OK, This is Just Plain Stupid

I’ve never understood the Administration’s love for the truly lame and useless fights they seem to want to pick with Congress. Someone help me understand what – in the wide world of sports – Cheny intends to gain from this doomed, grandstanding bureaucratic move?

There are things worth fighting over, and things which it makes no sense to fight over. Or it does make a certain kind of sense…

I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.

Sadly, when they do lame stuff like this, we’re the somebody.

21 thoughts on “OK, This is Just Plain Stupid”

  1. _Someone help me understand what – in the wide world of sports – Cheny intends to gain from this doomed, grandstanding bureaucratic move?_

    I initially thought this was directed towards Cheney’s movement of the Vice Presidency to Capitol Hill, but after reading several paragraphs of this one-sided regergetation of history, I searched ahead for any such reference and found none.

    What is the grandstanding bureaucratic move?

  2. It’s hard to tell from this post, A.L., if you are referring to VP Cheney’s claim of Schrodinger’s-Cat-like nonaccountability/status; or to the whole “torture-memo” flap: but if it is the former, the point of the exercise is pretty plain. It is the same as it has been since 1/21/01:

    1. Aggrandisement and exercise of Executive Power.
    2. Avoidance as much much as possible, of any accountability or oversight.


    And this should be a surprise because……?

  3. OK, we’ll take it from the top.

    The purpose of power is power. The purpose of torture is torture.—Orwell, 1984

    There is nothing “grandstanding” about anything Cheney has done. Have we ever seen the minutes of his energy meeting (the one where, if I had to make a guess, he promised the oilmen Iraqi crude)? Have not the usual suspects trotted out the lamest conceivable justifications of his non-presence in the Executive Branch, and so far made it stick? And are now we not seriously discussing just how much torture and arbitrary detention the Executive Branch gets, instead of hanging war criminals, as we used to?

    The fight against the American system is where Cheney is really engaged. Anything that goes on in Iraq, Iran, and the rest of the world is the collateral sideshow. Seen in those terms, all these bureaucratic struggles make perfect sense, don’t they?

  4. I believe the intention was to prevent the equivalent of OSHA like rigidity from being inflicted on CIA/military interrogators.

    I gather he was trying to avoid having interrogators have to carry around multi-hundred page reference manuals and having to do arcane table lookups to determine the maximum amount of force they can use on the detainee (variated by age, sex, and body weight of course), the relative amount of time they can subject the detainee to Garth Brooks vs. Elton John, etc etc.

    Not to mention having an explicit green-light list of approved techniques would kill the creativity required to effectively extract information without torture. For example I thought having mostly naked women interrogate fanatic Islamists was a brilliant way to break them down without needing actual torture. But apparently humiliation/embarrassment is torture now.

    And that’s why I agree with AL. I kinda understand sorta where he wanted to go, to avoid crippling bureaucratic rulesets, but that only makes his scorched earth campaign so incredibly stupid.

    What he should have done was, well, gotten out in front and LEAD dammit. Create a policy you can live with, make sure it appeals to enough people that you can sell it, and then actually go and sell it.

    But then I could never figure out why Bush stuck with Cheney on the reelection anyway…

  5. I guess the point is that Cheney doesn’t really have anything to lose from “grandstanding” no matter how futile the effort. His approval ratings are dismal, as though that matters. He’s lame as lame ducks get. He’s up against a congress that has no coherent argument or position, other than just a kneejert “anti” stance.

    Granted it’s sort of a silly case he’s making, but it’s not as though he’d gain diddly by being reasonable. And the snarl turns some people on…

    Or to put it another way, there’s more to be gained from an attack than a demur, no matter what the details.

    Also, as a Bill Kristol pointed out recently the idea that the national archives contributes either to the national security, or the “people’s right to know” by virtue of their nosing around 365 days a year in the Executive’s business is, well… dubious at best.

    The thing that tickles me is the notion expressed by the Dems that there’s some sort of “law” involved here. As though an executive order is equivalent to law. If that were the case, we’d have a king.

  6. The fight against the American system is where Cheney is really engaged.

    I can’t believe a real life academic actually said something that incoherent. Well, actually, I can.

    What the deuce does “American system” mean?

