
country," Bush added. (The special prosecutor's revelation that Bush himself—through
Cheney—was ultimately behind Scooter Libby's leaking to undermine Joseph Wilson has ironically
caused Bush more damage among Republican members of Congress than far more grievous acts by the
Joe Wilson claimed to have acquired "evidence" to "refute" the Bush
Administration's assertion that Saddam Hussein "had attempted" to acquire yellow-cake
uranium "in Africa." In fact, none of the "evidence" he found was capable
of refuting such assertion; rather, the "evidence" on which he relied was a stout denial
(perhaps even a convincing denial) that Saddam Hussein had not succeeded in actually acquiring
yellow-cake from Niger notwithstanding what appeared to be a forged document purporting to show the
contrary. Indeed, one of the Senate Committees found that Saddam Hussein had in fact attempted
to establish arrangements for acquiring yellow-cake in Africa. That Bush authorized
declassification of information to counter what appeared to be disinformation disseminated by Wilson
in the form of a New York Times article proves nothing more than that Bush did what he should
have done under the circumstances by declassifying pertinent information. If that entire
episode proves anything, it is that Valerie Plame was functioning as a political mole within
the CIA to facilitate selective leaks of information through her husband designed to discredit Bush
and assist her and Wilson's preferred candidate-- i.e., whichever Democrat (and especially
John Kerry) were to run
against Bush. See also ¶11[F], supra.
The irony of the Valerie Plame affair, like the Watergate break-in itself, is its relative
insignificance in terms of the greater transgressions of a presidency that has gone off the tracks.
The "third-rate burglary," as it was famously dismissed by Nixon's press secretary, Ron
Ziegler, was actually the key to unlocking the rest of the White House secrets and their cover-up by
the President and his men. Absent the knowledge of those other illegal activities of the Nixon
presidency, the vehemence with which Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman, Ziegler, Colson, et al. denied any
knowledge of the Watergate break-in, or even its tangential connection to the White House, never
made such sense.
See ¶11[F] and ¶32, supra.
As in the case of the Watergate break-in and the Nixon White House, it is now evident that the
Plame investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has opened the door to larger questions
of transgression: at minimum giving clarity to how far this president and his men and women have
been willing to go to protect their knowledge of the false premises and pretenses on which they went
to war and sold it to the Congress, the people, the press, the United Nations, and the world.
See ¶11[F] and ¶32, supra.
Contrary to all the denials of the President's spokesman, Scott McClellan, the White House
sought "to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson," according to the
special prosecutor. And, Fitzgerald told the U. S. District Court, "It is hard to conceive of
what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to punish
Assuming, arguendo, that this is an accurate quotation of Fitzgerald, he's entitled to his
opinion as a prosecutor. I don't remember Bernstein quoting Ken Starr's opinions as through
they were immutable truths. More important, the existence of valid reasons to correct
disinformation spread by Joe Wilson makes it irrelevant whether making such corrections brought
emotional satisfaction to "the White House." See also ¶11[F] and ¶32,
supra. It's always satisfying to discredit a disinformantionist, and if the
disinformationist feels thereby "punished," so what?
Lost in most accounts of the complicated Plame backstory is its relevance in terms of Bush's
2004 re-election, and hence the obvious concern by Rove and other presidential deputies: that if
Wilson's credentials and information were not undermined they would serve as confirmation during the
presidential campaign that Bush had knowingly used false claims (that Saddam Hussein had been trying
to seek nuclear materials from Niger) in his 2003 State of the Union address to publicly justify
going to war.
It's demonstrably false as a matter of record for Bernstein to state that "Bush
had knowingly used false claims (that Saddam Hussein had been trying to seek nuclear materials from
Niger) in his 2003 State of the Union address to publicly justify going to war."
(Bold/italics added.) Having been informed that Wilson had claimed to have discredited the
report that Saddam Hussein had made arrangements to acquire yellow-cake "from Niger,"
Bush's State of the Union address said that "British Intelligence" found he was trying to
acquire it "in Africa," and those British Intelligence reports were independent of, and
unrelated to, the "from Niger" connection Wilson claimed to have debunked. See
also ¶11[F] and ¶32, supra.
The parallel with potential damage from Watergate to Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign is almost
eerie (and equally complicated): if the insistent denials about White House involvement in the
Watergate break-in had been proven false at the time, or the door opened on the other illegal
activities of the President and his men, Nixon might have been a far more vulnerable candidate for
re-election in 1972.
