A Surge of Constitutionalism

History has already judged the invasion and occupation of Iraq as an American disaster of epic proportions. But what damage has been done to the U.S. Constitution and our form of government?
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The endless Iraq war is decreasingly about Iraq and increasingly about the U.S. Constitution.

President Bush's decision to escalate the war, and to further Americanize it, is based on his flawed and dangerous theory of the "unitary presidency," a theory under which, once war is declared, the president as commander in chief can ignore constitutional checks and balances, disregard the bill of rights, suspend accountability, and concentrate dictatorial power in his own hands.

History has already judged the invasion and occupation of Iraq as an American disaster of epic proportions. But an even more important judgment remains to be made. What damage has been done to the U.S. Constitution and our form of government in the name of the "war on terrorism" as cover for a secret neo-conservative agenda in the Middle East?

In rendering this judgment in years to come, constitutional scholars will take into account Congress's appalling suspension of habeas corpus, its approval of torture and rendition, and its abdication of its constitutional oversight responsibilities. These congressional failures, however, will not be seen as cover or justification for an executive branch run totally amok.

George W. Bush will be held accountable in the court of history for manipulation of intelligence to serve his neo-conservative political agenda, his erosion of national security by the unnecessary exhaustion of our standing and reserve forces, his pathetic failure to respond to natural disasters, his unhinging of the national budget in the service of accumulated wealth, and his almost demented insistence that the U.S. military could put the lid back on a 1300 year old Islamic struggle that he himself had ignorantly removed.

In his adopted role as Captain Ahab, Mr. Bush will extend the tours of four combat brigades and add another to the Iraqi meat-grinder, all in the name of pacifying the capital city where, even today, F-18 aircraft are bombing neighborhoods to rout out insurgents. Thirty-five years ago in Vietnam this was called "pacification." "Secure and hold" will fail equally for a simple reason: patience. It requires no MBA from Harvard to know that occupations, unless they intend themselves to be permanent, will be defeated by insurgents waiting for the occupiers to leave. Those meant to "hold" after we "secure" are all part of a sectarian blood feud that was there long before we came and that will be there long after we leave.

All this will have to be tidied up on the watch of the unfortunate next president who must assume, on top of many other duties left unfinished, the job of restoring the health, integrity, and capability of the armed forces of the United States now so eroded by a war they should never have been called upon to wage.

Likewise, the price for this folly will live long after Mr. Bush departs the premises. Were he sincere in the faith he professes, he would require those who have benefited the most from his tax cuts, those now increasing the size of their gilded yachts, to adopt one of the families of the more than 25,000 American military casualties. Each Bush billionaire can surely afford to care for the widow and orphans of one of the fallen or to provide long-term physical and mental care for one of the wounded in body and mind as a result of his folly.

Surely now even the most cynical neo-conservative is prepared to declare victory. We destroyed all those weapons of mass destruction that Richard Cheney knew existed. Iraq is no longer an imminent threat to U.S. national security, not that it ever was. We have rid ourselves of the tyrant S. Hussein (though it was never quite clear why he, among several dozen tyrants, deserved our special attention), and we have given the Iraqi people freedom, which they are now using to kill each other.

What we, the world's most dominant military power in history, cannot do is impose peace on a nation with scores to settle.

Needed now is not a surge of military forces. Needed now is a surge of citizen commitment to restore the Constitution of the United States of America.

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