Monday, July 03, 2006

Thoughts for the 4th on the 3rd

Overstepping?
In preparation for the June 15th “debate” on the Republican-drawn resolution on the Iraq War, the Pentagon – read the civilians running the place – sent what was described as a 73 page briefing paper that “answered” the anticipated positions that the House Democrats would roll out during the debate. As reported by the Associated Press, one such “key” rebuttal to any suggestion of troop withdrawals is to assert that a U.S. departure “before the job is done” would condemn Iraq to “becoming a haven for terrorists, murderers and thugs.”
Now most of the time when Pentagon papers or briefings are provided Congress or when Pentagon officials are called to appear before committees, the Pentagon’s congressional liaison offices go into high gear. However, in this instance, if the liaison offices were involved, they may have violated a provision of the Transportation-Treasury-Housing and Urban Development-Judiciary, District of Columbia and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. Section 921 “continues the provision prohibiting propaganda, publicity and lobbying by executive agency personnel in support or defeat of legislative initiatives.” The last time I looked, the Defense Department was in the executive.
Speaking of the Transportation bill, one of the Independent agencies it funds is the Selective Service System, specifically “Salaries and Expenses” that provides funds for attendance of meetings, training, uniforms, hire of passenger motor vehicles, services authorized by 5 U.S.C. 3109, and official reception and representation expenses. It also prohibits expending any of the $24,000 allocated in “connection with the induction of any person into the Armed Forces of the United States.” In other words, the draft is NOT being funded, although the basic infrastructure is.
A Cautionary Thought

Elsewhere I have drawn some comparisons between the Iraq war and the U.S. Civil War and the War of 1812, fought during the presidency of James Madison.

By coincidence, on July 2, C-Span 2 (Afterword) carried an interview of Professor Gordon Wood about his latest book, Revolutionary Characters, which provides insights into the philosophies of eight of the Founding Fathers.

Wood says he was not consciously drawing any comparisons between the presidencies of Madison and George W. Bush, but there are nonetheless a few intriguing juxtapositions.

For example, Vice-President Cheney and many Republicans in Congress have suggested that not only should government officials who leak classified information be prosecuted, but those who receive such information (reporters) and print or broadcast it (editors and producers) should also be hauled into court. Bush himself strongly condemned the New York Times for printing the story about financial records snooping by Washington, saying the revelation seriously damaged national security – even though the affected financial organizations had already revealed the effort in its own publications. In other contexts and fora, those who support the war have insinuated that anyone ho criticizes the administration’s actions in the “war on terror” is aiding the enemy.

Nearly 195 years ago, Madison was severely criticized for the way he performed during the War of 1812. But unlike today’s politicians, Madison did not threaten or have anyone arrested for criticizing the government or Madison’s conduct of the war.

Madison’s approach to the war infuriated many. Wood notes that Madison effectively privatized the U.S. Navy by that era’s equivalent of “outsourcing”: issuing “letters of marquee” which “authorized” private vessels to attack enemy shipping. Without such letters from the State, a ship and its crew would be considered pirates.

On three occasions, U.S. militia forces invaded Canada with the intent to “liberate” that dominion’s residents from the British crown. Each time the militias were rebuffed by the Canadians, many of whom in fact had come to Canada at the time of the rebellion of 1776. That is to say, they were “loyalists” through and through.

Madison seemed unconcerned when the British marched into Washington and burned the capitol and the White House. Professor Wood believes that Madison’s (and Jefferson’s) implicit faith in the ordinary people of the U.S. overrode and masked his concern over the British actions in Washington. The redcoats could destroy buildings; they could never destroy the patriotic spirit of the country. Only those who believed that the “quality” people – monarchs and politicians – should be in charge could do that.

They are still trying.

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