The Coup d'Etat against Bush
Paris, January 17, 2008 – The conspicuous irrelevance of George W. Bush's tour of the Middle East to any of the real forces and interests of the region, as well as the spooky irrelevance of nearly everything he said there about the alleged menace of Iran, Israel-Palestine peace, his fancied notions of Iraq's democratic development, and even about oil prices and the American economy, embarrassed his Arab hosts as well as the American officials and press accompanying him.
The tour – his farewell to the Middle East? -- lent weight to the judgment many abroad have already reached, that he no longer governs the United States, and indeed does not even understand its present foreign relationships. It is widely felt that what amounts to a coup d'etat has taken place in the United States, removing George Bush, without his even recognizing this (or at least admitting that it has occurred) from control over the principal issues of war and peace.
This coup has taken the form of what amounts to a mutiny of the professional foreign policy services of the U.S. government, acquiesced in by the new Secretary of Defense, the service chiefs, and Director of Central Intelligence Bush has himself appointed.
It was specifically carried out by the 16 recognized intelligence services in the American government, not as an act of law defiance, but by faithful execution of their duty as required by law, which is to form a common judgment, free from partisan pressure or interest, on matters vital to the nation.
The National Intelligence Estimate made known December 3, after an elaborate civilian and military interagency consultation, carefully walled off from interference by the politically partisan figures in the Bush administration, was presented as a fait accompli to the White House, the press and the nation as a whole. Its finding was that the claims made by the White House and others that Iran was actively developing nuclear weapons were untrue, contradicted by the consensus judgment of all the American government's intelligence agencies.
Implicit in this was a threat. This threat was that the main military service chiefs and their Department of Defense superiors would not act on a presidential order to attack Iran. This decision would not take the form of direct and insubordinate refusal of orders. It would be a refusal by the military and their chiefs to act on such an order until Congress had been informed and consulted, and had performed its constitutional duty to give formal legislative consent to acts of war.
The pathetic and pusillanimous refusal of recent American Congresses – and we are not simply speaking about the Congress now in office, but of practically every Congress since the beginning of the cold war – to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities with respect to the declaration and financing of wars, has now generated its own rebuke from within the executive branch of government.
Leaders in the executive branch are unwilling to act on presidential orders that do not carry with them the constitutionally mandated authority of the representative branch of government.
This is a response by the executive branch to the insistent efforts of the Bush White House, acting on a novel and controversial theory of supreme executive authority in matters of national security, to permanently alter the practice and disarm the legal precedents of American government.
This effort has thus far met little effective opposition in the Congress, and has in general been abetted by a judiciary intimidated by the powers of the Bush Justice Department, and by administration federal and supreme court appointments that imply that this novel theory will become permanently installed as the law of the land.
Judicial resistance has been rare to the administration's defiance of what until now have been all but universally accepted as fundamental norms of American government and justice: of respect for humanitarian precedent and treaty obligation under international law concerning wartime conduct towards civilians, the seizure and treatment of prisoners or 'detainees,' and deference to what the American Declaration of Independence describes as a 'decent respect to the opinions of mankind.'
The matter might also be described as a mutiny by what it is now customary to call the civil society, that minority of responsible leaders of important institutions in society itself -- the professions, the university, the clergy – who are willing to demand accountability of American government and defend American society's traditional norms of justice and decency.
It seems reasonable to say that as the irresponsibility of the Bush-Cheney government has become increasingly apparent, and in the past year its seeming determination to initiate another war of aggressive intervention in the Middle East became evident, with manifest risk of provoking regional conflict embroiling the United States for years to come, a consensus has emerged in American elite opinion that has lent authority to mutiny inside the government.
I am perhaps taking a romantic and unjustified view of what has happened. I hope not. I believe that only grave malfeasance in government and unconstitutional conduct justify an executive 'coup d'etat' – however 'postmodern' the form that it assumes, and however elevated its motives.
However I would suggest that the present election campaign demonstrates that powerful forces in the Washington political and foreign policy communities, reinforced by financial and industrial interests, are committed to suppressing all challenge to policies that already have altered the political character of the United States. The American form of government itself needs to be defended.
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