Doglike Fidelity – The Cornerstone of the Cult of Bush

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The power of
Commander-in-Chief, President Bush argues, places Congress within
a subservient role. It is fine for members to disagree with him,
but they’d better not touch the funding for the war in Iraq. Democrats
who dare to suggest that they will set conditions on war funding
are accused of micromanaging the war, or of invading the President’s
constitutional powers.

In another
domain, army First Lieutenant Watada is set to be court-marshaled
again, after a mistrial, for failing to report for duty in Iraq.
He has claimed that the war in Iraq is immoral, and violates the
U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Act, the U.N. Charter, and the
Nuremberg Principles, which bar “wars of aggression.” Although he
has many supporters, his stand is reviled as a threat to unquestioned
obedience by many commentators of the authoritarian type.

There is a
common thread tying the debates in Congress to the court-martial
of Watada. In both cases, individuals are trying to shake off the
trance that has existed in this country since 9-11 gave the Bush
Administration carte blanche to pursue any aggressive foreign policies
he desired. This trance has elements of a cult to it: even members
of Congress and the media, whose job it is to question a president
and his policies, became enthralled by the militaristic aura of
the Commander-in-Chief. Like members of cults, they continued to
be loyal and obedient long after it became apparent that the leader
was not making sound or well-reasoned decisions.

Treating Congress
first, is it really the case that any attempt by Congress to reign
in the President would be unconstitutional or ill-advised? The Constitution
gives the Congress the power to declare war, and the power of the
purse. Were these powers really meant to be meaningless tokens,
as would be the case if the current administration’s views were
to be accepted? The President is charged with executing wars and
defending the nation. There is a compelling legal argument, put
forward by Louis Fisher and others, that Congress has the sole power
in deciding whether or not to engage in an offensive war. If that
is the case, Bush has already acted unconstitutionally by invading
Iraq without an explicit declaration of war against Iraq. Any attempts
by Congress to assert some authority over the Iraq fiasco would
be merely an attempt to restore constitutional balance.

The idea that
a cut-off or curtailment of funds would be hurting the troops is
another dangerous and absurd argument. If Congress decided to end
funding for a disastrous war, the President would be compelled to
withdraw the troops. Resources would certainly be provided for this
withdrawal. How would withdrawing the troops from a fiasco in which
they are being killed and maimed every day hurt them? The “support
the troops” trope has been used far too long with far too much success
by people who don’t really care about the lives and limbs of the

Finally, First
Lieutenant Watada is simply standing up for well-established legal
principles which have determined that individual soldiers in an
illegal or immoral war may not use the “following orders” defense.
If he truly believes the Iraq war to be illegal, he was morally
and legally obligated to refuse to serve. If he believes the war
to be unconstitutional, his act of disobedience is not undermining
the nation, but actively defending the nation from a commander-in-chief
who is threatening the very framework of our political institutions:
namely, the separation of powers and the rule of law. The “law”
was not meant to be whatever the President wills or decrees. Such
a frightening notion, being implemented in the kangaroo court in
Guantanamo, the PATRIOT act, the illegal “rendering” of foreign
nationals, and elsewhere, is the real danger to freedom and security.

Let us hope
that there will be more, not fewer, acts of opposition to the President’s
penchant for unilateral decision-making and usurpation of power.
Perhaps a war against Iran, which some in the administration seem
to be yearning for, can yet be avoided. The same cherry-picking
of intelligence and warlike rhetoric that led to the Iraq war have
already been unleashed.

10, 2007

Ojala [send him mail] is a
graduate student in the Committee on Social Thought at the University
of Chicago.

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