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The Daily Briefing 21/10/05 #2
1 The Bush-Conservative divorce
In what the NYTimes said was a sign of the deepening split among conservatives over how far to go in challenging President Bush, Republican commentator Bruce Bartlett was sacked as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative research group based in Dallas. Perhaps the title of his forthcoming book, "The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy" alerted them to the fact that Bruce had lost those loving feelings. In the conservative weekly Human Events, Bartlett has written a concise column spelling out what are the main complaints against Bush (link below).
Not sure if you will be able to get a free-to-view look at the next two articles from The New Republic, but here's hoping. Ryan Lizza begins by talking about Bartlett, as he reports on how Republicans are preparing for life after Bush. Especially for those who can't get to it, Lizza draws on the knowledge of Marshall Wittmann, "Washington's shrewdest conservatologist" who says of the split: ""This is intra-conservative warfare between the faith-based conservatives and the reality-based conservatives." And, by "faith," he means not faith in God, but faith in Bush. In other words, the real split over Miers is between conservatives who worship Bush and those who worship conservatism. One camp believes in the infallibility of the president. The other camp believes the evidence before them. Fred Barnes and James Dobson are faith-based conservatives. Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer are reality-based conservatives. Hugh Hewitt is faith-based. Ramesh Ponnuru is reality-based. "
While most commentators attribute the nomination of Harriet Miers as the cause of the split, Franklin Foer in The New Republic thinks it is merely the catalyst, arguing that it is about the failure in Iraq - and the real debate on that issue, he says, is yet to come. (For what it is worth, I think he is right that Miers is only the catalyst, but I'd give a bit more emphasis on Bush's fiscal dilinquency and big government style.) "This coming debate over the war will have far greater significance for the future of conservatism than the Miers nomination. After Iraq, what will hold the conservative coalition together? Will the coming moment provide an opening for a resurgence of isolationism or a far less strident brand of realism? Miers could prove to be the little lady who starts the big war."
And speaking of the fiscal mismanagement issue, the first to cause friction between Bush and conservative intellectuals, Veronique de Rugy and Nick Gillespie made that case again recently in Reason magazine. De Rugy is from the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute and Gillespie is editor-in-chief of that libertarian-conservative magazine.
BRUCE BARTLETT/HUMAN EVENTS
2 The secret war cabal
At first glance, you would have to think Dan Froomkin (link below) is right. Froomkin refers to this story in The Financial Times, and says: "It didn't make the front page this morning, but it seems to me that it's a big deal when a former top administration official declares that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, inveigled the president, condoned torture and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies."
The Washington Post also reported the comments made by former chief aide to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, to the New America Foundation, a relatively new and far less ideological think-tank. In short what Wilkerson has said is that the republic was hijacked by a small group of neo-conservatives so that they could wage war their own chosen way.
In relation to the issue of Bush's political standing, and the splits in his conservative base, it suggests that he may end up even more isolated - certainly it seems that the conservative foreign policy establishment will not be standing beside him if the going gets rougher and more protracted in Iraq. The message is likely to be - this was your bright idea, it's all yours, you are on your own. What we appear to be watching is the disintegration of an American presidency.
DAN FROOMKIN/THE WASHINGTON POST
3 Miers fails the first hurdle
For George Bush to have any chance of turning around his political fortunes, you'd think he would have to see his nominee Harriet Miers confirmed onto the Supreme Court, preferably in a smooth process. But Miers, who has basically been characterised as inadequate and not up to the job (to be polite about it) appears to have failed the first test. "The Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers, already troubled by a lack of enthusiasm on Capitol Hill, ran into more rough ground Wednesday when senators from both parties rejected her responses to a questionnaire as insufficient."
"Both parties". If Miers emerges from this process looking like a total dud, it again raises the issue of Bush's competence - and that is one that will cross the strong partisan divide in the US.
