Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Commander-in-Chief-Without-End, Amen

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com, explains why our concern about the Bush presidency ought never to be just about Iraq, torture or any other single issue:

For these cultists [Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, David Addington, et al] of an all-powerful presidency, the holy war, the "crusade" to be embarked upon was, above all, aimed at creating a President accountable to no one, overseen by no one, and restricted by no other force or power in his will to act as he saw fit. And so, in this White House, all roads have led back to one issue: How to press ever harder at the weakening boundaries of presidential power. This is why, when critics concentrate on any specific issue or set of administration acts, no matter how egregious or significant, they invariably miss the point. The issue, it turns out, is never primarily — to take just two areas of potentially illegal administration activity — torture or warrantless surveillance. Though each of them had value and importance to top administration officials, they were nonetheless primarily the means to an end.

This is why the announcement of (and definition of) the "global war on terror" almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks was so important. It was to be a "war" without end. No one ever attempted to define what "victory" might actually consist of, though we were assured that the war itself would, like the Cold War, last generations. Even the recent sudden presidential announcement that we will now settle only for "complete victory" in Iraq is, in this context, a distinctly limited goal because Iraq has already been defined as but a single "theater" (though a "central" one) in a larger war on terror. A war without end, of course, left the President as a commander-in-chief-without-end and it was in such a guise that the acolytes of that "obscure philosophy" of total presidential power planned to claim their "inherent" constitutional right to do essentially anything. (Imagine what might have happened if their invasion of Iraq had been a success!)

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