29 January 2006

It’s The Little Things

A. D. Freudenheim, The Editor

I suppose that if the revelation of a memo revealing Al Qaeda’s plans to attack the United States using domestic airliners, written – and ignored – about one month before the the 11 September 2001 attacks, wasn’t enough to ruin the credibility of the Bush administration, then one might argue quite successfully that all is lost for American politics. Even though it seems so obvious that massive failings in domestic security should be enough to bring down a government, there is ample reason to see why the opposite is true: the country pulls together, addresses the problem(s), and the errors of government are overcome through the can-do attitude for which Americans are known. (In this case, by attacking one enemy and creating a rationale for attacking another.) No matter that the attack against America itself might have been prevented.1 What will bring down this administration, except the inevitability of Constitutionally-imposed term-limits?

Well, the little things might, because in aggregate they paint a picture of a total lack of accountability in our present government. “Little” is relative of course; it hardly describes the failures of the Bush administration for Hurricane Katrina relief. Or the failure of this administration’s energy policy (made all the more galling by President Bush’s recent suggestions that SUV Kings General Motors and Ford Motor Company should make a product that is more relevant for their consumers2). Or how about the recent debacle over the new Medicare and Medicaid drug benefit programs, which have left how many hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people without their medicines? Gosh, if the Medicare program has been so successful, just think what the Bush administration could do to Social Security!

Lefties and libertarians – along with the few true conservatives remaining in the United States – seem to be fretting over the impact Judge Samuel Alito will have when he joins the Supreme Court (as now looks rather inevitable). In particular, people seem worried about his views on presidential executive power and civil liberties, and his apparent tendency to favor the former while scuttling the latter. As a (civil) libertarian myself, I share those concerns. But I wonder whether the bigger danger from this administration is in fact from the cumulative effect of many, many bad policies affecting focused bits of our citizenry – like people in Louisiana, or the elderly, or Muslims, or terminally-ill Oregonians – and not the much-hyped threat of another terrorist attack. Our republic may die a death of a thousand cuts, an attack in which no single, impeachable offense stands out and yet the very fabric of the nation is nonetheless effectively shredded.

This is not to downplay the dangers of future-Justice Alito; a Supreme Court endorsement of executive privilege that permits President Bush – or any other set of executive officers – to withhold details of how the government responded to a terrorist attack is hugely problematic. So too was the last Court’s decision to keep the energy task force details secret or, as Bush is now pushing for, to prevent disclosure of information about how he and his crony-clowns handled Federal aid for Hurricane Katrina victims.

So much for a government of, by, and for “the people.” Congress should be worried about all this, Republican and Democrat alike. It is a direct threat to their power and authority under the Constitution, and ultimately a direct challenge to the authority of the American people. The judiciary should be worried, too. If President Bush thinks he can ignore or reinterpret legislation passed by Congress, what’s to stop him from reinterpreting a decision made by a court – even the Supreme Court – that he doesn’t like? Sadly, though, one gets the impression that the fight for Constitutional independence is already over.

Still, if small disasters are the problem, then maybe small challenges are the solution. In 1773, a group of Bostonians kick-started what would become the Revolutionary War, that freed the Colonies from British dominion ... by throwing tea into the harbor, in protest over unfair taxation. I don’t know what the 21st century version of the Boston Tea Party should be – its focus, location, or participants – but perhaps what the United States really needs is a bunch of citizens equally committed to a common purpose to once again declare the rights of the citizenry as independent from a paternalistic, imbecilic, faux-conservative governmental authority.


I think I may be the only American Jew who isn’t horrified by Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections this past week. I believe that the Palestinian support for Hamas owes more to the horrible corruption and mismanagement within the Palestinian Authority, and its once-dominant Fatah movement, than to any mass alignment with Hamas’ hardline Islamism. Yes, yes, there are plenty of reasons why the election is bad news, not least Hamas’ belief that terrorism is an acceptable form of “resistance.” As I have written previously, had the Palestinians adopted non-violent resistance after the 1967 war, the occupation would have long been over. But violence begets violence, so this is what the Palestinians and Israelis have sowed – and reaped – for themselves. Well done, gentlemen.

Nonetheless, there is reason for hope – less that Hamas will transform itself into an acceptable partner, capable of working with the Israelis, and more for what Hamas’ beliefs make possible for Israel. Ariel Sharon may be off the political stage, but the path of unilateral disengagement that he began to clear is one the new Israeli government should continue. Clearly, the occupation must end; Palestinians should be given control over the land of the West Bank, just as they have been given control of (most aspects of) Gaza. Moreover, once the occupation does end, Palestinians should consider declaring a state, unilaterally, and demand recognition from the United Nations.

More to the point, withdrawal gives the Israelis something they have been missing since they captured all this land in the 1967 war: a place on the moral high ground. If the occupation is ended; if Palestinians become responsible for their own health and welfare, instead of having it bound together with that of their occupiers; and if the Palestinians then choose to continue attacking Israel anyway – well, Israel’s right to self defense will no longer be comprised by this morally-clouded 40-year occupation.

This is hardly a grand vision for peace or co-existence. This is about small steps forward. But if you take enough small steps, you will eventually arrive at your destination. No small feat, in this case.

1There was evidence to support claims that Franklin Delano Roosevelt might have thwarted the Pearl Harbor attacks, but again, the same thing happened: politics and war saw a nation united – at least briefly, and at least towards its external antagonists.

2“President Bush said General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. should develop ‘a product that's relevant,’” as quoted in the Wall Street Journal, “Bush Plays Down Bailout Prospects For GM and Ford,” by Christopher Cooper and John D. McKinnon, 26 January 2006

UPDATE - 31 January - Yesterday's New York Times carried a story headlined "Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength," which goes on to explain ... how our esteemed Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice (and others, as she graciously includes everyone) didn't see that Hamas stood a strong chance of winning the Palestinian elections. Ms. Rice, where have you been for the past few months -- or years? Article after article about the corruption within Fatah, about the incompetence of the Palestinian Authority, about the growing strength of Hamas as a provider of stable social services -- and our appointed chief analyst of global relations cannot even figure out that Hamas might win the election? Or is this just a matter of media relations, a stupid quote taken out of context, and you did not really mean to say "I've asked why nobody saw it coming". "Nobody" in the U.S. government, anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you struggle to understand why and how America's foreign relationships are in such bad shape, or why the war in Iraq is going so poorly, you now have an answer. This from the woman who used to be the nation's foremost intelligence officer!

See: "Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength," by Steven R. Weisman, The New York Times, 30 January 2006.


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