Bush Backs Down on Violating Law over Warrantless Wiretaps

When news of the warrantless wiretaps first came out, some said that this made George Bush the first President to actually admit to an impeachable offense. Apparently he paid too much attention to the claims that the Republicans were building a permanent majority and didn’t envision that the Democrats would take control of Congress, making this admission far more dangerous. Bush, who hasn’t been quick to back down (except when there is a children’s book to read when the country is under attack, or when he threatens to capture bin Laden dead or alive) has flip flopped on this one. The Washington Post reports:

The Justice Department announced today that the National Security Agency’s controversial warrantless surveillance program has been placed under the authority of a secret surveillance court, marking an abrupt change in approach by the Bush administration after more than a year of heated debate.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said that orders issued on Jan. 10 by an unidentified judge puts the NSA program under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret panel that oversees most intelligence surveillance in the United States.

Gonzales also wrote that the current NSA program will effectively be abandoned after its current authorization expires in favor of the new approach.

The change marks a dramatic turn of events for the Justice Department, which has strenuously argued for more than a year that the NSA spying program was legal and that the foreign intelligence court was poorly suited to oversee the program, as many lawmakers had advocated.

While Bush has apparently agreed to stop breaking the law, not all Democrats are willing to forgive and forget:

“While this may be a step in the right direction, it should not deflect the attention of the American people or the Congress from seeking answers about the current and past operation of this program,” said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers.

When I, and others, criticized the warrantless wiretaps in the past there were frequently replies from conservative bloggers that we were trying to undermine the gathering of intelligence, that the FISA court was too slow, and that it was absolutely essential that the President have this authority. Captain’s Quarters appears uncertain about how to reconcile this sudden change:

However, for those of us who supported the White House on this contentious point, the speed in which they reached accommodation with FISA will call into question that early support. By my count, we’ve had ten entire weeks since the midterms and they’ve managed to scale a mountain that they claimed was insurmountable for the previous five years.

Perhaps more explanations will be forthcoming. I, for one, will be waiting.

Add this to the growing list of things which should get conservatives to reconsider their devotion to George Bush.

Fighting Foreign Insurgencies

Donald Stoker defends the surge in Iraq in Foreign Affairs arguing that insurgencies never win. Granted the overall success of insurgencies is poor, but extrapolating that to Iraq makes for a weak argument.

The main reason insurgencies do not succeed is that you have a relatively weak group fighting an entrenched and more-powerful government. In Iraq we have already given the insurgents a huge hand by knocking out Saddam and replacing him with a weak government which lacks the power to easily defeat the insurgencies. Without an established government, the odds for a foreign power to suppress an insurgency drop considerably as compared to the examples Stoker provides. His arguments provide no reason why a surge as Bush has called for will make any difference at all.

Another problem is that even if insurgencies do not succeed they can still do a lot of harm. Just look at the Infantida in Israel and look at Northern Ireland. While governments may have the motivation to do whatever is necessary for self-preservation and may ultimately defeat their local insurgents, foreign powers typically will limit the degree to which they will allow suppression of an insurgency overwhelm their resources. This, along with the Viet Cong’s support from North Vietnam, is why the United States lost in Vietnam, and now must search for exit strategies in Iraq which will limit the damage to our country.

Posted in Iraq, Op-eds. Tags: , . 1 Comment »

Conservatives Join Radical Muslims in Hating Our Freedoms

When liberals criticize the war or any specific area of (conservative-led) American policy, a frequent response is that liberals hate America and blame America for the world’s problems. This argument is typically made as part of the usual conservative tactic mischaracterizing the opponent rather than ever responding to their actual views. Newsmax reports on a book which takes these attacks to new lengths, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 By Dinesh D’Souza. While I am reluctant to say too much about a book I haven’t read, I believe I may have a good picture from this review as well as the descriptions of the book at Amazon, such as:

“In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset. The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11. … In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world. The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage—some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left. Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened.

“I realize that this is a strong charge, one that no one has made before. But it is a neglected aspect of the 9/11 debate, and it is critical to understanding the current controversy over the ‘war against terrorism.’ … I intend to show that the left has actively fostered the intense hatred of America that has led to numerous attacks such as 9/11. If I am right, then no war against terrorism can be effectively fought using the left-wing premises that are now accepted doctrine among mainstream liberals and Democrats.”

Whenever Muslims charge that the war on terror is really a war against Islam, Americans hasten to assure them they are wrong. Yet as Dinesh D’Souza argues in this powerful and timely polemic, there really is a war against Islam. Only this war is not being waged by Christian conservatives bent on a moral crusade to impose democracy abroad but by the American cultural left, which for years has been vigorously exporting its domestic war against religion and traditional morality to the rest of the world.

D’Souza contends that the cultural left is responsible for 9/11 in two ways: by fostering a decadent and depraved American culture that angers and repulses other societies—especially traditional and religious ones— and by promoting, at home and abroad, an anti-American attitude that blames America for all the problems of the world.

If we are looking at a war of ideas rather than the misguided hot war in Iraq, then in one sense they are right. As the review above says, “there really is a war against Islam. Only this war is not being waged by Christian conservatives bent on a moral crusade to impose democracy abroad but by the American cultural left.” Of course it is conservatives who claimed spreading democracy as justification for the Iraq war after their other excuses such as WMD and a connection to terrorism were disproven. In the criticism of expressions of our freedom, showing that it is really the conservatives, if anyone, who could be said to hate America, we see that the real war of ideas is one of freedom versus authoritarianism.

In his tirade against freedom, D’Souza shows which side he is on. As we’ve said all along, the religious right in this country and Muslim fundamentalists are basically fighting the same battle against liberalism and reason.

While this argument is of interest in showing how liberalism remains the supporter of liberty against both Muslim and Christian fundamentalism, extension of this to explain the 9/11 attack is weak. To some degree they might “hate us for our freedom” but this is neither justification to give up our freedom or a satisfactory explanation for 9/11. For them to object to signs of our freedom on an intellectual level is one matter. To actually bother to carry out an attack, when they have so many battles to fight closer to home, requires more motivation. If we were not involved in their affairs in the middle east it is doubtful they would have bothered to attack regardless of how much our liberties conflict with their religious views.

Update:  D’Souza on Colbert Report via Crooks and Liars