Tuesday, January 03, 2006
The scandal concerning the secret NSA wiretaps, or, as Pat Buchanan put it roughly yesterday, extractions (the communications may have been wireless, you see), has brought to light a very interesting defense by the President. Essentially, he has openly admitted to giving such orders to the NSA in clear contravention of the law. The President has asserted the power as Commander in Chief under the Constitution to basically ignore any law Congress passes so long as Bush believes it helps aid in the never-ending "War on Terror". Several on the Left have begun pointing out that this really amounts to Bush declaring himself a military dictator, which, while correct, has produced scoffs of disbelief from Bush supporters. So, I thought it might be instructive to compare President Bush to another military dictator and see if the Left's case holds water.
The problem came with deciding whom to compare with Bush. Castro seemed a likely candidate, being so close to home here. But then, Castro's been in power an awfully long time and, while Bush may be many things, he's certainly not a Communist. Then I thought perhaps Kim Jong Il of North Korea. A Communist, or, more correctly, a Stalinist, as well, though on a bit bigger scale than Castro. Again, the fit just didn't seem right. Then, I happened upon the ideal candidate. An ally of the United States and a partner in the "War on Terror". A military general that seized power only six years ago, with a somewhat liberal (by the standards of his local geopolitical climate) bent to his philosophy. I chose, for my experiment, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
Each criteria will be judged on a scale 1 to 10, with 1 being a Pat Robertson/Hugo Chavez man-date and 10 being a George/Pervez DoubleMint commercial on the horizon. Feel free to re-score any of these in the comments. Let the games begin!
Musharraf was born in India, the son of two middle class, college educated professionals. He attended Forman Christian College and then went on to several Pakistani and British military academies.
Bush was born in Connecticut to a very wealthy, politically-connected family and is the son of a former President. He has degrees in business from Harvard and Yale.
Similarity Score: Not much in common, though both are, on paper, well-educated. I say a 4.
Musharraf fought in wars against India in 1971 and 1987 as an artillery and armored division commander. He was promoted first to Major General and then Lieutenant General in 1995. He helped initiate the Kargil War, in which Pakistani soldiers under his command infiltrated the Indian army in a dispute over Kashmir. Musharraf remains Army Chief today, after refusing to relinquish military power when becoming President.
Bush was AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard in order to work on a Bush Family associate's political campaign. He went to Iraq once to hand out a fake turkey and posed on the deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln to declare "Mission Accomplished" a year into the Iraq war.
Similarity Score: Well, at least Bush didn't have five deferments like Cheney. Score: 2.
Attaining the Presidency
Musharraf became de facto ruler of Pakistan in 1999, following a bloodless coup d'etat. In a nifty bit of political gamesmanship, Musharraf then ordered the Supreme Court to require him to hold elections by 2002, in an attempt to give his Presidency, assumed in 2001, legitimacy. Musharraf held a referendum vote in 2002, designed to grant him 5 more years as President, which garnered a less than 30% turnout and was widely criticized as fraudulent.
Musharraf was later able to build a majority in parliament by promising to step down as commander of the military, a promise on which he later reneged. He pushed parliament to pass the 17th Amendment to the Pakistani constitution, which legalized the Musharraf coup. In 2004, Musharraf won a very slim electoral vote of no confidence, thus legalizing him as President until 2007. Musharraf essentially rules Pakistan as a dictator, using the parliament to legalize his decrees.
Bush became President in 2000, after a heavily-contested electoral battle in the state of Florida. In an unprecedented act of judicial activism, the Supreme Court voted along party lines to halt the recount of Florida and effectively grant Bush the Presidency. Bush's re-election in 2004 was by a bit wider margin, though it, like 2000, was fraught with allegations of vote fraud and relatively low turnout (the low 50% range). Bush essentially began trying to rule as a dictator, by asserting nearly limitless rights as Commander in Chief in a time of war. The Republican-controlled Congress has thus far largely supported this view.
Similarity Score: Both needed the Supreme Court, but Musharraf definitely took the longer road. Both claim nearly limitless power, though Bush tries to justify it under the Constitution. I gotta go with a 5 on this one.
Musharraf has a public policy of being against Islamic extremism in Pakistan. In reality, he is allied with Jamaat e Islami, a militant group with ties to Osama bin Ladin. Musharraf is also allied with Maulana Samiul Haq, a militant extremist known as a spiritual mentor of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamic Fundamentalist groups have practically unfettered reign to act, recruit and indoctrinate within the borders of Pakistan.
Bush has a public policy of being against religious extremism anywhere in the world. In reality, he is closely allied with the House of Saud, a known supporter of militant Islam. Bush has also expressed support for the goals of Christian fundamentalist groups in the United States, including the denial of civil rights to gays, the denial of reproductive rights to women and the teaching of religion in place of science in government-funded public schools. Christian fundamentalist groups have practically unfettered reign to act, recruit and indoctrinate within the borders of the United States.
Similarity Score: Only Timothy McVeigh's, Erik Rudolph's and Paul Hill's lack of access to commercial aircraft keeps this from a perfect score. 9 it is.
Musharraf was welcomed by most Pakistanis as a change for the better, after years of ineffectual governments. However, his lack of domestic policy results and his support for the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have eroded his support considerably.
Bush was welcomed by about half of all Americans as a change for the better, after years of peace and prosperity but, regrettably, some poor sexual indiscretions. Bush's popularity spiked after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, due to...well, no one really knows why (the "Ground Zero" photo-op, perhaps?), but his popularity did spike. However, his lack of domestic policy results and his unwavering support for the occupation of Iraq have eroded his support considerably.
Similarity Score: Arnold and Danny. A 10.
In the final analysis, Bush probably hasn't risen quite to the level of military dictator yet, though his declaration of unlimited power came only recently. It seems clear that Bush had no intention of disclosing his Nixonian view of executive power, and only the New York Times' better-late-than-never reporting forced him and his advisors to play the "Commander in Chief of the U.S." gambit. Whether Bush continues to assert extra-legal powers under his role as head of the military remains to be seen, especially in light of the 2006 mid-term elections. A Republican bloodletting could be in the offing.
In all seriousness on this tongue-in-cheek post, Bush has attempted to take our country somewhere it was never intended to go. The laws he sees fit to eschew, for no better reason than to dodge accountability, were enacted for the very purpose of restraining this sort of executive power-grabbing. The President has no Constitutional authority to assert his will contrary to the law, in any role he may play. The Commander in Chief has no power over civilians in the United States, and the assertion of power under that guise amounts to a de facto military dictatorship. Even more worrisome, most within the President's party and its supporters seem unfazed by this, given their belief that it will protect them from the shadowy threat of terrorist violence. No laughing matter...