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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 26 January 2006
Voting: People Deciding What They're Not Supposed to Decide
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Voting: People Deciding What They're Not Supposed to Decide

Thursday, January 26th was a day of one momentous story, but the others wouldn't go away. Out here on the far side of the continent we woke to the news about the Palestinian Authority elections. The Hamas Party, which has called for the annihilation of Israel - that's what they do - overwhelmed the ruling Fatah Party. They won the election in a landslide, and the Fatah government resigned. Maybe the Fatah Party has been stringing Israel along for the last few years, talking nice and doing little, but they made the right sounds.

Of course, both the United States and Israel designate Hamas a terrorist group - and both have now pledged not to negotiate with the party if it does not change its platform. And that seems unlikely. The CNN account is here, the Washington Post account here, and the Israeli view ("we won't deal with the folks"), in the Jerusalem Post is here.

This is quite a mess. The whole neoconservative "reverse domino theory" seems to have gone down in flames.

As you recall, the idea was that we would toss out Saddam Hussein and our guy, Ahmed Chalabi, with his band of exiles who had been living here in the United States, would then rule Iraq, turning it into some sort of Jeffersonian free-market secular democracy. Chalabi even promised the new Iraq would recognize Israel - full diplomatic relations and all that. This would go so well everyone in the area would see what a fine thing Jeffersonian free-market secular democracy really was, and it would spread like wildfire in the region. There'd be elections and the people would do the right thing. The Palestinians would then realize they were on the wrong side of history, and agree to some sort of two-nation arrangement with Israel, and the lion would lie down with the lamb, and so forth and so on.

As theories go, this one was pretty nifty. The president is fond of saying it's our job to spread democracy, because democratic nations are peaceful and if everyone gets to vote, no one will fight, and everything will work out just fine. And all the voting in Iraq resulted, in the end, in a theocratic Shiite-Kurd government, aligned with Iran, with an Interior Ministry staffed by thugs who go out and kill Sunnis and their families, with subsidiary militias bullying anyone they feel like bullying. The Brits, trying to keep the lid on things in Basra, have been arresting police officials there, as this is way out of hand. There are reports (the Los Angeles Times has been on the story), that we're trying to convince the ruling Shiite guys to put a token Sunni or neutral person in some of the new ministries, but that's not going well.

The theory bumped up against the reality - give people the vote and they may not vote for what you want. They tend to vote for what they want. You have to account for that. You don't just hope for the best, or assume what you want to happen will happen. Heck, Ahmed Chalabi didn't get a whole lot of representation in the new Iraq government; in fact, he didn't get enough votes to get a seat even for himself. This is not what was supposed to happen. What's wrong with these people?

Well, the neoconservatives are asking that of the Iraqis, and the rest of us are asking the same thing about the neoconservatives.

Now we have the Palestinians just not doing what they were supposed to do. They're messing up the theory.

Andrew Sullivan puts it well here -
Here's the nightmare we foreign policy neocons haven't fully come to grips with. What if a country democratically elects a terror-sponsoring leadership? We already know that democracies, like Britain or Holland or France, spawn Islamofascists among their citizenry. Now, in the Palestinian territories, we have an aggressively terrorist democratically-elected regime. And the margin is a landslide. We can hope that eventually citizens demand accountability from their leaders and will nudge them toward the civilizing aspects of democratic government: building roads, running schools, delivering services. But what if even this is all done within a theocratic-terrorist paradigm? Democracy is not itself a panacea. It never was. What happened yesterday represents one critical pillar beneath the Bush foreign policy crumbling into dust.
And the president called a surprise news conference shortly after the result of the vote was clear, because, one assumes, his folks told him it was time for some damage control - the whole theory of "let them vote and only good things will happen" was looking silly.

The White House transcript of the press conference is here, but the words on the page don't begin to convey how bizarre the thing seemed. This was major league tap-dancing. Of course he praised the democratic process - people sometimes voted out those they felt had not done a good job. Voting is good. (Maybe after everything from the missing WMD to the business with Hurricane Katrina to the business with the Medicare drug plan making everyone - young, old, left and right - furious, he shouldn't have said that.) But then he said he hoped the Fatah leaders who resigned would reconsider and keep running the government over there. Huh? What about the election? They lost, George. That's how these things work. They will have a new government. And then he said we wouldn't work with this new government at all, unless they stopped standing for everything they've always stood for, even if they were definitively elected.

Well, he was in a tough spot. And he wanted to reassure us all. Don't worry about this too much. Should we trust him on that?

Well, this is what we signed up for. He's told us that. He had his "accountability moment" with the 2004 election, and whatever he does is what we obviously want. No one has any right to complain. You can have your say when you vote in late 2007 for whoever follows him.

There was, of course, a lot of whistling in the dark over all this Palestinian election from other quarters. You have to make the best of what you've got.

There was this in the International Herald Tribune - Uri Dromi, director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, calling the results of the election a "blessing is disguise" as all the cards are on the table now -
Come to think of it, I am glad that Hamas won the elections. Things might now become much clearer. There will be no whitewashing, no Arafat-style double-talk, or endless Abbas impotence. It's better to deal with a pure enemy: Fight him ruthlessly while he is your enemy, and sit down and talk to him when he is genuinely willing to cut a deal. History has seen such things happen.
Well, that's one was to look at it.

And there's Emanuele Ottolenghi, who teaches Israel studies at Oxford University, writing in the National Review with this -
Contrary to initial responses, Hamas's projected victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections is a positive development. Not, as its apologists claim, because the proximity of power will favor a process of cooptation into parliamentary politics, and therefore strengthen the pragmatic wing of Hamas. There is no pragmatic wing in Hamas, and all differences within the movement - the armed wing and the political wing, Palestine Hamas and Hamas in Syria - are arguably tactical differences. No, the reason is, as Vladimir Ilich Lenin would put it, "worse is better."
It is? Maybe so.

