What do Republicans do when their leaders behave intemperately or engage in behaviors that border on or cross the line of criminality? First they deny culpability even when the wrongdoing is obvious to all but the most partisan of observers. But if that doesn’t work the fallback position is to blame President Clinton.
When former Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld explained that you “go to war with the army you have not the army you’d like to have” there was much nodding of heads from supporters of the war even though his premise was ludicrous on its face. If attacked with no other recourse, you go with what you’ve got. But when you initiate a war you’ve been promoting for years you should first ensure that your military are combat ready, sufficiently armed in sufficient numbers to carry out the battle plan you have calibrated far from the war zone.
In the late 1930s, the country was readying itself for the possibility that it would become involved in WWII. And when the battle was joined in the early ‘40s the country’s industrial complex ratcheted up production of aircraft and other war materiel. Rationing was imposed to ensure that food resources were directed in support of troops in the field. Provisions may have left something to be desired, but they were provided by military soup kitchens not high-priced corporate entities like Halliburton’s KBR. And nobody made excuses for shortages of armor or ammunition; they just worked harder to provide them.
Today a flawed and incompetent administration works tirelessly not to reform itself but to find someone else to blame for its shortcomings. One often hears that it’s Clinton’s fault the military is under-manned and under-supplied – – a charge that ignores the fact that Clinton was not planning to invade and occupy a country and that he has, after all, been out of office for seven years. Bush supporters are fond of saying “if today’s war detractors had been around during the Second World War we’d all be speaking German now”. But, given the administration’s slow dance in the debacle that is Iraq, it is far more likely that had the Bush crowd been in charge of our WWII mission, we’d still be fighting the Battle of The Bulge.
And when it comes to pardons, what better way to excuse the president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence than to bring up the pardons President Clinton bestowed during his last days in office. But if Clinton can be criticized for pardoning relatives and the “fugitive financier” Marc Rich, the Bush pardon of Libby – – someone deeply involved in White House efforts to ‘sell’ the war, someone who knows, one might say, ‘where the bodies are buried’ – – is infused with partisan self interest. Rich was castigated for doing business with Iran, a country on the U.S. enemies list. Yet Halliburton was similarly engaged when Cheney was its CEO. According to Cheney, however, that Iran connection was acceptable because it was the contractual obligation of a Halliburton subsidiary based outside the United States. In other words there was no moral imperative; no intrinsic right or wrong, just the relativist spinning this administration uses to avoid exposing inconvenient truths.
Press Secretary Tony Snow sneered at the Clintons’ criticism of the Libby pardon as Arkansas chutzpah. And over the weekend Representative Dana Rohrabacher on Fox News said Democrats should probably avoid talking about pardons, given President Clinton’s vulnerability in that area. But in fact it’s a conversation Democrats might relish. Looking back to the first President Bush who, although claiming to be “out of the loop” and unaware of what was going on, pardoned convicted Iran Contra principals, Casper Weinberger and Elliott Abrams, asserting that the “common denominator of their motivation…was patriotism.” Today Elliott Abrams serves in this administration’s state department. Now that’s chutzpah.
Are we to assume that patriotism means supporting leaders even when they engage in criminal behavior or should we expect something better from public officials who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and serve the common good? But like father like son, Scooter Libby is described by the current Bush as the epitome of a public servant whose patriotism and loyalty are exemplary. Apparently that character assessment influenced the odd decision to commute a sentence before any time had been served – – an action taken by a sitting president of an administration yet to be held accountable for outing a covert CIA operative in its dogged pursuit of propaganda to support its war agenda.
It should have been an early indication that all was not well when the president sealed his father’s papers even though the proper time interval for their publication had elapsed, nor was it a healthy sign that so many of the nation’s programs were developed in secret with special interests deciding the country’s foreign and domestic fate.
The public is not well served by leaders who think they can avoid being called to account for their actions by relying on some tortured version of executive privilege or by claiming they answer to a higher power; they answer to ‘the people’. Afraid to discuss the Libby pardon or those fired attorneys, or the way we were led into war? Not a chance. The challenge to “bring it on” works quite nicely for Democrats.

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