    Sheesh. Superman and the “American Way,” or whatever…

    How’d that guy ever get off the ground in one bounce? But that cape and “letter S” were way cool, huh?

    “American System?”

    In a good way, or a bad way? Capitalism, or FDR’s NRA? Give us a hint

    American system??

    The only issue here was whether the National Archives has a right to demand documentation of the Exec’s business at the end of every 24 hours, and interject their demands into the day to day operations of the Presidency and the Veep.

    American system??

    You’re kidding, right?

  7. American System??

    Very cute. But you know, it seemed perfectly clear to me. I guess this “system” would be a rather relative and fickle thing by your or Kristol’s determination. Now I’m not a conservative by any means except on a few issues, but to me precedent and compromise are important, and our system of government has always functioned on more than just strictly enumerated agreements (like other”systems” perhaps? See Britain).

    The real question here is whether the “WOT” should justify WWII or Civil War-like restructuring of our system. Cheney seems to think yes. Al, maybe. You? Well I’ll hazard a guess here, “demo-sophist”, and say you.. you just don’t care.

  8. The VP is having a little fun. If Waxman does anything effective it will be the next administration that will be hit. It’s too late. Cheney and W beat them. Waxman is acting like a fool and doesn’t seem to realize it. The Democrats need another Tip O’Neill.

  9. Answering “why” is sometimes the most difficult task. I know some folks who think he’s a wise man defending against a combined terrorist/liberal assault, and others who simply dismiss him as Darth Vader and move on to other topics.

    Way back when he was campaigning, Bush idly commented that things would be a lot easier if he were a dictator. At the time it was played up for chuckles, but the comment has been repeated in other situations. I don’t believe that there’s any grand nefarious plan to turn the country into a police state. I *do* think that this sort of comment betrays a fundamental dysfunction of leadership: the conviction that dissent and opposing viewpoints are roadblocks rather than necessary (even critical) parts of a successful decision-making system.

    I’ve always seen the current administration — and Rumsfeld and Cheney more than any other individuals — as a study in what happens when you decide that you know what needs to be done better than anyone else, and treat those who disagree as your enemies. Bitter turf wars over who-can-read-whose-email and whether-we-have-to-keep-Bob-in-the-loop are commonplace. Battle lines are drawn and the number of perspectives invited to the table when important decisions are being made shrinks even further.

  10. I agree with Jeff.

    I also see Cheney as a longstanding history of proposing that Presidential power is the most important tool needed for fighting enemies of the American people. Ever since Cheney served in the Nixon/Ford administration, and through Reagen/Bush I etc, Cheney has argued that congress does not have the ability to infringe upon executive power. He sees Nixon’s error not as the result of a power grab, but from not taking enough power to secure the nation and do the things that congress is incapable of.

    My viewpoint has always been that the Founding Fathers intended to dilute the power of the president, and force him to work through the slower legistlative bodies (and if neccessary through the Judicial too) so that large changes cannot occur quickly. In an age of terrorism, it is tempting to believe that the country can only be saved through quick decisive action free from the slower legistative process. Just as this may be the key to quick success, it can also be the key to massive blunders. As long as your programs are supported by the public, you’re ok. However, once your work loses support, the other branches begin to reassert their power and demand to know why their constitutional power was infrigned upon.

    And sure enough, they almost always find something dirty going on. Why? Because one party/administration/brain trust is never completely free from temptation. And once they feel their power is unquestioned, it almost always leads to vanity, corruption and nefarious actions. It’s a good lesson for any administration, but unfortunately we’re going to see this pattern play out again, and again and again….

  11. Demosophist,

    I certainly don’t have any wish to reduce the enjoyment you get from being tickled by Democratic positions, but from what I could discover it was Cheney’s office that was referring to it as a “law,” not Waxman’s. (see VP’s spokesperson referring to OVP as complying with “the” law.) Nor could I find anything where Democrats, specifically, were acting as though it were a law and not an executive order. I think, too, that your suggestion that Democrats beleive EOs are equivalent of laws is misplaced and without foundation. It is quite possible—indeed quite reasonable–to expect EOs to be obeyed without concluding that they be laws. A good arguement can be made, I believe, that policy directives, EOs, & such, ought to be followed by the gov’t agencies. Otherwise, among many other consequences, we’d get into a situation where Congress can’t excercise oversight unless it can establish laws were broken. Bad gov’t can be bad without actually violating laws.

