Published on Saturday, April 8, 2006 by the Boulder Daily Camera (Colorado)
by Todd Buchanan
In summer 1973, my parents' work habits slackened noticeably. They took extended lunch breaks, glued to the television sometimes for two hours. What captivated them was no ordinary soap opera, but the hearings of Sen. Sam Ervin's select committee investigating the Watergate scandal.
Some months later, President Nixon narrowly survived a student-wide vote at Boulder High on the question of impeachment. Though I was disappointed at the results, in hindsight it is clear that the Boulder High vote was the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency.
Three decades and some change later, the Board of Trustees of Nederland is considering an impeachment resolution, this time for allegations that George W. Bush has knowingly violated domestic law and international treaties. This would upgrade the town's unique reputation.
Citizens equally concerned with the crisis in United States foreign policy as well as constitutional government will disagree on the wisdom of impeachment. Advocates say it behooves Americans to defend constitutional government against any usurper and to demonstrate to the world that Americans are not united in an overreaching foreign policy. Opponents counter that impeachment is divisive, when the opportunity may exist to build a strong, centrist opposition to the policies in question.
Without going any further into this cost/benefit debate, I would like to argue that impeachable conduct by the president, amounting to a gross abuse of power and a violation of the public trust, has occurred. A case for impeachment does not depend on specific violations of law; impeachment is equally or more concerned with political crimes. Proceeding "from the misconduct of public men," Alexander Hamilton explained, political offenses "relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself" (The Federalist, #65). In the 21st century, the reckless pursuit of war should qualify. What should be done about it in the case of George W. Bush, I will not try to answer.
Serious constraints bear down on leaders in international politics. One result can be dysfunctional group behavior. It is partly because of those elusive but persistent forces pushing down on leaders that we try to build safeguards into our system. One of those safeguards is the distinction between policymaking and intelligence processing. The administration's subversion of that process was a clear abuse of power. What makes it clear is no smoking gun per se, but an undeniable pattern of pressure, some subtle and some not, that the administration applied to the intelligence community to produce the only results the administration would accept. In these circumstances it is no surprise that CIA director George Tenet would cave and then become a fall guy.
The public trusts that war will be a last resort. The administration's insistence on war and the "intelligence" to justify it violated that trust.
Paul Pillar, national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA from 2000 to 2005, describes just how the administration turned "upside down" the intelligence process in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. "If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath," Pillar writes. Official intelligence analysis was not relied on in the decision to go to war; instead, selective intelligence including "raw" (and suspect) intelligence was "misused publicly to justify decisions already made."
"The Bush administration deviated from the professional standard not only in using policy to drive intelligence," Pillar writes, "but also in aggressively using intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war. This meant selectively adducing data 'cherry picking' rather than using the intelligence community's own analytic judgments. In fact, key portions of the administration's case explicitly rejected those judgments."
Pillar notes that on its own initiative the intelligence community tried to anticipate the complications of war in Iraq. These complications included guerrilla warfare against the occupying forces, a significant prospect of violence between Sunnis and Shiites, and an uphill fight for democracy. More likely than a successful implant of democracy, "war and occupation would boost political Islam and increase sympathy for terrorists' objectives and Iraq would become a magnet for extremists from elsewhere in the Middle East," Pillar writes. Journalist James Fallows reported that Defense Department employees participated in the first of several CIA war game sessions, but when their superiors found this out, the Pentagon participants were "reprimanded and told not to participate further." We can only speculate why.
The awful costs of this ill-considered war will accumulate for some time yet. Meanwhile, our champion of moral clarity and the undaunted Dick Cheney may not be finished with their foolishness. Whether or not impeachment is the answer, Congress needs to lay down the law. Citizens must demand it.
Todd Buchanan lives near Nederland, Colorado but keeps a safe distance.
Copyright 2006, The Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC.