The most recent GOP presidential debate, held in Dearborn, Michigan, this time, was mostly a very dull affair. Hardly any of the usual entertaining histrionics: even the naturally theatrical Rudy seemed unusually subdued. As the soft buzz of the television blended in with the sound of the bus going by and the barking of neighborhood dogs, I was lulled into a comfortable haze, and nearly drifted off to sleep when suddenly Chris Matthews’ voice cut through the mental murk, like a headlight cutting through the thick San Francisco fog rolling down my street:
"Governor Romney, that raises the question, if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities?"
The way the Stepford candidate phrased his answer "You sit down with your attorneys" was the biggest misstep of his campaign, so far. Whoever programmed him neglected to put the Constitution in his database, as Ron Paul rightly reminded the audience. Yet I’m getting a little tired of people saying "it will come back to haunt him." It’s really not a fair criticism, if you go and read the transcript. What he was saying is that he hopes it doesn’t come to that, in the case of Iran, and that the US should exhaust every effort to resolve the alleged "crisis" diplomatically. He clearly hopes to prevail by taking punitive measures short of war.
On the question of presidential power, however, Romney simply refused to answer, and started yammering about his lawyers again.
Obliquely noting Romney’s sleek evasion, Matthews repeated his question to Duncan Hunter, who I guess must be running for Secretary of Defense, because of the air of expertise with which he explained that it all depended on whether we are dealing with a "fleeting target." This faux version of military-speak refers, I suppose, to some "24"-like scenario in which the Evil Iranians have somehow gotten their hands on a super-weapon capable of obliterating American cities at the push of a button. What kind of a "fleeting target" is an alleged nuclear site in Iran? What, I wondered, is that old fool talking about?
Ron Paul made a mistake in responding to the question purely reactively. Why criticize Hunter, whose candidacy is a joke? Paul let himself get drawn into Hunter’s Hollywood-generated fantasy, at least momentarily, and only got back on track when he described all this talk of an Iranian "threat" as war propaganda.
In striking contrast to Paul, however, the most shocking answer of all was given by none other than the mild-mannered, outwardly likeable Mike Huckabee. The Arkansas governor’s public persona is that of a small-town mayor chock full of down-home American wisdom straight from the heartland, measured and never shrill. Yet the friendly farmer down the road evaporated before our eyes, and something awful and Cheney-like appeared in his place, when Matthews directed his question at Huckabee:
"Governor Huckabee, same question. Do you need Congress to approve such an action?
"HUCKABEE: A president has to [do] whatever is necessary to protect the American people. If we think Iran is building nuclear capacity that could be used against us in any way, including selling some of the nuclear capacity to some other terrorist group, then, yes, we have a right…
"MATTHEWS: Without going to Congress?
"HUCKABEE: And I would do it in a heartbeat."
"In a heartbeat" there goes the Constitution!
One could plausibly argue, as Garet Garrett did, that Congress surrendered its constitutional prerogative long ago. Even after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, FDR, that most imperious of Presidents, would not have dared go to war without a vote of the people’s representatives. Yet, "nine years later," as Garrett pointed out, "a much weaker President did." That was Truman, who sent US troops to Korea without congressional approval, and, in defense of his action, claimed that the war-making power invested in Congress by the Founders was "obsolescent." The President and his partisans argued that we had to be able to react to the Soviet threat at a moment’s notice: it was an early version of the Jack Bauer scenario, albeit even less plausible. Yet Congress swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, and, under the tutelage of a Democratic administration, American conservatives, once opposed to the imperial presidency, were seduced by the cold war. Later, the "war on terrorism" allowed them to be talked into surrendering the last remnants of their historic devotion to the Constitution. Which is how we arrived at the sad spectacle of some backwoods governor proclaiming his willingness to ditch it "in a heartbeat."
Taken somewhat aback, I think, by Huckabee’s unseemly eagerness to discard the whole idea of the consent of the governed without even so much as a by-your-leave, Matthews asked: "Without going to Congress?" Huckabee answered by withdrawing into the safety of Hunter’s "fleeting target" Hollywood fantasy, asserting his duty to strike first and ask Congress later, "because it’s actionable right now." Matthews, however, clearly impatient with all these elaborate evasions, took it to the next level:
"MATTHEWS: If Congress says no, what do you do, Governor?
"HUCKABEE: You do what’s best for the American people and you suffer the consequences ."
One dearly hopes one of those consequences will be the impeachment of President Huckabee.
Even worse than the brazenness of such a power grab, however, is the Governor’s demagogic rationale for it:
"But what you don’t do is what you never do, is let the American people one day get hit with a nuclear device because you had politics going on in Washington, instead of the protection of the American people first."
