“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
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
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
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 a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.