Viet Dinh’s Letter
Dear Mr. Roberts,
I write as a bewildered fan. A fan because I truly admire your past service to our nation as a government official and your past contributions to our intellectual culture. Bewildered because your recent posting on LewRockwell.com compares America’s defense against terrorism to Nazi Germany and because, even more inexplicably, your opinion appears to be based on total fiction.
I woke up this last Saturday to the following message on my email:
“Last week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference signaled the transformation of American conservatism into brownshirtism. A former Justice Department official named Viet Dinh got a standing ovation when he told the CPAC audience that the rule of law mustn’t get in the way of President Bush protecting Americans from Osama bin Laden” Paul Craig Roberts
If you are so enamored with totalitarianism, maybe you ought to return to your ancestral home.
I resisted the temptation to dismiss the message as another bigoted attack and asked for a source citation to what I assumed to be a made-up quotation. No reply. So I researched and to my surprise discovered that the cowardly email had indeed quoted your post on LewRockwell.com.
As it is obvious that you are writing without any first-hand knowledge of the facts, let me be very clear about what was said and what was not said. I did not, nor did anyone at CPAC to my knowledge, say that "the rule of law mustn’t get in the way of President Bush protecting Americans from Osama bin Laden." Nor was there any standing ovation. I would have thought, before your post, that an accusation against an individual, an entire audience, and indeed a nation’s anti-terror strategy of being akin to Nazism would require a bit more responsibility to the facts.
Assuming some fealty to the truth remains, let me recount what I said during my debate with Bob Barr at CPAC. I acknowledged that conservatism derives from a tradition of healthy skepticism of governmental power. However, I said, "At times that healthy skepticism must unfortunately yield to a greater threat to our national security." I posit that the question is not whether the President is above the law but rather whether anyone, including Congress, is above the Constitution, and specifically noted that "no one without operational knowledge of the details of the NSA program can come to a definitive conclusion as to its propriety or legality."
Finally, I concluded, "At this time, the greatest threat to American liberty comes from al Qaeda and its associates who would seek to destroy this nation, not from the brave men and women who defend America and her people."
If you disagree with any of the above points, I would love to engage you in a conversation. If you were there and differ in your recollection, I would ask to see your notes or better, that you check your facts with Bob Barr. If you were not at CPAC and did not observe that which you purported to describe, I hope you will come clean.
But nothing — nothing, sir — justifies your spurious accusation of "brownshirtism" against anyone, least of all against one who has suffered the tyranny of totalitarianism.
Viet D. Dinh
Paul Craig Roberts’s Response
I stand by my characterization of Viet Dinh’s remarks in his debate with Bob Barr at the recent CPAC annual meeting and by my statement that conservatism has morphed into brownshirtism.
Viet Dinh is one of the authors of the so-called "PATRIOT Act," an anti-American piece of legislation recognized throughout the civil libertarian community as an assault on American civil liberties. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr has fought to restrain the act’s more egregious intrusions into the constitutionally protected privacy of American citizens.
Even Republican US senators, such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, are concerned about the Bush regime’s proclivity for warrantless spying in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Senator Specter is drafting legislation with which he hopes to curtail President Bush’s illegal activity. As far as I can tell, the legal community recognizes that Bush’s warrantless spying is illegal, except for members of the Republican Federalist Society, a group of lawyers dedicated to concentrating unaccountable powers in the executive.
There are several news reports on the CPAC conference and the debate between Bob Barr and Viet Dinh. My observations follow from these news reports.
Writing in the Washington Post on February 11, "Bob Barr, Bane of the Right?," Post reporter Dana Milbank, for example, reports that Barr asked the CPAC audience, "Are we losing our lodestar, which is the Bill of Rights" to the Bush regime’s zeal in its war against terror?
Barr confronted the conservatives: "Do we truly remain a society that believes that every president must abide by the law of this country" or "are we in danger of putting allegiance to party ahead of allegiance to principle?"
Barr’s questions were greeted with silence followed by booing. According to Milbank, "Dinh brought the crowd to a raucous ovation when he judged: u2018The threat to Americans’ liberty today comes from al Qaeda and its associates and the people who would destroy America and her people, not the brave men and women who work to defend this country!’"
How else are we to interpret Viet Dinh’s words? Clearly, he is saying that it is more important for Bush to seize powers to protect America from Osama bin Laden than to obey the law and abide by the separation of powers. The entire position of the Bush regime is that protecting the country from terrorists is more important than loyalty to habeas corpus, the Geneva Conventions, the proscription against torture, open government, and an accountable executive.
Dinh himself endorsed the Führer Principle and urged it upon the conservatives when he declared, "The conservative movement has a healthy skepticism of governmental power, but at times, unfortunately, that healthy skepticism needs to yield." Yield to what? To the Leader who works "to defend this country."
That’s exactly what Hitler said following the Reichstag fire, a staged incident that he used to remove himself from accountability.
Milbank notes that by turning the debate into the issue of who do you fear — George Bush or Osama bin Laden, Viet Dinh employed "the sort of tactic that has intimidated Democrats and the last few libertarian Republicans who question the program’s legality."
Milbank reports that Viet Dinh’s tactic did not work on Bob Barr who nailed Dinh: "That, folks, was a red herring. This debate is very simple: It is a debate about whether or not we will remain a nation subject to and governed by the rule of law or the whim of men."
In fairness to Viet Dinh, coming as he does as an immigrant from a country without a constitutional tradition, without a Bill of Rights, and without a judiciary empowered to enforce civil liberties, Dinh may only naturally confuse patriotism with loyalty to leader. Trust the Leader, Dinh told the conservatives. They seemed to agree. This certainly is not America’s way.
Destroying America does not mean blowing up buildings. It means destroying the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers. Al Qaeda is powerless to bring about such destruction. Only our own government, enabled by the public’s and Viet Dinh’s and Attorney General Gonzales’ endorsements of the Führer Principle can destroy America.
Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is Chairman of the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, former contributing editor for National Review, and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.