Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Will Obama's Power To Grant Offices, Honors & Emoluments Grease The Path Towards Escalation In Afghanistan?


As our poor overburdened president stumbles inexorably, pathetically towards escalating a tragic and unwinnable war in Afghanistan that the military, the Intelligence community, clueless, defensive hawks in his own administration, and the Republican Party all insist on for their own varied and self-serving reasons-- and that the American people are set against-- I recalled a passage from Charles Pierce's stupendous little book Idiot America that I had read last summer. Ken and I both went to James Madison High School in Brooklyn-- as did Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Carole King, Chris Rock, Andrew Dice Clay, Cousin Brucie, Judge Judy, Frank Torre and Gambino Crime Family head Roy DeMeo. I'm not 100% certain about Ken, but I didn't hang out with any of them. But I've always maintained a fascination with our country's 4th president, the man who, basically, wrote most of the Constitution, much of the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights. He and Thomas Jefferson were the progressives to Alexander Hamilton's elitist conservatism.

Madison was very much aware of the power-- and abuses-- of both public opinion and of war. "Public opinion sets bounds to every government," he wrote late in 1791, "and is the real sovereign in every free one... The larger the country, the less easy for its real opinion to be ascertained, and the less difficult to be counterfeited; when ascertained or presumed, the more respectable it is in the eyes of individuals. This is favorable to the authority of government," wrote the man whose chief underlying principle revolved around the need for strong checks and balances to protect individual rights from the tyranny of the majority. "For the same reason, the more extensive a country, the more insignificant is each individual in his own eyes. This may be unfavorable to liberty." Nor did his disdain for war keep him from starting one.
"In war, he wrote in 1795 [while a member of Congress from Virginia-- 14 years before his inauguration to follow Thomas Jefferson], "the discretionary power of the executive is extended; it's influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied, and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of seducing the force, of the people... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Bush was apparently a dummy with some crafty people around him. Obama is a sharp and educated man with the same sort of crafty people are him. Bush craved being a wartime president. Madison didn't but he still started a war with England that nearly bankrupted the country and "was highlighted by Madison fleeing the White House a few steps ahead of the Royal Marines, who burned the place. Not even he could resist wholly the temptations he saw as inherent in any executive." Pierce thinks he tried. Many think Obama is trying as well.

Right now he's desperate to get more troops from mostly very unconvinced allies... and hoping to bribe Taliban fighters into switching sides, a longtime mainstay of war in Afghanistan. My friend Graham Isaacson wrote a song about it that makes far more sense than Obama's tepid strategy for disaster:

I wish I could think, like many of my friends, that Obama will do the right thing. I sincerely doubt he will, unless he's pushed to. And we're the one who have to push him-- we a small band of allies in Congress who think the same way we do about this way.

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