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Bush’s Cakewalk Across the Constitution


George W. Bush has this thing about laws — domestic or international — that disagree with him. He likes to operate outside their embrace or withdraw from them or try to repeal them. It is not just personal — as when he costs taxpayers millions to pay for his political trips on Air Force One before elections — it also involves the health, and safety of Americans and people abroad.

Bob Woodward relates in his new book on Bush and war that the President admits to being a black and white person who makes decisions from his gut. A dubious enough personality type for a football coach, this trait raises serious concerns when imbedded in the commander-in-chief of the most powerful arsenal on Earth.

Consider what this gut instinct has done to our constitutional framework and the tenuous architecture of international law. Earlier this year, Bush launched an all out offensive on Congress to have it selectively surrender its exclusive constitutional authority to declare war against Iraq. Despite heroic efforts from legislators led by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), Congress supinely gave up its war-making power to the White House.

Jefferson, Madison, Adams and company had distinct reasons for refusing to lodge this power in the Presidency and instead wanted many legislators in open session to make this awesome decision. They did not want another King George emerging with this single-power launching war.

Throughout the year 2002, Bush made no secret of his desire to unilaterally overthrow the Iraqi dictatorial regime (called “regime change”). But the opinion polls were unflagging; the American people in sizable majorities did not want the U.S. to go it alone.

OK said Mr. Bush; he’ll go to the UN and have the Security Council resume a rigorous inspection process in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. The other nations then insisted that if Iraq materially breaches the UN resolution, the U.S. would go back to the Security Council for any further action. Yet Bush made it clear that if the UN did not act, the U.S., and its very few allies, would do so unilaterally.

It should be noted that in responding to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Bush’s more deliberative father, then President Bush, first asked the UN for a resolution, then asked Congress, after the November elections not before as did his son, for its approval the following January.

Treaties that deal with arms control or a real weapon of mass destruction called global warming are irritants to our White House-based west Texas sheriff. The Bush Administration has rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, declined to support the small arms treaty, the land mines treaty and the verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention. Mr. Bush refuses to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for ratification by the Senate which rejected it under President Clinton. There are other similar avoidances.

Even in the area of health, Mr. Bush is indifferent. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which 130 countries have signed, has not received Mr. Bush’s willingness to send it to the Senate for ratification. What is objectionable about the Covenant is that it has a “right to health” within its terms, along with steps to attain this right to health incumbent on signatory nations. The U.S. is the only western democracy without universal health care.

Perhaps no other area of American law has aroused more anger, pre-9/11 — in Mr. Bush’s mind than the American civil justice system which enables wrongfully injured children and adults to sue, among other parties, the President’s corporate friends when they sell dangerous or defective products.

As Governor of Texas and as President, Bush has wanted to limit corporate compensation for unlimited injuries, take away the authority of the states and put it in Washington, D.C. and federally tie the hands of state judges and juries who are the only ones who hear and see the evidence in trials. Note, however, none of his so-called “tort reforms” would take away the right of corporations to sue people or other companies.

It is the daily behavior of this one-track President that is irritating even the usually compliant White House press corp. Day after day, his repetitively belligerent sound bites and his unrevealed “intelligence” declarations about Iraq have been wearing thin. A Los Angeles Times poll on December 17th found that seventy two percent of respondents, including sixty percent of Republicans, “said the President has not provided enough evidence to justify starting a war with Iraq.”

On October 11th, the Washington Post reported that the former military commander for the Middle East, retired Marine Gen. Anthony C, Zinni, is opposed “to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.” Zinni believes Iraq is already contained and that the U.S. has other priorities in the Middle East. Adding that General Zinni is “widely respected in the U.S. Military,” the Post concludes its report by saying that a retired three-star General said that Zinni’s concerns “are widely shared by many in the leadership of the military but aren’t universal.”

There are few doubts, however, among the covey of “chicken hawks” surrounding Mr. Bush. These men, including Vice President Dick Cheney, supported the Vietnam War in the Sixties but wanted other Americans to do the fighting.

There is not much time before Mr. Bush declares a war with scenarios far more costly, harmful and devastating then the “cake-walk” scenario that is the premise of Mr. Bush’s airborne electronic posse. It could be a war fraught with severe longer term “blowback” impacts on the U.S. and one that could seriously affect the economy, as Yale Professor Nordhaus warned recently in the New York Review of Books.

It is testimony to the inherent sense of the American people that, even in the midst of the Bush propaganda barrage, when asked if they would support a U.S. unilateral invasion, with large civilian casualities in Iraq, and significant casualties among our military personnel, a large majority says no.

More Americans are wondering why Bush wants peaceful dialogue with a North Korea that has more advanced arms, yet seeks war with a contained, weakened and surrounded Iraq? But then, when decisions are made in the gut, such inconsistencies can bound.


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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