    As for your, Kristol’s and others’ opinions, that the EO in question is of dubious value, wouldn’t the solution be to revoke or ammend the order, rather than selectively enforce it? I think this goes to the heart of the matter. Arbitrary and hidden exemptions from policy is an unwise way of conducting gov’t business, it can be reasonably argued.

    But feeling tickled may be more enjoyable than thinking reasonably about differing views. After all, those democrats are just a bunch of clowns. It’s odd how so many people just can’t see the truth, isn’t it? One wonders what the hell God was thinking when He constructed the human mind.

  12. I’d like to add to Mark’s point, to repeat my own. Of course Bush could have amended the original EO to exclude himself, the Vice President, and for that matter the Bureau of Public Roads if he wanted to.

    All evidence suggests that had Bush continued to use the FISA Court to obtain warrants, they would have granted every request, as they had in the past.

    Had the Administration needed, for some reason, amendments to loosen or to update the FISA Law, the post-9/11 Congress would have passed such legislation, as they did the PATRIOT Act (for better or worse).

    So why didn’t the Administration do any of these things?

    Because showing that they answer to no one other than themselves is the point! The specific issue is almost irrelevant.

    Especially when we are under some sort of attack, there are people who believe their Dear Leader is the elusive counterexample to Churchill’s “except for all the others”. That’s not the American system.

  13. Andrew is avoiding, as usual, the real issue.

    Under Clinton, the Cabinet voted (no) on the question of attacking Osama. As usual the risk-averse bureaucracy voted no. No to aggressive interrogation of our enemies to stop terror plots. No to aggressive rules of engagement to kill terrorists abroad. No to working with foreign intelligence services aggressively to snatch up terrorists. No to listening in on who’s calling Osama and his top deputies.

    Why? Because risk aversion is the name of the game. The game is not insuring the safety of the American people from political acts of violence designed to kill them into submission. But political risk avoidance: See Clinton, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 1.

    What Cheney has done is fight State, CIA, and Justice who over-lawyer everything into actually doing something. State is filled with people like Joe Wilson, who think talking to their future paymasters solves everything. Or go-along cronies like Colin Powell or Maddie Albright. Kick the can down the road, don’t rock the boat. CIA lawyers nixed the idea of killing Osama and mandated measures to prevent irritation of his beard if snatched (so says Michael Scheur). CIA lawyers also nixed flooding Iraq with phony detonators that would kill IED teams. What do you expect with an organization filled with Valerie Plames? What could she possibly contribute to keeping us safe from Osama? Marrying the right guy? Justice of course is concerned with finding the right career in Academia or big-name legal firms retained by Gulf Oil Sheiks, not in actually stopping Terror.

    Proof of all this: bias towards doing nothing at all even if a major terror strike happens, is that no one lost their job let alone went to jail for 9/11. No one in Justice was fired and censured. No one in the CIA. No in State.

    The Bush Admin had fights between Cheney, Rumsfeld, and few hawks who oddly enough thought that the Bush admin only legitimacy rested on actually doing something to stop terror attacks, and the permanent bureaucracy / Georgetown salons who wanted no risk taking whatsoever.

    Note Congress could have stepped in and done whatever it wanted: close Gitmo and let terrorists go, get out of Afghanistan and Iraq (though Maxine Waters and Co. are now calling for it), granted Miranda Rights for Osama and company (though they are trying to get it through stealth). Congress could have acted but did not.

  14. Well Joe, I think the Clinton-Osama issue is more complicated than simply ‘doing nothing’, although that title could also be used for the Bush administration, who were getting warnings before 9/11 but did not even plan discussions on terrorism until 9/12. Now the administration is trying to do everything by itself, and, for better and worse, has put it’s head out on the chopping block.

