Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Congress v. the President: Round 1

Following on quickly from the article to which Lorenzo referred immediately below, it seems that Bush's growing isolation over Iraq is no longer limited to the international plane, or to domestic public opinion; he looks now to be at direct odds even with his own Parliament. The House of Representatives voted this evening, albeit by a narrow 218 votes to 208, to make continued replenishment of the President's war chest conditional on the commencement of troop withdrawal in October, with the planned completion date for this process March 2008. The Bill is set to be voted on by the Senate tomorrow, and, given the Democrat majority in that House too, seems likely to be up for Presidential approval before long.

The Whitehouse reaction? "Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq - and the president will veto its bill". Utter intransigence, then; and he is not alone. His position is supported by most Republicans, many in the military establishment, and the Iraqi Prime and Foreign Ministers, no less. The criticisms of the last two actors in particular have to be taken seriously; the trouble is, however, that those who are - ostensibly at least - the President's most important audience, the American people, have made their collective will on this issue relatively clear; it is difficult to view Bush's refusal to accept the judgment of Congress as anything other than deeply undemocratic.

the Guardian recently published an interesting opinion piece by Naomi Wolf, "Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps", outlining the basic 10-point blueprint that has historically underpinned the move to fascism in a variety of different states, and suggesting that the US has already made significant progress along a number of these paths. They are

1) Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy;
2) Create a gulag;
3) Develop a thug caste;
4) Set up an internal surveillance system;
5) Harass citizens groups;
6) Engage in arbitrary detention and release;
7) Target key individuals;
8) Control the press;
9) Equate "dissent" with "treason";
10) Suspend the rule of law.

Initial reactions to these claims may well be, as mine was, that they involve some fairly crass hyperbole; however, as the author develops her argument in lucid and eloquent fashion, it becomes clear that the US has indeed progressed worryingly far along a number of these routes (although she does acknowledge, correctly in my view, that the US's democratic traditions and institutions are too strong for the country to be at risk of a descent into fascist totalitarianism). Wolf recounts, for example, the astonishing story of Professor Walter F. Murphy of Princeton University, denied a pass to board a plane at Newark Airport on the grounds that he was on a terrorist watch list. The airline employee, clearly trying to be helpful, inquired as to whether he had been on any peace marches, as "we ban a lot of people from flying because of that". When the ex-Marine Professor indicated that he had given a very public lecture at Princeton that was highly critical of Bush, the response from the airline representative was simple: "That'll do it".

Moreover, the prosecution of the war on terror requires, of course, the creation of a feeling very similar to it amongst the general population, through the constant invocation of life-threatening danger and amorphous yet ever-present enemy; Guantanamo and the even more secret network of CIA prisons throughout the world are performing the task of the Gulag nicely, and seem also to have arbitrary detention (if not release) pretty much covered; and the rhetoric of "with us or against us", so characteristic of the US approach to this whole affair, strongly suggests that Bush will brook no dissent whatsoever, and, indeed, that to do so is "unAmerican" - as the Whitehouse reaction to this evening's vote shows.

We can, perhaps, add another "step" to the list; a confrontation between the strong Leader and the recalcitrant Parliament, in which the former blatantly and steadfastly refuses to give way to the wishes of the people's democratically elected lawmakers on issues of great importance. We have, it seems, reached just this point now; it will be interesting to see how things play out over the next few days.

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