Political Milestones

Two milestones in the current administration became clear to me today, and it’s worth thinking long and hard about them. And taking appropriate action.

First, today is three years to the day since the United States declared the new Iraqi government sovereign within its borders. The White House issued this statement:

As you have witnessed, and as the world has witnessed, the new Iraqi government has moved at warp-speed in taking control of its own government. The ministries were being handed over on a very robust pace, based upon their capabilities. Thursday of last week, they assumed control of the last ministry, so all the ministries, as of last Thursday, were under the operational control and day-to-day affairs of the new Iraqi government.

Prime Minister Allawi, himself, has demonstrated his capabilities as the new Iraqi leader in charge of this government, his determination to fight the terrorist enemy within his country, and his eagerness to assume control of his control in order to improve the lives of the Iraqi people, as well as to continue to fight the terrorist threat within his country.

The administration has been in communication with Baghdad for several days — I would say over a week — about the concept or the idea of handing sovereignty over ahead of schedule. This was based upon two factors, one, were they ready, and, B, taking into consideration the security environment in the country. Prime Minister Allawi strongly advised us that today would be the right day to do it. He made a final decision last night, based on my understanding, and which was communicated, obviously, to Ambassador Bremer, which was then communicated to the administration. The President was informed during the day that these conversations were going on. Obviously, he knew about the possibility of this happening for several days, but he received confirmation that Prime Minister Allawi was making the recommendation to do so ahead of schedule.

And the main reason that Prime Minister Allawi gave is that he believes it would strengthen his hand in dealing with the terrorist threat in his country and that it would demonstrate to the Iraqi people that the — and to the world, that this new government is capable, willing, and ready to run their country, to improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people, and to improve the security environment in their country.

The consequences of our miscalculation three years ago are far too grave for partisan “I told you so’s” or humor at the expense of the administration. The vast majority of the American people now agree: we have no plan to fix the problem. Running away won’t work, staying didn’t work, re-escalating yet again may not be working. We must do two things in the next year and a half: (1) Get some adults in the room to help figure out a plan, independent of partisanship, independent of controlling damage to reputations, and (2) Hold those responsible for this debacle accountable. These items probably cannot happen at the same time, but both need to happen.

The second milestone relates to the second item just mentioned — accountability. I’ve been skeptical of the left wing of the Democratic party, which expected blood and impeachment after last November’s elections. The country did not vote for a day of reckoning, it seemed to me: we voted for balance and accountability, and that doesn’t automatically translate into hearings and impeachments.

Knowing what we knew in November, that was probably right. But events have caught up with us, as they say. Clearly the firing of 8 US Attorneys for political reasons is bad, and indicates the extent to which the machinery of justice and democratic government has been subverted for political purposes. Say what you will about the Clinton years, or any Democratic administration in living memory, or heck, any Republican administration in living memory (with notable exceptions of Watergate and certain “episodes” during the Reagan years — arms to the folks we’re now battling, cough cough….). Nothing touches the constitutional “rot” that has now set in within the Federal government.

The House of Representatives — the pre-eminent branch of government in James Madison’s time — has issued subpoenas to the White House, which it is ignoring. Subpoenas from the Senate on warrantless wiretapping are being ignored as well. The White House is stonewalling, much as the Nixon White House stonewalled in the aftermath of Watergate, asserting “executive privilege” for its records.

The official responsible for enforcing the subpoenas, the Solicitor General of the United States, Paul Clement, is unlikely to enforce them, at least in the US Attorney case. Clement is also responsible for the internal investigation at Justice, and along with the Attorney General himself, is the only person capable of appointing a Special Prosecutor to handle these delicate cases. Congress can issue contempt citations, but the Administration itself must enforce them….upon the Administration. Any guesses what will happen in a week or ten days when such citations are issued?

The real milestone is the constitutional crisis we face. The Administration is ignoring separation of powers. It is ignoring the Constitutional split of responsibilities and powers. It will take political pressure by Congress to enforce the rule of law and the Constitution on this Administration. The actions of the President (and likely Vice-President) in the warrantless wire-tapping program are likely in violation of existing Federal law, regardless of signing statements and executive orders. Such violations of Federal law are impeachable offenses. Seriously. And Congress needs our help and support to further these investigations. Now is the time to indicate to your Senator and Representative that you expect them to enforce these subpoenas, or any contempt citations, to the fullest extent possible. That you expect to get to the bottom of the warrantless wiretapping case, no matter what it turns up. Failure to do so will result in you withholding your vote for their re-election. Regardless of whom they face in the next election.

This is the leverage we hold over our elected officials. Use it or lose it.