Monday, December 15, 2008

Give Them Bush And Circuses

Long a critic of the Bush Administration’s use of extreme interrogation techniques — some call them torture — Andrew Sullivan throws down the gauntlet in the great Bush v. Nixon divide. Assessing the Senate’s recent bipartisan report, he writes:
The report itself is not that long and I highly recommend reading it all closely. It is the most sobering indictment of high government officials in the U.S. since Watergate. And, in the gravity of crimes, it is a far more profound violation of the law and the constitution and the security of the United States than Watergate ever was. Bush’s crimes are far greater than Nixon’s - because war crimes are far graver than burglaries. And there is no statute of limitations for war crimes.

Those of a certain political bent would enjoy contemplating a vision of hell in which Bush and Nixon factotums vie eternally for second-worse. An even more thankless task: Keeping a light lit for them both in history’s window.

The Vietnam war, the central event of the Nixon administration, needs more study and scholarship. Emotions run too high among those who lived through those events. Beside herself that “Frost/Nixon” is too friendly to /Nixon, Elizabeth Drew still waxes sarcastic about the invasion of Cambodia.

As for the war on terrorism, as Sullivan notes, President Bush’s directive exempting interrogators from the restrictions in the Geneva Conventions was signed in early 2002. Back then I remember feeling the United States faced an existential threat. One can only imagine how it looked from the White House, and how it may look today. To say the President may have known more bloodcurdling things than we doesn’t excuse unlawfulness nor the descent into practices and policies that are intrinsically un-American. But we can learn what we need to know through the usual means: Journalism, history-writing, and congressional hearings.

And yet many seem to crave criminal proceedings. It’s possible that President Obama, should progressives complain that they aren’t getting what they expected on the policy front, will be tempted to try to distract them with the bread and circuses of indictments and trials. That handing over a predecessor for pillory would weaken the Presidency ought to go without saying. In any event, Obama may be less interested in such an approach now that he’s getting the same briefings as Bush.

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