    Now, slowly but surely, we’re finding that they broke laws. The only way to protect themselves is to hide the information (and break more laws). If Iraq had gone well, they would have gotten all of the credit, we would not have a democratic congres, and they probably would be scott-free (despite their attempts to circumvent the consitution). As is, Iraq is a total disaster, and the invasion/occupation plan that they put forward is largely to blame. In fact, many people have argued that because of Iraq, the ME is a bigger terrorist breeding ground than before.

    _Proof of all this: bias towards doing nothing at all even if a major terror strike happens, is that no one lost their job let alone went to jail for 9/11._

    You know what, I completely agree. And you know who’s job it is to bust heads after 9/11 and make sure goverment agencies are accountable? BUSH. You can’t blame this on clinton, he was already speaking at conventions.

  15. Reading Jim’s comment brought to mind the aphorism from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy: Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

  16. You can actually piece together a good narrative, if you winnow all the extraneous insinuations from
    the Washington Post series. First of all, the whole matter of the August 2001 PDB is overrated’ it was less specific than the Dec. 1998 one, four monthes before the Kosovo war. The decision on military
    tribunals was based ex parte Merryman, Qurin, Eisendrager and two centuries worth of experience in handling foreign nationals. Even if they are US
    citizens like George Dasch in Qurin, which makes Hamdi and Padilla; unlawful enemy combatants. The
    fact that Ted Olson, would not remember this detail
    I gleaned from an introductory constitutional law
    really makes doubt his constitutional acumen. Addington, from his former service as CIA counsel
    knew interrogations could not be interfered with.
    The great FISA regime; only Biden could come up with
    such an unwieldy scheme; was fatally flawed as we see with the Moussaoui trial; and to a lesser extent
    the Hicks tribunal. The regulations regarding surveilance of foreign political targets was no broader than those adopted by COMINT/NSA at the outset of the Cold War. Cheney’s energy task force
    showed the facts; we need more sources of energy and
    more powerplants ( A fact the recent power outage
    in NY should remind us.) Seeing as Waxman’s staff
    can’t or won’t read the various decisions regarding
    executive priviledge;like US v Nixon. particularly the exceptions for ‘diplomatc, military and national security considerations” so I guess he tried an admittedly weak argument. The argument that
    the judges and by extention the attorneys be notified of the target of the surveilance, belies
    the dangers of said disclosures; (re the Holy Land
    Foundations and Miller and Risen)

  17. narciso, that would require historical context, something my brief reading of the series indicated was entirely missing.

  18. Narcisco: You dropped alot in a short span, so my response is a little long.

    1)Please don’t press enter at the end of each line, it confuses my eyes.

    2) It’s not just one PDB, it’s the fact that despite warnings from the Clinton administration (though argued by current admin), Richard Clarke (also argued against), increased chatter AND the PDB the administration did not meet to discuss this with terrorism experts. There were many, many other failings outside of the administration, indicating (as Joe said) a systemic failing of the goverment (Bush Admin included) to prevent Al Queda.

    3)ON unlawful enemy combatants: I’ve been thinking about this alot lately. First of all, to my knowledge, the Bush administration decided to put together an entirely new court system to try ‘enemy combatants’. These system has by and large failed in the court room, and been shut down all the way to the Supreme Court. The legislature keeps changing the laws, but it keeps dying in the Judicial. Furthermore, would groups like Blackwater qualify as legal enemy combatants?

    4)Do I debate that Padilla is a bad guy? Not really, I’m sure he’s not a sane individual. However, when you keep changing your charges, and your best evidence is a bin laden tape, you’re starting to stretch the definition of intent. Though the case is still young, we shall see.

    5) The Energy task force was created primarily by Republican donors, giving the appearance of an energy report created by the ‘pay-for-play’ mentality. Legal, yes; a good way to redraw our nations energy system, no. But this is this administration (and most of washington) works, quality is not as important as loyalty. My understanding is that the final bill was a bloated mess that did very little to strengthen the dying energy grid that collapsed a few years ago.

    6) Intereasting though, that Cheney used executive privelege to that instance, but now he explains that he’s part of the legislature now that he’s asked to comply with executive laws?

    7)The problem with NSA wiretapping is not the laws, it is the new technology which works simulatneously within and without the law at the same time. The bush administration had a chance to amend the law and inform the legislature (and probably could have been done quietly and easily after 9/11). Instead, they chose to ignore the law.

