Disregarding Democracy

In the run-up to the mid-term elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney's recent remarks about U.S. national security policy once again point out the Bush administration's haughtiness and disdain for checks on executive power.

"You cannot make national security policy on the basis of that [election outcomes]," declared Cheney. "It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter, in the sense that we have to continue the mission [in Iraq] ... and that is what we are doing." No matter what the outcome of the elections, U.S. policy in Iraq will go "full steam ahead," according to Cheney. Apparently, U.S. public opinion on the most important issue of this administration's tenure doesn't count.

Similarly, the Bush administration has also decided to ignore Iraqi public opinion. Opinion polls in Iraq indicate that a large majority of people wants a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals. If the main goal of the U.S. invasion and occupation was to set up a democracy in Iraq, shouldn't the administration pay more heed to the wishes of the Iraqis? Yet the administration refuses to even consider a "phased withdrawal" as an option.

Cheney's rhetoric may be designed merely as a political move: to throw red meat to the right-wing base to increase its turn-out for the elections. It's conceivable the administration could reverse its policy in Iraq after the election returns are in. Yet the possibility that the remarks were only for show dimmed when President Bush said that he wanted both Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, architects of the Iraq debacle, to serve until the end of his term. Even if Cheney's remarks are regarded as pre-election bravado, however, the rhetoric is stunning from an elected leader of a free, democratic country.

Of course, such words are only a continuation of the administration's chutzpah on the expansion of executive power. The Bush administration, which should have been red-faced after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, successfully argued that Congress should continue to allow the torture of prisoners and the suspension of their habeas corpus rights. When the administration's kangaroo military tribunals were declared unconstitutional, it merely turned to Congress to approve them. In the 1970s, disclosures of domestic spying by intelligence agencies brought a public outcry and congressionally imposed restraints. Today, after exposure of a clearly unconstitutional National Security Agency program for domestic spying without a warrant, the administration, instead of being embarrassed or fearing impeachment, brazenly wants Congress to enshrine the practice into law.

This lack of shame in authorizing bad and unconstitutional government behavior is rooted in an imperial presidency, which will linger long after the current occupant is gone. The next president, whether Democratic or Republican, will inherit a dangerous precedent: the executive branch trampling on the Constitution and the checks and balances therein. The next president could easily use the precedent to further expand presidential powers. This pattern has occurred throughout U.S. history, especially during periods of war or crisis, but was especially pronounced during the long-lasting Cold War. Now that we have what promises to be an equally long or longer "war on terror," we can expect the ever-expanding executive power to once again accelerate. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is only the first installment of that likely future.

The creation of empire destroyed the Roman Republic slowly from within. As its foreign conquests militarized Roman policy, power passed from the peoples' assembly to the Senate to the dictator to the emperor. In the United States, "home of the free and the brave," we somehow believe a similar usurpation of the republic could never occur. Yet it is already underway.

Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.

New from Ivan Eland!
THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed

Most Americans don't think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. In The Empire Has No Clothes, Ivan Eland, a leading expert on U.S. defense policy and national security, examines American military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Buy It Today >>

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Older Comments:
I honestly feel that all this rejoicing at Democrat victory is premature. Democracy is just some noise in the background for most Americans. At best it is the crutch Americans use to justify their brutal foreign policy of perpetual war, of invasions, murder, assasinations and destruction. Or the US pursues this most obnoxious and destructive policy through its proxy, Israel. A true pariah illegal state, that is notorious for killing children, babies and women with wild abandon. Not even the UN nor the EU or NATO dare raise even an eyebrow. It is the character and ideology of the American people that has to change. A foreign and domestic policy that steers the country away from naked aggression, bullying and war mongering that has thus far characterised the US for over 75 years would certainly have a direct impact on other countries and their policies and take a world away from the constant fear and teetering on yet another world war. I wonder if Americans understand or realise how they are viewed by the rest of the world? If they did they probably would burn their passports and never claim they were Americans. With the exception of information on movie stars and their shallow lives, Americans are blissfully ignorant about anything and everything. They know nothing and are happy knowing nothing. The only hope is that the next generation of immigrants who fill the shoes of leaders and law makers will take the US away from being the monster it is-but not if the lunatic fringe, the right wing Jewish lobbies and the barbaric Christian Evangelists have their way.

What a fantastic summary of the destruction of democracy currently under way in the U.S. It is so ironic that the propaganda currently used by Emperor Bush and his office, is of "spreading democracy", while he and his administration are undermining America's democratic history. The American people are no longer free and it is a damn shame.

Asalaam alikum,
Much of what is said in this article, which was published yesterday, is very very true. Tim, my brother, if I could have emigrated for Canada in November 2004, I would have already been gone.
But it is 11/8/06, and incredibly, Rumsfield has resigned. I don't know about you, but we are still dancing in the streets for that one. The leadership in Congress has changed overnight, and I am currently making duaa that with the new congressmen and congresswomen, and the new senators, we will now finally start the withdrawl process and end the illegal war, reverse the shameful "patriot" act and try to recover whatever respect we can. Please continue to pray for us, it is going to be a long way back.

L Alahem

Democracy ? I live in the United States of America so naturally I know nothing about Democracy. I also know nothing about Civil Rights or Due Process or Individual Freedom or Freedom of Expression or Right to Dissent or freedom of anything. I vaguely remember something resembling certain basic human rights and government accountability when Jimmy Carter was President. But that was a very long time ago and I was just a child. Now I just live from day to day to pay my taxes on what I have earned after slogging for 365 days a year. After I have paid taxes on what I have earned I pay taxes again on what ever little was left over which I invested. Then I pay taxes again into a hold-over account so that when I hit the ripe old age of 65, I pay taxes, yet again, at a "lower" rate. I will be happy if I can afford my grave site - and even then I must pay death taxes. That is an American's life. Any body wants to emigrate to our country? We lost 126,000 Americans who left for Canada in disgust ever since Bush took over as "Thug-In-Chief", so we do have some vacancies? Anybody ?

K W FROM USA said:
Author, please study history and U.S. constitution more carefully. You do a great disservice to most of those unfortunate enough to read this.