Do we really face the prospect of having to choose between democratic governance and survival? This contention, aside from seeming a bit overwrought, is not based on any conceivable scenario, nor is it remotely concerned with Matthews’ original question, which posed the prospect of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. We are not talking about Hunter’s "fleeting target" here, but about a long-term program by Iran to acquire a nuclear capability, the progress of which is being closely watched by the international community, and minutely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Furthermore, it is absolute nonsense to believe that, even if Iran does go nuclear in the next ten years or so, it will be able to launch a nuclear attack on the continental US. We haven’t heard anything less credible since George W. Bush asserted with a straight face! that unmanned drones sent by Iraq could devastate American cities.
Both McCain and Thompson gave surprisingly common-sensical answers, with the former quickly disposing of the Jack Bauer scenario and going on to say that, in the case of the more likely course of events "a long series of build-ups, where the threat becomes greater and greater" of course he’d consult with Congress. Thompson concurred with McCain, but Benito Giuliani took the Huckabee line, and then some.
After declaring that it would have to be an "exigent circumstance," he illustrated what such a circumstance might be by going after Ron Paul,
"And the point of I think it was Congressman Paul made before that we’ve never had an imminent attack, I don’t know where he was on September 11th.
"PAUL: That was no country. That was 19 thugs. That had nothing to do with a country.
"GIULIANI: And since September well, I think it was kind of organized in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And if we had known about it, maybe maybe hitting a target there, quickly, might have helped prevent it.
"In any event, we’ve had 23 plots since September 11, where Islamic terrorists are planning to kill Americans, that we’ve had to stop. So imminent attack is a possibility, and we should be ready for it."
To begin with, it’s just not plausible that hitting targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan, where, Giuliani avers without evidence, the 9/11 plot was also hatched would have smashed a terrorist ring inside the US. The plot was hatched and implemented years before the dirty deed was done, and the hijackers had been living in the US including in the general vicinity of Rudy’s "sanctuary city" for immigrants, both legal and illegal for a good length of time.
Secondly, twenty-three presumably thwarted terrorist attacks since 9/11? This is big news, except for one thing: it isn’t true. Nearly every case of suspected domestic "terrorism" has been bogus, the product of an overzealous prosecutor, or just plain trumped-up from the get-go. The US government has even backed down from charging Jose Padilla, an American citizen locked up without trial, with doing what then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said he was guilty of, which was supposedly plotting to set off a "dirty bomb" on American soil. Where did Giuliani get the number "23" from? Probably the same place the Reverend Louis Farrakhan got the number 19.
If Giuliani has information that Iran is organizing a terrorist attack on US soil, then perhaps he ought to let us in on it: and, well, you can see how far we’ve strayed from Matthews’ original question about Iran, remember?
As I’ve pointed out before, Giuliani’s foreign policy team is focused like a laser on the goal of attacking Iran, and they make no bones about it. Norman Podhoretz, one of Giuliani’s top foreign policy lieutenants, "prays" that Bush will launch the hit before Giuliani is sworn in. If Poddy’s prayers go unanswered, however, then there can be little doubt Rudy the Reckless will make his dream of war come true.
What killed the Republican party’s long-lost love of liberty, it’s realism and prudence in the field of foreign affairs think of Robert A Taft, or, better yet, Rep. Howard Buffett (yes, father to that other Howard Buffett) is the cancer of militarism, and the baneful influence of the very military-industrial complex President Dwight Eisenhower warned us against. To hear Huckabee’s contempt there is no other word for it for the constitutional order, and his apparent indifference to the war-weariness of the American people, was shocking: this guy, after all, is supposed to be a moderate, of sorts, and yet here he is up-ending every law and tradition designed to limit the abuse of power.
From the perspective of those concerned with preserving what’s left of our old republic, as well as preventing the next war, the team of Giuliani-Huckabee is the worst of all possible eventualities. Yet that is what we may very well get from the GOP. It seems clear enough, to me at least, that the Arkansas governor is running for Vice President an office that has acquired more visibility than it used to and if Giuliani has yet to give much thought to a running mate, as of Wednesday night he may have recognized in Huckabee a compatible spirit.
A Giuliani-Huckabee ticket would embody the complete prostration of the old conservatism, with its emphasis on the constitutional separation of powers, before the war-god of neoconservatism, and the new reality of what Lew Rockwell trenchantly describes as "red-state fascism." Is there no one left, within the GOP, of any prominence besides Ron Paul to stand up in defense of the former? If so, then the GOP has truly reached the end of the road, and all its future defeats will be well-deserved.