The president was probably relieved when the topic turned to other matters, like the NSA warrantless "search all the email mail and telephone conservations" thing.

Our friend, Ric Erickson, the editor of MetropoleParis, fired off an email to Hollywood, about those other matters.

He notes the New York Times, reporting on Bush's press conference, has this -
Asked if he would support efforts in Congress to spell out his authority to continue the eavesdropping program, Bush cited what he said was the extreme delicacy of the operation.

''But it's important for people to understand that this program is so sensitive and so important that if information gets out to how we run it or how we operate it, it'll help the enemy,'' he said. ''Why tell the enemy what we're doing?''

''We'll listen to ideas. If the attempt to write law is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it,'' the president said.
Ric's comment -
Has anybody suggested that the NSA explain to American taxpayers how it works?

I'll expose the 'nature of program.' The NSA is reading everybody's mail, listening to their conversations. Americans know it, foreigners know it, good guys know it and bad guys know it. Bad guys are taking counter-measures without waiting for Bush to tell them anything. The rest of us are cringing.

Is there any particular reason that GW Bush did not say anything about the legality of the warrantless searches? Does he think some new law must be written to make them legal? Or is he happier with things as they are?

Has he decided that he's not going to tell us that he's ignoring the law? Who was it that said, 'ignorance is not a valid defense?'

Just as not talking about something is not a valid defense.
Ric signs that "Curious in Paris." But of course, it's easy to see things clearly from Paris. You're not bombarded with US entertainment-based news shows about it all. You have the luxury of many sources of information, and can be logical and everything. (See the former CNN guy Aaron Brown, the same day, with this - "The truth no longer matters in cable news.")

For Ric I found a run-down of the what's going on, from Tim Grieve, here -
George W. Bush took another shot at defending his warrantless spying program this morning, saying once again that Congress gave him the authority to initiate the secret program when it passed its use-of-force authorization in 2001. That authorization gave the administration "the power to conduct this war using the incidents of war," Bush said. "Congress says, 'Go ahead and conduct the war, we're not going to tell you how to do it.'"

That may be how the White House interprets the use-of-force authorization now, but it wasn't how it viewed it back in 2001.

As the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has explained, the White House initially proposed a use-of-force authorization that was much broader than the one Congress ultimately approved. In the original White House version, the president would have been given authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." As CRS has said, that language would have "seemingly authorized the president, without durational limitation, at his sole discretion" to take military action against anyone anywhere in the name of preventing terrorism. Congress balked at such a broad grant of authority, rewriting the White House draft in such a way that made it clear that the president could use such force only against those who attacked the United States on 9/11 or were materially involved in helping or harboring them.

As that draft was about to go to the Senate floor for a vote, the White House tried one more time to broaden the scope of the resolution. As then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has explained, the White House came to him on the eve of the vote on the resolution to ask for additional language that would have authorized the president to use force "in the United States" as well as outside of it. Daschle refused. "This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act - but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens," Daschle explained last month. "I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."

In light of this legislative history, it's clear that Congress didn't write Bush a blank check for conducting the war however he saw fit - and that the White House didn't think that the president was getting that kind of authority at the time Congress was acting.

But the president doesn't seem much concerned with history of any sort. He said today that prior presidents have also believed that they had the power to do what's necessary to keep the country safe; it was apparently a reference to the White House's discredited "Clinton did it, too" argument. And Bush stressed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - in which Congress set forth clear standards the White House has ignored - was passed way back in 1978. "We're having a discussion in 2006," the president said. "It's a different world."

Maybe that's right. A lot has changed since the late 1970s, but acts of Congress don't expire just because time passes or the world changes. The White House failed in its attempts to get broader authority from Congress in 2001, and it rejected an effort to ease the FISA rules in 2002. Having done so, it's in no position now to argue that the president was free to ignore the law because it was out-of-date or obsolete.
Maybe so, but that is what he is arguing, and no one in the mainstream media want to tell him he's full of crap.

Some are worried, and see what Ric sees from Paris, like Jacob Weisberg here - "Is Bush turning America into an elective dictatorship? - It's tempting to dismiss the debate about the National Security Agency spying on Americans as a technical conflict about procedural rights. President Bush believes he has the legal authority ..." And he runs down all the details.

Weisberg ends by saying all these theories of unfettered executive authority "as the lawyers say, prove too much" -
The Article II plus AUMF justification for warrant-less spying is essentially the same one the administration has advanced to excuse torture; ignore the Geneva Conventions; and indefinitely hold even U.S. citizens without a hearing, charges, or trial. Torture and detention without due process are bad enough. But why does this all-purpose rationale not also extend to press censorship or arresting political opponents, were the president to deem such measures vital to the nation's security?

I don't suggest that Bush intends anything of the kind - or that even a Congress as supine as the current one would remain passive if he went so far. But the president's latest assertion that he alone can safeguard our civil liberties isn't just disturbing and wrong. It's downright un-American.
That may be clear from Paris, but even here some are wondering.

And there's spill-over. The man nominated to the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, who subscribes to these theories, is facing some opposition. The New York Times has called for a filibuster of the nomination, and Senator Kerry is trying to organize one. It won't happen, but there's something in he air. One poll shows fifty-two percent of Americans would like to see Bush impeached if he has broken the law that was supposed to keep the government from snooping in all our lives.

We live in interesting times. And maybe here, not just in Palestine and Iraq, folks will vote for what they want. Of course there are these new voting machines. Oh well.

Posted by Alan at 23:27 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006 06:22 PST home

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