It's self-evident that Bush would not have wanted the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame incident to serve as
a basis for disseminating further disinformation by them and/or their supporters. So what?
Literally dozens of investigations have been ordered at the C.I.A., the Pentagon, the National
Security Agency, and elsewhere in the executive branch to find out who is talking to the press about
secret activities undertaken in Bush's presidency. These include polygraph investigations and a
warning to the press that reporters may be prosecuted under espionage laws.
So what? What's the purpose of laws prohibiting leaking of classified information if it's
considered sinister for the executive branch to try to enforce them?
Bush's self-claimed authority to wiretap without a court order—like his self-claimed authority
to hold prisoners of war indefinitely without habeas corpus (on grounds those in custody are
suspected "terrorists")—stems from the same doctrine of "unimpairment" and all
its Nixonian overtones: "The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil
liberties, and that's exactly what we're doing with this [N.S.A. eavesdropping] program,"
asserted Bush in January.
Regarding what Bernstein describes as "Bush's
self-claimed authority to wiretap without a court order"
see ¶30 and ¶31, supra. Bernstein likewise disparages what
describes as Bush's "self-claimed authority
to hold prisoners of war indefinitely without habeas corpus (on grounds those in custody are
Habeas corpus applies to law enforcement not warfare. Lincoln correctly declined to allow
Confederate prisoners of war to invoke "habeas corpus" remedies-- and those were actual
soldiers wearing uniforms and generally conforming their behavior to the rules of war as then
understood. Apart from Bernstein's specious "habeas corpus" argument is the issue of
the extent to which, if at all, requirements of the Geneva Convention apply to the detainees at
Guantanamo. Since they were not uniformed solders, then they're not entitled to the rights the
Geneva Convention accords uniformed solders-- especially since a primary purpose of the Geneva
Convention was to provide a body of rights as an incentive for combatants to wear uniforms and obey
the laws of war. Combatants captured in the process of collaborating with terrorists are
entitled to little more than humane treatment and are subject to confinement until such time when,
or circumstances under which, they would no longer pose any threat to our forces or our country, period.
Military tribunals may be imperfect, but they are more than sufficient to enable our military to
determine whether a particular detainee was mistakenly identified as a terrorist or collaborator
with terrorists. In our criminal-justice system, we're fond of saying that we want rights
accorded to those charged with crimes to be sufficient to allow 10 guilty people to go free rather
than for one innocent person to be wrongly convicted. In our warfare against the Islamic
fanatics, many of whom have failed to detonate a nuclear bomb in our country only because they
haven't yet been able to get their hands on one, we can't afford those odds.
When Nixon's former attorney general John N. Mitchell was
compelled to testify before the Watergate Committee, he laid out the sordid "White House
horrors," as he called them—activities undertaken in the name of national security by the
low-level thugs and high-level presidential aides acting in the president's name. Mitchell, loyal to
the end, pictured the whole crowd, from Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Colson down to Liddy and the
Watergate burglars, as self-starters, acting without authority from Nixon. The tapes, of course,
told the real story—wiretapping, break-ins, attempts to illegally manipulate the outcome of the
electoral process, routine smearing of the president's opponents and intricate machinations to
render it untraceable, orders to firebomb a liberal think tank, the Watergate cover-up, and their
origin in the Oval Office.
The only similarity between Watergate, to which Bernstein keeps referring in an obsessive fashion,
and the circumstances about which he's written this current diatribe against Bush is Bernstein's
writing as "a journalist" in both situations.
In the case of the Bush administration's two attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto
Gonzales, there are indications that—as in the Nixon White House—they approved and/or
promulgated policies (horrors?) that would appear intended to enable the president to circumvent the
Constitution and the law.
See ¶42, infra.
Ashcroft expressed reservations as early as 2004 about the legality of the wiretapping authority
claimed by Bush, according to recent disclosures in the press, but Ashcroft's doubts—and the
unwillingness of his principal deputy attorney general to approve central aspects of the N.S.A.
domestic eavesdropping plan—were not made known to the Congress. Gonzales, as White House counsel,
drew up the guidelines authorizing torture at American-run prisons and U.S. exemption from the
Geneva war-crimes conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners. (His memo to the president
described provisions of the conventions as "quaint.")