4 Halliburton and the whistleblower
As described in this article, Bunny Greenhouse is an extraordinary woman, an African-American from a dirt poor family who became the top procurement official at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then she questioned a series of rich contracts handed to Halliburton, without a tender process, in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Greenhouse lost her job and appears to have been the victim of a nasty vilification process - but she is not backing down and insists on telling her story. "I learned very early that everything you did in life you did with every fiber of your being," she says, her voice a mix of pride and fury. "Why would I sit here now and let them tell me that I'm something I'm not? Why would I do that? I'm Bunny Greenhouse first, then I'm in a government position. I will not compromise who I am."
THE WASHINGTON POST
5 The anti-terrorism laws debate
Some articles of interest, perhaps, in the context of the debate over the proposed anti-terrorism laws. In the article linked to below, Geoffrey Stone (Professor of Law at the University of Chicago) and Richard Posner (Federal court judge) debate the US equivalent, the Patriot Act which has been attacked by civil libertarians.
At On Line Opinion, Dr John Tomlison, a senior lecturer in social policy at QUT, says the laws are a triumph of paranoia over experience. "It might just be time to stop and take stock. We might ask how many Australians (anywhere in the world) have died at the hands of "terrorists" in the last two decades. The answer is fewer than 200 dead. We might like to ask how many Australians have been killed while in police custody in the same period. The answer is at least double that number. We might put along side that figure the people the Australian military forces have killed in Afghanistan and in the two Iraq wars. We can add at least another half a million Iraqi people who died as a result of the decade long blockade of that country maintained by Australia and its allies."
And The Cato Institute, a libertarian-conservative think-tank, examines the case of Jose Padilla who was arrested in the US, yet charged with being an "enemy combatant", and has been held for two-years without so much as access to his lawyer. "The federal government has been given a green light to deprive Americans of their rights to due process. No arrest warrants. No trial. No access to the civilian court system. You may not be able to see it on television, but this court decision is the equivalent of a legal hurricane-and it is no exaggeration to say that this is a level 5 storm with respect to its potential havoc for civil liberties."
GEOFFREY STONE & RICHARD POSNER/LEGAL AFFAIRS
6 The Saddam trial
Saddam Hussein was never likely to be shown mercy by a crusty old conservative like John Keegan, but his knowledge of the historic difficulties of prosecuting a head of state makes his take on the "trial of the century" a more interesting read than most. "Saddam Hussein cannot hope for such intervention. One of his many mistakes has been to alienate all his foreign and domestic friends. He now finds himself in the same kind of predicament as Marshal Pétain at the end of the Second World War, with the difference that Pétain was not accused of mass murder and had been elevated to the headship of state by vote of the Chamber of Deputies, not by coup d'état. Moreover, De Gaulle could not bring himself to confirm the death penalty on his old commanding officer, thus allowing the nonagenarian to serve his sentence in the prison island of the Île d'Yeu. Pétain died in captivity."
JOHN KEEGAN/THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
7 The benefits of the Jewish diaspora
Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn treks through Jewish history to make his case that emancipated Jews of the diaspora, especially those living with the "stimulus" of a "certain degree of unease in relations between Jews and gentiles", have made the greatest contribution to human history. "There is no historic precedent for the triumph of the Aufklärung in the post-Holocaust diaspora. Nevertheless, there are those who wish to withdraw from it into the old segregation of religious ultra-Orthodoxy and the new segregation of a separate ethnic-genetic state-community. If they were to succeed I do not think it will be good either for the Jews or for the world."
ERIC HOBSBAWM/LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
8 Redressing the legal balance
Here's a point of view rarely heard in these "tough on crime" days, and one that won't get much of an airing from the 'shock jocks' or the tabloid media. Michael Bosscher, the manager of a criminal law firm, says that recent changes have swung the balance of the law against the accused person, at the risk of miscarriages of justice. "As definitively as there are genuine victims of crime, equally definitively there are liars. In those cases there are still genuine victims but they sit in the dock, not in the witness box. As strenuously as the genuine victims of crime need to be protected equal measure must be given to protect an accused person throughout the criminal process."
MICHAEL BOSSCHER/ON LINE OPINION