    PD Shaw: Please, give me historical context. I like to learn more, that’s why I’m here.

  19. alchemist: as you say, narciso packed a lot in his comment. I didn’t finish the WaPo article, I think there have been more knowledgeable and honest critiques of what the Bush administration has been doing at the Balkinization blog. I have been lurking to see if there is anything new.

    Here would be my point of disagreement with you:

    bq. _My viewpoint has always been that the Founding Fathers intended to dilute the power of the president, and force him to work through the slower legistlative bodies (and if neccessary through the Judicial too) so that large changes cannot occur quickly._

    I think this is true domestically. There is a nice architecture in which Congress passes the laws, the President executes them and the Courts interpret them. This architecture is missing in international affairs. The executive has broad powers and the Congress has a few specific powers. One of those, the power to declare war turns out to be not very important. The founders do not appear to have had a problem that the “war of 1798″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasi-War was undeclared. Congress has power to ratify treaties, but there doesn’t appear to be anything stopping the President from nullifying any treaty. That pretty much leaves Congress with the power to fund the armies, a very blunt tool as politicians from Lincoln to “Levin”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/20/AR2007062001870.html can attest.

    So my belief is that in international affairs, the President has carte blanche authority and the other branches have a narrow range of options to impose limitations. The reason for this is suggested in “Federalist Paper 70″:http://www.conservativetruth.org/library/fed70.html which explained that a unitary executive was needed because “Decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number….” The executive power is supposed to be exercised quickly, no less so for “the protection of the community against foreign attacks.”

    The few instances in which the President has previously been found to have exceeded Constitutional powers appear to be coding errors in which the Courts found the matter to be a domestic one. The Lincoln administration couldn’t subject a citizen to military trial for essentially a domestic crime that could be tried in a civilian court. Truman couldn’t take the steel mills as part of his war-making power. Nixon couldn’t conduct a domestic spying program for non-foreign intelligence gathering purposes.

    The last point suggests that the President has the Constitutional authority to spy on foreign agents within the U.S. If that’s true then Congress cannot prevent it. The FISA laws were intended to create a gatekeeper concept to make sure domestic spying is limited to foreign affairs, but AFAIK every President has rejected the notion that it is required to comply with FISA although they do routinely comply with its provisions. That’s one of the things that bothered me about the WaPo article is it ignored this historic dispute which has become more important within the context of the post 9/11 war on terror.

    What’s my bigger point. Well, if the President has nearly unfettered authority internationally and is under tough constraints domestically, then we have a big problem in figuring out how to deal with an unconventional war in which those categories might be abstract and impractical. I am among those who would favor the creation of a third-way, but it would have to be something that was useful to the President (whomever that might be), ’cause otherwise he/she will just ignore it.

  20. alchemist: _ON unlawful enemy combatants . . ._

    I think the problem with the trial of unlawful enemy combatants within the criminal justice system is the right to “be confronted with the witnesses against him.” (Sixth Amendment) We know what this means in a national security setting because Peter Fitzgerald carefully avoided giving Libby any opportunity to investigate the CIA evidence relating to Plame. His argument was don’t make be choose between prosecuting a crime and jeopardizing national security. The implication is that full access to the evidence will encourage a “catch and release” policy. OTOH, those unlawful enemy combatants that can be detained indefinitely without a trial, perhaps no trial will ever occur.

    I think most advocates of a third-way approach attempt to find a way to independently evaluate the veracity and strength of some of the more sensitive intelligence without giving direct access to the defendant to sources.

    _However, when you keep changing your charges, and your best evidence is a bin laden tape, you’re starting to stretch the definition of intent._

    We really don’t know what evidence the government has. We only know what evidence the government has deemed it judicious to disclose.

  21. Federalist 70 should be read against the historical context of a then-made suggestion of President by committee. It is not a discussion of the executive’s usurpatory potential in cases of foreign affairs.

    Narciso, here’s two quick ways to distinguish Quirin from Padilla: (1) None of the Quirin defendants denied being members of the German Armed Forces; (2) The Quirin defendants got timely tribunals with assistance of counsel. Maybe Ted Olson didn’t forget the Constitution; maybe he had a very weak factual hand to play with.

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