Have we lost all control over our lives and the future of the country? What demonic force is controlling our destiny and what have we done or not done to allow a president of such slight ability and so little depth to trample on the Constitution and commit the nation to foreign entanglements that defy rational thought and lack the support not only of Congress but the American people? His signing of what amounts to a treaty, all on his own, with Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq is an outrage.

What we have fallen into essentially is a back-door presidency, and our elected representatives and we the people have allowed it to flourish. Whenever the president thinks, in what passes for his notion of wisdom, he need not abide by laws passed by Congress he simply submits a signing statement that all but nullifies the intent of any given legislation. Thus we have an anti-torture statute made meaningless by the president’s insistence that the use of “extreme measures” in certain circumstances is okay by him, creating in effect open-ended permission for interrogators to use whatever methods they choose.

And when the president is unable to push unsavory or unqualified appointees through the Senate approval process he simply bides his time and makes an appointment when Congress is in recess. Surely this power was never intended to be used repeatedly to subvert the will of the Senate but rather to fill vacancies when circumstances suggest some urgency. This time around Majority Leader Reid has committed Congress to pro forma sessions during the Thanksgiving recess to keep the president from pushing through more appointments of his choosing, and one can only hope he will do the same thing during the Christmas recess.

At the moment we have a happy president, strutting before the cameras as he convenes a Middle East conference, self satisfied as he sits at a desk and, by means of an inter-continental televised hookup, signs an agreement with Mr. Maliki that says we will remain in Iraq basically forever. We will man bases; we will protect a Shiite-led government that is a low-functioning, all-but-powerless entity. And for our troubles we will receive favorable trade and business opportunities. Where exactly does the power to make such an arrangement, in the absence of Senate approval, derive?

How can this lame-duck president commit the country’s blood and treasure to an endless occupation that presumes to make foreign-policy decisions for the next administration? Isn’t it time for Congress to confront the president and hold him to account at long last with respect to this back-door treaty? We haven’t suddenly become a monarchy where a king decides whom to befriend and what wars to fight. Make no mistake, whether events in Iraq go well or ill, nothing will ever validate the decision to invade a sovereign nation, without direct cause, occupy it and essentially institute our rule over it.

Has anyone forgotten how well the presence of our troops in the Middle East worked in the past? Remember when we had forces in Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon? Wasn’t it a great motivating factor for radical groups of all descriptions? We left under duress from both countries; the Saudi connection enraged Bin Laden and provided him with Al Qaeda recruits. What makes Mr. Bush think an endless contingent of US forces will have a calming effect in the region and how does an agreement with a barely functioning government led by one faction lead to the political reconciliation we’ve heard so much about?

Now after all this time, a beaming president presides over a meeting of Middle East powers to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian problem. If it leads to further discussions about the issues that keep these two peoples in constant conflict real progress will have been made. But with Hamas in control of Gaza and Iran on its own particular bent, both absent from the Annapolis meeting, it seems unlikely that agreements reached without their input can hold.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her introduction as the meeting was about to get underway, described the president as having been “tireless” in his pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian solution. There hasn’t been much evidence of his tirelessness in the past seven years, but he has lately grown concerned about his legacy which seems to have motivated him to make grand gestures of leadership no matter how ineffectual and meaningless they may turn out to be.

When President Bush wants to create an impression of power and gravitas he greets us in front of flags standing at a podium. But it is the back door when he initiates his worst decisions and most dangerous power grabs. Congress needs to step up, and so do the rest of us and say “not this time Mr. President.” We should also understand that if any of the Republican frontrunners reach the White House we’ll have more foreign-policy disasters and more back-door ‘diplomacy’.

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