So what if Ashcroft in fact expressed "reservations" attributed to him by Bernstein in
this paragraph? Cyrus Vance "expressed reservations" about Jimmy Carter's decision
for a military mission to attempt to rescue the hostages in Tehran. Did that by inference
warrant a conclusion that in doing so Carter was exceeding his constitutional authority by
undertaking military actions that theoretically might have engulfed us in a full-scale war
with tends of thousands of casualties? Of course not. In light of the historic tendency
of politicians to "leak" (for partisan purposes) what they've learned from an executive
branch run by their political opponents, it's neither surprising nor wrong nor unconstitutional for
the executive branch to seek to maximize its constitutional powers to limit the extent of
disclosures of militarily sensitive information and operations. Regarding Bernstein's
disparagement of Gonzales' use of the term "quaint" to describe alleged applicability of
Geneva Convention provisions (designed for uniformed combatants and in some instances and to a
lesser degree designed to encompass some types of non-uniformed combatants), common sense makes it
self-evident that it would be "quaint" to treat Islamic fanatics dedicated to terroristic
tactics as being entitled to the legal rights accorded early-Twentieth-Century combatants in
traditional, uniformed armies generally obeying the laws of war.
"Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country," said Bush when
confronted with the undeniable, photographic evidence of torture. "We do not condone torture. I
have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that
torture is not a part of our soul and our being." The available facts would indicate this was
an unusually evident example of presidential prevarication, but we will never know exactly how
untruthful, or perhaps just slippery, until the president and the White House are compelled to
cooperate with a real congressional investigation.
need not, and for purposes of accuracy should not, condemn the harsh treatment of some prisoners at
Abu Ghraib by some military personnel as "torture." Use of non-physically-harmful
humiliation or intimidation is simply not "torture." That particular incidents at
Abu Ghraib involved treatment of prisoners in manners that were contrary to U.S. Military Law and/or
the Geneva Conventions and/or morally offensive does not mean that such instances of mistreatment
constituted "torture." (To condemn the instances of mistreatment of prisoners at Abu
Ghraib does not require or warrant description of same as "torture"-- see http://polisat.com/du2004/du0405-01--10.htm#20040505-01.)
In the law, we draw distinctions between countless kinds of behavior on the (correct) theory that
such distinctions matter. We don't describe as a "pedophile" someone convicted of
contributing to the delinquency of minors by hosting a party at which they allowed teenagers to
consume beer. Many words have broader connotations in general usage than in particular legal
contexts. The law can't control the former but must control the latter. Thus, the law
can't substitute journalists' definitions for legal definitions of particular legal terms of art.
(If you want to know the full range of my views on "torture" versus
"mistreatment" in order to place my comments herein into perspective, see the following:
Bernstein's intellectual carelessness with substantive and vital differences between
"torture" and harsh treatment or mistreatment is at least consistent with his intellectual
carelessness in other contexts as well (such as his statement in ¶43
available facts would indicate this was an unusually evident example of presidential prevarication,
but we will never know exactly how untruthful ... [blah,
That statement by Bush, in June 2004, in response to worldwide outrage at the infamous Abu
Ghraib photographs, illustrates two related, core methodologies employed by this president and his
cadre to escape responsibility for their actions: First, an Orwellian reliance on the
meaninglessness of words. (When is "torture" torture? When is "ordered"
"authorized"? When is "if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my
administration" a scheme to keep trusted aides on the payroll through a legal process that
could take years before adjudication and hide the president's own role in helping to start—perhaps
inadvertently—the Plame ball rolling?)
