Firing Alberto Gonzales? First Essay
Bill Long 4/12/07
A Republican White House Unravels
It is now becoming crystal clear why the White House wanted the Senate Judiciary Committee to move up the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from April 17 (when it is now scheduled) to the end of March. By letting the damaging March 29 testimony of Gonzales' fired assistant Kyle Sampson dominate the airwaves without rebuttal, and by giving the Democrats another three weeks to keep digging on the firings of eight federal prosecutors, the Bush Administration knew that Democrats would find some dirt. And, indeed, they are.
But the important thing when dirt is exposed is not the fact that allegations fly. What is important is how an unassailable "case" begins to build up, a case that makes it impossible for the Administration to get out its message. Let me illustrate this by reference to the War in Iraq. For three years after our 2003 invasion the Bush White House and its allies kept affirming that we went to War in Iraq because of credible intelligence that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to Al-Qaida. But as 2003 morphed into 2004, that explanation began to be exposed as flimsy. By the time 2006 rolled around, almost no one believed it. Now, the unassailable case has been made--that the one-time war justifications were completely bogus.
Another unassailable case is beginning to be accepted in the public's mind regarding the War in Iraq--and that is the three-fold nature of the mistakes we made in 2003-2004 in that country. 1. The point now broadly accepted is that we never had enough ground troops to do the job. Rumsfeld wanted a leaner and meaner army, with 140,000 troops, but we really needed around 450,000, according to former Defense Secretary William Perry. 2. The second point gradually being accepted is that we made a huge mistake by ousting all Saddam loyalists, the Baathists, from government positions. By doing this we created a knowledge vacuum at the heart of this country. The majority Shiities, who had never had leadership position, were now expected to govern a country and the ones who knew where all the bodies were buried, so to speak, were out in the cold. America now accepts that this was a huge mistake. 3. Finally, we now agree that it was a mistake to disband the Iraqi army. By so doing, we had to "start from scratch" and try to build a "national" army just when sectarian violence is reaching its peak.
This three-fold cord will not quickly be broken. America now believes in large numbers that our conduct in Iraq has been deeply flawed, and it is the gradual falling into place of these three points that has led to this belief. And, since the fighting of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars has been the centerpice of the Bush Administration's War on Terror, the Bush Administration has taken an enormous hit because of this case which is now accepted by the American people. Thus, Bush's approval ranking is hovering in the low 30%'s. He maintains the support primarily of two types of people: those religious folk who are ideologically attuned to his agenda and those who profit financially from the Wars or his largesse to them.
The Unraveling of an Administration
But it takes more than just a failure in Iraq for the Bush Administration to be considered a failure. And now, the case is beginning to be made that Bush has done a lot of domestic damage during his Presidency. This is really what the Democrats are interested in these days. Is it "politics" to try to show his domestic disasters? Of course. That is the name of the game. But the Democrats are aware that they have to help "build" the case of Bush's domestic incompetence in order for the nation to adopt their approach. And, in fact, they have not gone after the issue of incompetence as much as the raw centralization of power in the Administration, to the detriment of Congress, the Judiciary and, ultimately, the American people.
But this "case" has not yet crystallized. Several elements are "up in the air" right now. Indeed, the drama over the firings of eight US Attorneys, firings which are well within the legal purview of the Administration, is the means by which the Democrats are trying to build a larger case of domestic mismanagement, incompetence and abuse of power. And Gonzales' April 17 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee will be important not only for his future with the Adminsitration but, more important, of whether the Democrats can successfully build this domestic "case." Here are a few things that are "in the air" which the Democrats are trying to bring together "in a case." Several of these elements have been "in the air" for thre or four years.
1. The Adminsitration and Torture. We heard as early as 2003 that the Administration didn't want to adhere to the Geneva Covention's prohibition of torture. The means by which they didn't want to do this was the deisgnation of captured people in Afghanistan as "enemy combatants." So, the Administration put its brain trust to work on ways to enable it to work on "coercive" measures against these folk. The true story of this has not yet come out. D's would love it to come out. We need memos and chronologies and lists of people involved, etc...
2. The Administration and Domestic Surveillance. We still don't really know the extent of domestic surveillance approved by the Attorney General in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The story of whether this is an outrage, a "necessity" of war, or something in between has not fully been told.
3. The handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. This would give people insight into the internal workings of an Administration not only from the perspective of policy (did they consciously decide to drag their feet on immediate recovery?) but from the fiscal mismanagement of this problem. That is, did the Administration, when the heat was turned up, just "throw money" at the problem, as it often accuses its opponents of doing? The true story of Katrina hasn't been told.
4. The "outing" of Valerie Plame Wilson for the editorial her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote in July 2003 denying the Iraqi search in Africa for enriched uranium from Niger as part of a potential WMD program. The D's tried to resurrect this issue in Feb. 2007 by having Ms. Wilson testify in Congress on a particularly slow news day, but the story never really caught on. America probably wants to "move on" from this story, even though the principles and players behind it play into the drama of the really big issue--in the next essay.