Monday, December 19, 2005
What Is The White House Trying To Do?
[This article has been updated twice since its original posting.]
Somebody needs to talk me down off the ledge.
I've been out here on this ledge since, like— oh, I'm not sure I even remember— sometime around January 2002 or so. Right about the time the President stood up in front of the Naval Academy and announced that the Project for a New American Century had written our new, improved defense doctrine.
I keep looking at the big scandals of this White House, and the same question keeps coming up: why the fsck are these people doing it this way? The whole extraordinary rendition, prisoner abuse, Geneva conventions thing is one case in point. The latest one to capture the public attention, i.e. the warrantless electronic surveillance order, has been trundelating along for some time now as well.
In both of these cases— though, what's noteworthy about the warrantless surveillance order is how blatant it's been— the White House has gone out of its way, for completely indefensible and incomprehensible reasons, to assert that the President's authority to exercise discretionary war power is "plenary" and unchecked by Congress or the courts.
It's like they're deliberately trying to provoke a constitutional crisis.
That's why I'm saying somebody needs to talk me down off this ledge. The President and his supporters can't— really, they just can't— be that far gone, right? They are not trying to provoke a constitutional crisis. They just can't be. That would be Unamerican. It would mean our oaths to defend the Constitution against its domestic enemies would seem to be in play— which would be kinda difficult to manage under the circumstances, seeing as how said "enemies of the Constitution" would have all the tanks and planes and missiles.
So, all you right-wing freekbots— and you liberal interventionists, too— it's time to jump on the team and come on in for the big win.
You're going to explain to me, in the comments forum please, what useful purpose is served by tapping the phones of Americans without bothering to comply with the ridiculously easy terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, i.e. you can get a warrant 72 hours after the fact from a court that has never denied a request and would probably authorize a tap on a ham sandwich if the DHS asked for a warrant.
Why would you throw down that glove to the Congress and the courts? Why else would you do it except to provoke a constitutional crisis?
Really, I would dearly love to have a sensible answer to that.
Update 1.0: Over at The Left Coaster, Steve Soto is asking all the same questions I'm asking (some of them in the comments below, and others I've been asking elsewhere).
+ Why haven’t we had more prosecutions here at home?
+ Why haven’t we had more arrests here at home?
+ Why haven’t you gone to the Foreign Intelligence Services Act court and received warrants on all these people?
+ If the current law was insufficient, why haven’t you tried to expand it in the last four years?
+ Why can’t you share [the names of wiretapped citizens] with the top four members of the congressional intelligence committees, who are already bound to confidentiality now?
I'd really like to hear a plausible answer from the President other than "Fsck off, hippie. I'm the President, and if you don't like it, you can wait until you get another President." As near as I can tell, he's deliberately trying to engineer a constitutional crisis. Really. I've been trying to avoid this conclusion for going on four years now. I'm -->this<-- close to giving up.
Update 2.0: Finally, Kevin Drum has a plausible explanation for me. He actually doesn't come out and say it, but I think we all know what he's talking about.
His theory is much more believable: the President doesn't want to comply with the need to obtain a FISA court warrant because the system that decides who gets wiretapped and for how long is now thoroughly automated (or, more accurately, it soon will be if everything goes according to plan). To keep the new wiretapping system running at peak efficiency, it would require a case load at the FISA court that would utterly swamp it with requests.
If you assume that the President simply refused to shut down the Evil Dr. Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program when the Congress ordered him to do it, then every last one of Steve Soto's questions has an obvious and easily inferred answer.
Q: Why haven’t we had more prosecutions here at home?
A: Because Total Information Awareness doesn't work.
Q: Why haven’t we had more arrests here at home?
A: You mean, why haven't we had more arrests publicized here at home, right? When most of the people you're investigating turn out to be non-prosecutable, then you either don't arrest them, or you bind them into complete silence with non-disclosure agreements.
Q: Why haven’t you gone to the Foreign Intelligence Services Act court and received warrants on all these people?
A: Because that would mean 1) explaining how we got their names, and eventually— once the system is out of beta testing— 2) overflowing the capacity of the FISA court to hear requests by several orders of magnitude, and there's no way they'd sit for that without pitching an unholy fit.
Q: If the current law was insufficient, why haven’t you tried to expand it in the last four years?
A: Hello? The Congress made it quite clear they didn't want us using data mining operations to generate the names of our terrorism suspects!
Q: Why can’t you share [the names of wiretapped citizens] with the top four members of the congressional intelligence committees, who are already bound to confidentiality now?
A: If we did that, we'd have to admit how we came up with their names and why we thought they might be terrorists.
So, you see— it's very simple. The President isn't trying to engineer a constitutional crisis. It's just an unfortunate side effect of his approach to governing.