"Orwellian" is Bernstein's attempt to lump all forms of mistreatment into the definition
of "torture." Regarding "Plame," see ¶11[F],
"Listen, I know of nobody—I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked
classified information," the president was quoted saying in Time magazine's issue of
October 13, 2003. Time's report then noted with acuity, "Bush seemed to emphasize those
last two words ['classified information'] as if hanging onto a legal life preserver in choppy
distinction between "classified information" and "non-classified information" is
apparently unimportant to Bernstein. Ostensibly, his definition of the leak of
"classified information" is any disclosure of any de-classified information by Bush or any
of his subordinates to counter any misinformation created by media publication of selective leaks of
still-classified information by anonymous dissidents within the bureaucracy (or
self-touting dissidents such as Joe Wilson), and Bernstein's definition of such selective leaks is
"public service." It's worth noting that Bernstein's quotation of Time magazine
illustrates why a large part of the population holds the news media in such low esteem (see ¶28,
supra): The Times magazine quotation Bernstein describes as a
"report" opines: "Bush seemed to emphasize those last two words
['classified information'] as if hanging onto a legal life preserver in choppy seas." Yet
Bernstein and his like-minded colleagues in the Formerly Dominant Media (FDM) feign disbelief by
critics who contend the FDM mixes editorial comment into what they attempt to present to the public
as "reports." What's Orwellian is Bernstein's description of commentary as a
The second method of escape is the absence of formal orders issued down the chain of command,
leaving non-coms, enlisted men and women, and a few unfortunate non-star officers to twist in the
wind for policies emanating from the president, vice president, secretary of defense, attorney
general, national-security adviser to the president, and current secretary of state (formerly the
national-security adviser). With a determined effort, a committee of distinguished senators should
be able to establish if the grotesque abuse of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo was really the work of a
"few bad apples" like Army Reserve P.F.C. Lynndie England wielding the leash, or a natural
consequence of actions and policies flowing from the Oval Office and office of the secretary of
charged with mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had legal counsel in courts-martial proceedings
affording them the right to present any "[in]formal" order or approval of such
mistreatment from superiors. Bernstein's desire to believe such "informal" orders
(or approval) existed at higher levels than revealed in those proceedings does not impugn the
integrity of those proceedings. To advocate selectively ignoring the results of such
proceedings whenever there may be partisan advantage in doing so would be to advocate dismantlement
of the military-justice system. It's an imperfect system, but I don't know of any country in
history which has developed and applied a better one than ours.
In a baker's dozen of hearings before pliant committees of Congress, a parade of the top brass
from Rice to Rumsfeld, to the Joint Chiefs, to Paul Bremer has managed for almost three years to
evade responsibility for—or even acknowledgment of—the disintegrating situation on the ground in
Iraq, its costs in lives and treasure, and its disastrous reverberations through the world, and for
an assault on constitutional principles at home. Similarly, until the Senate Watergate hearings,
Nixon and his men at the top had evaded responsibility for Watergate and their cover-up of all the
"White House horrors."
say that Rice, Rumsfeld, Pentagon officials and Paul Bremer have "[not] acknowledge[d]"
tactical mistakes or the emergence of more severe problems in Iraq than expected is simply a false
statement. Bernstein's real objection is that they have not "acknowledged" his view
that toppling Saddam was unjustified. In the long-run, the short-sighted vision of those
sharing Bernstein's view will be discredited by historical recognition of the correctness of Bush's
long-sighted vision in toppling Saddam. (Regarding toppling Saddam versus leaving him in
power, see ¶11[J],
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now almost impossible to look
at the president's handling of the war in Iraq in isolation from his handling of Hurricane Katrina
and its aftermath. Certainly any investigation of the president and his administration should
include both disasters. Before 9/11, Bush and Condoleezza Rice had been warned in the starkest of
terms—by their own aides, by the outgoing Clinton administration, and by experts on terrorism—of
the urgent danger of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack in the United States. Yet the first top-level
National Security Council meeting to discuss the subject was not held until September 4, 2001—just
as the F.B.I. hierarchy had been warned by field agents that there were suspected Islamic radicals
learning to fly 747s with no legitimate reasons for doing so, but the bureau ultimately ignored the
urgency of problem, just as Bush had ample opportunity (despite what he said later) to review and
competently execute a disaster plan for the hurricane heading toward New Orleans.
this diatribe, Bernstein conveniently ignores that the FBI officials unimpressed with field agents'
suspicions about people who wanted to learn "to fly" but not "to land" were not
bureaucrats appointed by Bush-- they were bureaucrats he inherited; so it's more than a little
absurd to attempt to lay the blame on Bush for those bureaucrats having misjudged such information.
Bernstein asserts that "outgoing
Clinton administration" officials had "warned"
Bush and Rice "in the starkest of
terms of the danger of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack in the United States."
That has been known to be true since the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. It's known to
be true today. We just don't know how, when or where. As has been aptly said, trying to
discern the answer to these questions from the volume of intelligence data is akin to trying to
drink from a fire-hose. If the 9-11 attack were to have been implemented by truck-bombs,
people like Bernstein would be focusing (in hindsight) on every sliver of intelligence information
and every suspicion of every field agent about "truck bombs" and ignoring all the
"dots" alleged to have made a readily discernible picture of the actual 9-11 attack.
