Wednesday, June 23, 2004

It's a curious position this United States finds itself in these days. The great beacon of Democracy, the "city on a hill" for a country governed by laws and not men, finds itself run by a collection of men and women who believe that the law is simply an obstacle to be overcome in order to achieve their ends.

The creation of the Imperial Presidency is perhaps a greater threat to the future stability of this nation than the one posed by militant fundamentalists. Some may argue that it is the continued threat of terrorism in this country, and the attack on the World Trade Center that has pushed us into this position, that it is the terrorists fault. They want to assert that it is the "evildoers" that have caused the erosion of our civil liberties and threaten our constitution. While the attacks on September 11th certainly have spurred a great deal of rethinking in law enforcement and legal circles about the expansion of government intrusiveness, it also occurred on the watch of a group which is ideologically in favor of an imperial executive and tough national security. These same groups see no contradiction when it comes to their previously stated desire to shrink the government, if not kill it completely (impossible though it may be). It is the ultimate flip-flop.

The legislation proposed in the name of "national security" (Patriot Act, expansion of domestic surveillance, etc) have all expanded the government, and in particular the executive, to peer into the lives of the citizens of this country. The stated reason is that these "tools" are needed to track-down and stop the terrorists that may be in our midst before they have a chance to act. Yet there have been numerous reports of law enforcement officials, specifically the FBI, having tracked down the basic outline of the network that existed in this country prior to September 11th. The Frontline program "The Man Who knew" documented one such case in which the agent, John O'Neill, had documented and detailed the network of Al Qaeda camps, agents and connections in the years leading up to September 11th. O'Neill, however, was not well liked by top level of the FBI and his efforts to steer the agency down the path did little but cause himself to be pushed aside. His is the most dramatic case in that, he retired from the agency in 2001 to become the head of security for the World Trade Center. He believed that Al Qaeda was going to strike the towers again, to finish the job. He had also told a number of people in and out of the intelligence world that an attack was going to happen soon, and it would be big. O'Neill died on September 11th when the towers collapsed.

The efforts and achievements by O'Neill and others was done with old-fashioned detective work. That and strong international cooperation. They were able to work agents around the world and with the international intelligence and law enforcement agencies to put together the clearest picture of the threat anyone had at the time. Certainly work needs to be done to foster greater coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but more intrusive forms of law enforcement are a greater threat to our freedoms than the threat of terrorism.

Certainly public opinion may not reflect my own position on this topic, but the possibility of secret courts, the loss of habeas corpus, and monitoring of lawyer-client conversations should all send chills down the spine of anyone who values the Bill of Rights.

This administration is on the path to cause a great deal of constitutional problems, ones that once we involve ourselves in, we may find are not as simple to get out of.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

President Bush made a few remarks regarding the situation in Iraq and the appointment of the new Iraqi leadership yesterday. The remarks were followed by a few questions which turned into an informal press conference.

The President again repeated the, "the early formation of the U.S. government was also tough," line. While the early years of the formation of the U.S. government was difficult, anyone who has spent any time reading about the period will realize how rediculous of a comparison this is. There was no widespread guerrila conflict with massive civilian casualties and armed rival facions fighting each other in the streets.

The President said that Brahimi made the decision to appoint the new leadership, also that he doesn't know why Chalabi was not chosen. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been doing a great job of covering the shifting factions jockeying for power and the many groups involved; the IGC, INC, Chalabi, Brahimi and the U.S. administration. The President's assertion that Brahimi is responsible for chosing the new leadership in Iraq has been pretty clearly exposed as fiction by Marshall and others. The U.S. side-lined Brahimi and selected members of the exile, Iraqi Governing Council. The IGC is the rival group to the Iraqi National Congress which Chalabi used to head.

As to the question of the President's knowledge of why Chalabi has been pushed aside, it may be true that he may not know specifically what was in Brahimi's mind at the time, but I think it is fair to say that he should be familiar with the major points. The Iraq war is the most important thing this President is going to do, it will be his legacy, for good or for bad. The fate of millions of Iraqis and the U.S.'s international reputation is at state and the President doesn't know why one candidate to lead the new Iraq was chosen after another? Either this is an example of an extreme lack of interest on the President's part, or there is something else.

That something else could be the current investigation into the Chalabi and his hawksih supporters both in and out of the administration. The FBI wants to know how Chalabi got his hands on classified information that ended up in Iran. While many hawks in the administration, such as Wolfowitz, dismiss this as an attempt to discredit Chalabi and his supporters. Yet there is apparently some solid information that Chalabi's intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, has been working for Iranian intelligence. Josh Marchall goes into depth on this issue in an article in The Hill.

On questions of oil prices, the President asked congress to pass his energy bill saying it would help alleviate the some of the prices consumers pay currently. He also added that if the government has simply drilled in ANWR (artic national wilderness reserve) starting back in the 1990's, we would be pumping a million barrels a day. The U.S. currently consumes, on average, 20 million barrels a day (MMBD). How one million barrels of oil could make a substantial difference, especially in relation to the damage and cost invovled in extracting the oil.

The President asserted that such domestic production could help free us from depending on foreign sources of oil. Our top source of foreign oil is Canada, so it is safe to assume that "foreign oil" is meant to mean middle-east oil. The amount of oil imported from the Persian Gulf is around 2 million barrels a day, the overall amount of importation is around 12 million. How is it that the provider of one sixth of our total oil imports can wield so much power over our foreign policy? It is easy to see that there is much more invovled in middle-east policy than simply pulling the plug on oil.

There is a lot to the President's remarks. However, the importance is not in what he is telling us he knows, but what he doesn't know.