Saturday, January 20, 2007


Constitutional Defect

We have a President who seems to have a fanatical attachment to the war in Iraq. Wise men and women of all political persuasions, from Sam Brownback to Barbara Boxer, agree that our policy in Iraq is a failure and the best course to follow is to save what we can and withdraw as gracefully as we can. Instead, our President persists in more of the same. Our military force of 150,000 troops has not pacified Iraq. The elections that we sponsored have not led to an effective democratic government. Iraq is descending into a bitter, bloody religious civil war. Figuratively speaking, we've dug ourselved into a deep hole. Our President's response is to keep digging, perhaps with a different shovel. Wise men have counseled him to stop digging and start climbing. He is like the English king Ethelred the Unready. Unready meant "unadvised" or headstrong.

I am, of course, preaching to the choir. You all know about our stubborn President. Many of you hope that the new majorities in Congress can put a stop to our President's "unreadyness" and persuade or force him to adopt a different policy. But our Congress is just as powerless to rein in a headstrong and wrong-headed President as were the corresponding institutions a thousand years ago in Anglo-Saxon England to rein in King Ethelred. We do not have a parliamentary system. A vote of "no confidence" has no influence on a determined President. Short of impeachment or death we have no choice but to follow the President's lead.

We are experiencing the greatest weakness of the Presidential system of government. We have no legal way of removing a stubborn President from power except by an overwhelming supermajority vote in the upper house of our national legislature. As long as 34 Senators remain loyal to Mr. Bush, we are condemned to follow his ruinous policy. Our neighbors to the south in this hemisphere have developed their own way of getting rid of an unpopular, stubborn, and incompetent President. They demonstrate in public. They make a racket by beating on cooking pots with spoons and clubs. They carry out a general strike. The Army stages a coup d'etat and replaces the President with a general. After a while there is an election and another President is elected and all is well again.

I wonder why I bother to write this little essay. I have strong feelings, but no practical or realistic suggestions about changing the situation. Our constitution is defective, but I don't know how to fix it.

How about you, the reader? Any suggestions short of assassination?
The basic problem with allowing Congress to have the final say on foreign policy is that they do not want the responsibility that goes with that power. Few Democrats have advocated cutting off funding for the war. That is, I believe, because the Democrats would be responsible for the ensuing chaos. If we accept that that it is impossible to win in Iraq, who would then suppose we would subsequently sign up to defend Kuwait or Saudi Arabia? The Democrats would have to sign up to take responsibility for not only the millions of lives lost in Iraq, but the total collapse of the region which they so ardently believe impossible to defend.

Democrats seek an ending like that in Vietnam. A settlement was reached in which the U.S. continued to fund the South Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese held their own until the Democratic-controlled Congress chose to pull funding, over the strong objections of then-President Ford. There was some Republican complicity in Congress. (Does this all have a familiar ring?) The South Vietnamese then collapsed, and the North Vietnamese, ignoring their agreement, killed about a million in retribution, and another two million were killed in Cambodia after we withdrew.

The pattern is well established. Nothing less than total defeat for the US will be acceptable to Democrats, but they will do their best to avoid the associated responsibility.

I'm not so sure it will play out as well this time. Terrorists will enjoy their new safehavens and new control of oil supplies, with ultimate bad effects on the US. That's going to be hard to ignore.
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