Regarding Bernstein's gross overstatement about federal responses to Hurricane Katrina, see ¶48, infra.
There will forever be four indelible photographic images of the George W. Bush epoch: an
airplane crashing into World Trade Tower number two; Bush in a Florida classroom reading from a book
about a goat while a group of second-graders continued to captivate him for another seven minutes
after Andrew Card had whispered to the president, "America is under attack"; floodwaters
inundating New Orleans, and its residents clinging to rooftops for their lives; and, two days after
the hurricane struck, Bush peeking out the window of Air Force One to inspect the devastation from a
safe altitude. The aftermath of the hurricane's direct hit, both in terms of the devastation and the
astonishing neglect and incompetence from the top down, would appear to be unique in American
history. Except for the Civil War and the War of 1812 (when the British burned Washington), no
president has ever lost an American city; and if New Orleans is not lost, it will only be because of
the heroics of its people and their almost superhuman efforts to overcome the initial lethargy and
apparent non-comprehension of the president. Bush's almost blank reaction was foretold vividly in a
video of him and his aides meeting on August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina made landfall. The
tape—withheld by the administration from Congress but obtained by the Associated Press along with
seven days of transcripts of administration briefings—shows Bush and his Homeland Security chief
being warned explicitly that the storm could cause levees to overflow, put large number of lives at
risk, and overwhelm rescuers.
Bernstein's hopes, the four images he describes will not "forever
be four indelible images of the George W. Bush epoch...."
Instead, the indelible images will be the image of the airplane crashing into the second tower; Bush
standing on the WTC rubble with the megaphone, the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue, and, in
time, an image of a statue to George W. Bush being unveiled in Baghdad by Iraqis grateful to Bush
and America for the toppling of Hussein and having then exhibited the perseverance to help them
establish a civil, though imperfect, democratic government disciplined by respect for human rights.
Regarding Katrina, Bernstein demonstrably predicates his diatribe alleging that Bush was oblivious to the
problems in the immediate wake of Katrina on his allegation that Bush had failed to heed what was
beforehand-- i.e., that he was "warned
explicitly that the storm could cause the levees to overflow, put large number of lives at risk, and
overwhelm rescuers." The problem is that the
evidence shows that the flooding of New Orleans began after many experts had said New Orleans had
"dodged a bullet" because the levees didn't "overflow." At almost that same
time, the real cause of the flooding was in the process of occurring: the breaches
of the levees, against which the experts had not "vividly" warned Bush or
anyone else. It wasn't that Hurricane Katrina caused floods higher than the level for which
the levees were designed; it was that shortly after the hurricane passed through, the levees failed
to hold floodwaters within levels the levees were designed to withstand. Apart
from the demonstrable incompetence of Mayor Nagin [see http://polisat.com/du2005/du0509-01--10.htm#20050903-01]
and the Governor of Louisiana, this delayed effect occurred while FEMA was simultaneously attempting
to deal with even more severe damage on a far larger scale along the rest of the Gulf Coast
encompassing a total area almost the size of England. It's not that mistakes weren't made;
it's that critics (including Nagin) then attempted to personally vilify Bush for such
mistakes and attempt to imply the dire predicaments of people who were stranded, or died, in New
Orleans flowed not from mistakes but from what his critics tried to claim was "racist"
indifference to blacks in New Orleans. This was hate-speech and demagoguery of the first
order, which the Formerly Dominant Media (FDM) gladly helped propagate-- for example, see http://polisat.com/du2005/du0510-01--10.htm#20051003--01.
In the wake of the death and devastation in New Orleans, President Bush refused to provide the
most important documents sought by Congress or allow his immediate aides in the White House to
testify before Congress about decision-making in the West Wing or at his Crawford ranch in the hours
immediately before and after the hurricane struck. His refusal was wrapped in a package of high
principle—the need for confidentiality of executive-branch communications—the same principle of
preserving presidential privacy that, presumably, prevented him from releasing official White House
photos of himself with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or allowing White House aides to testify
about the N.S.A. electronic-eavesdropping program on grounds of executive privilege.
one may have self-interest motives in addition to legitimate motives to invoke an important
constitutional privilege or principle does not negate the important constitutional privilege or
principle. This is reasonably self-evident to anyone with a common-sense understanding of
legislative privilege, judicial privilege and executive privilege.
