Saturday, May 20, 2006


Three Quick Takes

Well, two quickies and a slightly longer one...

1) I completely agree with
Matthew Yglesias's point on the absurdity of the "but you have no civil liberties if you are dead" line of thinking:
The United States was able to face down such threats as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany without indefinite detentions, widespread use of torture as an interrogative technique, or all-pervasive surveillance. But a smallish group of terrorists who can't even surface publicly abroad for fear they'll be swiftly killed by the mightiest military on earth? Time to break out the document shredder and do away with that pesky constitution.
In fact, I like that so much, I said almost exactly the same thing two years ago:

If the answer to every legitimate congressional inquiry concerning presidential powers is that "we are at war" and that legislative questions concerning executive behavior are inappropriate, it becomes impossible for Congress to fulfill its constitutional mandate as a co-equal branch of government. At what point do the American people ask the obvious: What sort of war is this and exactly how long should a president have virtually indeterminate powers to wage it?

Yes, it is true that past presidents have taken on extraordinary wartime powers: In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus; in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the internment of Japanese citizens. But, in both cases, there existed a defined foe. With each, there was a sense of what victory meant and over whom that victory would be won. The Union would defeat the Confederacy; America and her allies would defeat the Axis powers. Even in the cold war, the ideology of communism had a clear home in the Soviet Union. Those conflicts would end with the defined enemy surrendering, being defeated, or the motivating ideology collapsing. However long it took, the American people knew there would be some sort of definite conclusion.

But, in President Bush's vision, the terrorist enemy remains amorphous. After September 11, Osama bin Laden was wanted "dead or alive." Then, as the Iraq war developed, Saddam Hussein became the ace of spades in the terrorist card deck. Now, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is the new face of evil. The war, we are told, will not end with any one of these men's capture or death. It will continue until...until ...until when, exactly? Thus, the comparisons many make to previous U.S. conflicts are hardly applicable.

Neither are the comparisons to decisions of previous commanders-in-chief who put aside civil liberties. For the 40 years of the cold war, the United States held off a Soviet enemy that had the power to destroy the country several times over--yet civil liberties were never curtailed to the extent they are now. In the current struggle, which some call World War IV, Americans are being asked to sacrifice liberties in the face of an enemy that has less ability to damage us than the Soviets did. This is not to minimize the threat of Islamist fundamentalism, but it is essential to put the capabilities of the enemy in perspective.

2) Building any fences up north? Considering that we know terrorists have used the Canadian border to enter the U.S. for nefarious purposes -- and only suspect they've used the Mexican border -- exactly which one is in greater need of a physical barrier?

Delphic Alan announces he end of the good times? Frequent reader ERA notes forebodingly, "Well, considering the economic labor supply needed to fuel the Housing Boom has just been eliminated, it's a no-brainer to say that the Boom is over. I guess Alan just makes it official. The massive cost-of-living hike Congress is passing with so-called "immigration reform" will be the legacy of this Congress and GW Bush will probably never live it down. Bill Clinton was never this stupid."

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