Move On

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Even though this denunciation is like beating a dead horse, I am giving the reasons that convinced me that George W. Bush has been our most damaging President in a century. Maybe at least our country will be able to learn from his mistakes.

The campaign in Iraq has created a death toll numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The high cost of the war demands rigorous justification. Before the war President Bush spelled out the reason for committing U.S. troops:

Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.

President Bush promised that he possessed classified information that confirmed these threats, including a nuclear threat. In his State of the Union address, he said:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.

Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.

Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

In March 2003, U.N. inspectors reported that Iraq was cooperating and no evidence of a WMD program was found. But President Bush eschewed both diplomacy and multilateral cooperation, and pushed forward with military action. The United States’ admirable record of nonaggression was broken by a preventive war.

Soon investigators had to admit that there were no WMDs in Iraq. Even worse was that the President had cherry-picked the intelligence that best suited his agenda. Notes from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld revealed his eagerness to claim that Iraq was linked to the 9/11 attacks. The worst news was that the administration had deceived the nation. Specifically, an Iraqi nuclear threat was known at the time to be not credible. Finally last month President Bush publicly admitted that al-Qaeda was also not present in Iraq, adding, “So what?” He used false pretenses to entangle the U.S. in an indefensible war with appalling collateral damage. Putting oneself in our neighbor’s shoes, it is no wonder that the Arab world is disgusted with the conduct of the United States.

An evaluation of President Bush’s domestic policy is likewise bleak. Before President Bush, prisoners were guaranteed habeas corpus, meaning that they would be informed of their crimes and given a trial. But that right has been stripped from combatants in the war on terror, including American citizens. After the Supreme Court ruled that this treatment was unconstitutional, Bush tried again with legislation in 2005 and then again in 2006. Those expansions of executive power were a direct attack on the habeas corpus clause of the Constitution. They additionally violated rights set forth in the Geneva Convention. Fortunately the Supreme Court has again restored habeas corpus by rebuking Bush’s policies. Meanwhile, prisoners are still not guaranteed to receive humane treatment. In the worst cases, prisoners were tortured or else sent to foreign prisons where torture is commonplace. The prospect of an innocent person getting arrested and brutally treated without a chance to defend himself is normally associated with barbarian lands, and should never have been allowed in the United States.

A controversy that affects even more citizens is Bush’s secret surveillance program. Warrantless wiretapping was specifically forbidden by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Bush sought to protect the program by refusing to disclose its existence and then by coercing the Department of Justice. As soon as it was challenged in federal court it was ruled unconstitutional. The Bush administration promised to abide by the ruling. Unfortunately, they continued violating the law in secret. The power to eavesdrop on citizens without oversight is dangerous because it is so easy to abuse the power on innocent people that are not involved in the war on terror.

Even though there are other failures that this administration will be remembered for, I will forgo writing a laundry list of Bush’s sins. There are only four issues that I think are necessary to distinguish him from any other unsavory politician. The theme of this list is encroaching executive power.

  1. Invading a country under false pretenses,
  2. Attacking habeas corpus,
  3. Unchecked domestic spying, and
  4. Defying Supreme Court orders and acts of Congress

These offenses are already notable enough that they have smeared the nation’s honorable reputation. We will be repenting of the Bush administration’s actions long after he has moved along.

Manifest Destiny

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Americans and foreigners agree that the United States is a world leader and a special nation. Just one aspect is the American military supremacy. Another aspect is its image as a leader of ideals. And it is the latter, the position of moral leadership, that most deserves national pride.

The United States was born of the colonists’ thirst for liberty, at a time when power-hungry despotism was the norm. America has a compelling interest in protecting democracy and civil rights, which has continued to this day. Americans use these goals as a justification for our prominence on the global stage.

If the United States did not hold lofty ideals, then it would not be fair for it to consider itself special. The union is sacred only insofar as it preserves the sanctity of human freedom. If the United States were to become a nation that suppresses human rights, then Americans would still harbor national pride, but it would become an empty attachment. It would resemble the pride that a school has in its football team, a pride that is based on ego rather than on ethos. Patriotism that is healthy is neither offended by criticism nor blind to the faults of the nation. Citizens with an open-minded attitude are best positioned to help the country improve.

It is easy to forget that democracy is fragile. A powerful government tends to expand its power at the expense of individual rights. Many statesmen have warned, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” With a single generation of complacent citizens, the government could transform itself in ways that the forefathers would have considered monstrous. In name, the country would still be the United States, but in spirit it would not continue their legacy.

The continued survival of the American experiment depends on success on two different battlefronts. The first is the military conflicts with all other countries. This is the external and obvious battlefront. The second battle is internal. It is the struggle to preserve the integrity of the nation. If the United States were to conquer in every war it entered, but at the same time begin to resemble the governments of its enemies, then the military victories would be hollow. This means that if the only way to protect national security is to trample on human rights, then the price is too high. There are just and unjust ways to win wars. The upright way requires respect for the rights of both citizens and enemy combatants. This is especially true when the world is in peril. Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The power of the United States is a responsibility that ought to be earned, not treated as a divine right or a manifest destiny. Good citizens should be introspective and scrutinize the acts of their own government. Good patriots should honor the country for the good that it does in the world.