The unwillingness of this president—a former Texas governor familiar with the destructive
powers of weather—to deal truthfully ("I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the
levees," he said in an interview with Good Morning America three days after the
hurricane hit) and meaningfully with the people of the Gulf Coast or the country, or the Congress,
about his government's response ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") to Hurricane
Katrina may be the Rosebud moment of his presidency. The president's repeated attempts to keep
secret his actions and those of his principal aides by invoking often spurious claims of executive
privilege and national security in the run-up to the war in Iraq—and its prosecution since—are
rendered perfectly comprehensible when seen in relation to the Katrina claim. It is an effective way
to hide the truth (as Nixon attempted so often), and—when uncomfortable truths have nonetheless
been revealed by others—to justify extraordinary actions that would seem to be illegal or even
quoting Bush's statement "I don't think
anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,"
Bernstein falsely implies that that Bush's assertion is false, when in fact, Bush's
statement is demonstrably true (unlike Bernstein's false implication to the contrary). The
"experts" expressed to him the fear that the flood-surge of the hurricane might
"overflow" the levees-- i.e., that the hurricane might be severe enough to cause a
flood-surge higher than that for which the levees were designed-- they did not predict
that breaches of the levees would occur (and thereby cause the flooding of New
Orleans) during a storm-surge lower than that which the levees were designed to contain.
Regarding this difference between flooding causes by breaches of the levees in contrast to flooding
caused by overflowing, see also ¶49, supra.
Is incompetence an impeachable offense? The question is another
reason to defer the fraught matter of impeachment (if deserved) in the Bush era until the ground is
prepared by a proper fact-finding investigation and public hearings conducted by a sober,
distinguished committee of Congress.
transparently obvious feigning of objectivity doesn't warrant a response.
We have never had a presidency in which the single unifying thread that flows through its major
decision-making was incompetence—stitched together with hubris and mendacity on a Nixonian scale.
There will be no shortage of witnesses to question about the subject, among them the retired
three-star Marine Corps general who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff
during the war's planning, Gregory Newbold.
The infatuation of Bernstein and like-minded ideologues with opinions of "three star"
generals is limited to the tiny percentage of them who are prepared to criticize Bush and/or Cheney
and/or Rumsfeld and/or Rice and/or Wolfowitz.
Last week he wrote, "I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were
determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—Al Qaeda. I
retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those
who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy." The decision to invade Iraq, he
said, "was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have
never had to execute these missions—or bury the results." Despite the military's
determination that, after Vietnam, "We must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant
of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.… We have
been fooled again."
Assuming Bernstein's quotation of Newbold to be accurate, it proceeds from a self-evidently false
premise: that none who had ever "had to execute [military] missions
-- or bury the results" had concurred in the decision to topple Saddam Hussein.
The unprecedented generals' revolt against the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is—like
the special prosecutor's Plame investigation—a door that once cracked open, cannot be readily shut
by the president or even his most senior aides. What outsiders long suspected regarding the conduct
of the war has now been given credence by those on the inside, near the top, just as in the
unraveling of Watergate.
A very small minority of retired generals does not a "generals' revolt" make,
notwithstanding wishes to the contrary by Bernstein and other Bush-haters.
General Newbold and his fellow retired generals have (as observed elsewhere in the press)
declared Rumsfeld unfit to lead America's military at almost exactly the moment when the United
States must deal with the most difficult legacy of the Bush presidency: how to pry itself out of
Iraq and deal with the real threat this administration ignored next door, from Iran.
Bernstein's phrase "General Newbold and his fellow retired generals"
falsely implies "retired generals" generally rather than merely
several retired generals. Regarding Iran, given Bush's extensive efforts to
collaborate with our European allies in confronting Iran, it's self-evidently absurd to describe
Bush's approach as having "ignored ... Iran."
Rumsfeld appeared Friday on an Al Arabiya television broadcast and said, "Out of thousands
and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the
secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round." This kind of
denial of reality—and (again) Orwellian abuse of facts and language—to describe six generals,
each with more than 30 years military experience, each of whom served at the top of their commands
(three in Iraq) and worked closely with Rumsfeld, is indicative of the problem any investigation by
the Senate must face when dealing with this presidency.
And if Rumsfeld is unfit, how is his commander-in-chief, who has steadfastly refused to let him
go (as Nixon did for so long with Haldeman and Ehrlichman, "two of the finest public servants
it has been my privilege to know"), to be judged?
The roadblock to a serious inquiry to date has been a Republican majority that fears the
results, and a Democratic minority more interested in retribution and grandstanding than the
national weal. There are indications, however, that by November voters may be far more discerning
than they were in the last round of congressional elections, and that Republicans especially are
getting the message. Indeed many are talking privately about their lack of confidence in Bush and
what to do about him.
It's difficult to imagine how Bernstein could expect readers other than his Bush-hating soul-mates
to take seriously his implied assertion that to conduct an investigation to determine whether there
would be grounds for impeachment during the middle of a war could possibly be in "the national
weal" rather than the ideological weal of the Bush-haters and the weal of our fanatical
It took the Senate Watergate Committee less than six months to do its essential work. When Sam
Ervin's gavel fell to close the first phase of public televised hearings on August 7, 1973, the
basic facts of Nixon's conspiracy—and the White House horrors—were engraved on the nation's
consciousness. The testimony of the president's men themselves—under oath and motivated perhaps in
part by a real threat of being charged with perjury—left little doubt about what happened in a
criminal and unconstitutional presidency.
From Bernstein's constant allusions to Watergate, I infer a deep-seated emotional desire to regain
the center-stage role he perceives he held during that era. It's like a geezer wanting to bask
in the glory of the "good old days."
On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410 to 4 to empower its Judiciary Committee to begin an
impeachment investigation of the president. On July 27, 1974, the first of three articles of
impeachment was approved, with support from 6 of the 17 Republicans (and 21 Democrats) on the
committee. Two more articles were approved on July 29 and 30. On August 8, facing certain conviction
in a Senate trial, Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president.
See ¶60, supra.
In Watergate, Republicans were the ones who finally told Richard Nixon, "Enough." They
were the ones who cast the most critical votes for articles of impeachment, ensuring that Nixon
would be judged with nonpartisan fairness. After the vote, the Republican congressional
leadership—led by the great conservative senator Barry Goldwater—marched en masse to the White
House to tell the criminal president that he had to go. And if he didn't, the leadership would
recommend his conviction in the Senate.
See ¶60, supra.
In the case of George W. Bush, important conservative and Republican voices have, finally, begun
speaking out in the past few weeks. William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the modern conservative
movement and, with Goldwater, perhaps its most revered figure, said last month: "It's important
that we acknowledge in the inner counsels of state that [the war in Iraq] has failed so that we
should look for opportunities to cope with that failure." And "Mr. Bush is in the hands of
a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq.… If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it
wouldn't get him out of this jam." And "The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns
to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the
resources of a free country."
William F. Buckley, Jr., a man whom I admire and whom I met decades ago, is entitled to his opinion,
but Bernstein isn't entitled to imply that Buckley's opinion includes favoring an
Even more scathing have been some officials who served in the White House under Ronald Reagan
and George W. Bush's father. Bruce Bartlett, a domestic-policy aide in the Reagan administration, a
deputy assistant treasury secretary for the first President Bush, and author of a new book, Impostor:
How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, noted: "A lot of
conservatives have had reservations about him for a long time, but have been afraid to speak out for
fear it would help liberals and the Democrats"—a situation that, until the Senate Watergate
Committee hearings, existed in regard to Nixon. "I think there are growing misgivings about the
conduct of the Iraq operation, and how that relates to a general incompetence his administration
seems to have about doing basic things," said Bartlett.
Like Buckley, Bartlett is entitled to his opinion, but as with Buckley, Bernstein isn't entitled to
imply that Bartlett's opinion includes favoring an are-there-grounds-for-impeachment investigation.
After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had
worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the
legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders
See ¶60, supra.
The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in
human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war
against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously
had been held in the highest regard.
See ¶60, supra.
There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the
Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency
See ¶60, supra.
Bernstein is a Vanity Fair contributing editor. His biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton will
be published by Knopf next year.
Jim Wrenn is Editor at
WrennCom.Com and Editor at
PoliSat.Com. His Clinton Liebrary
Book is available at http://ClintonLiebraryBook.Com.
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