Bush's wiretapping
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Date: Fri Dec 29 21:08:03 CST 2006
From: Jesus Ortega
To: Sam Moreno
Subject: Re: what do you think?

On Thu, Dec 29, 2005 at 05:29:25PM -0600, Sam Moreno wrote:
>    http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110007703

Well, the author seems to make what appear to be some well-founded arguments
to support the legality of the wiretapping.  I'm by no means an expert (or
even knowledgeable enough) in US law, so before I can make up my mind I'd
have to read some other *legal* arguments in favor and against the author's
position.  Even at that point, there is a good chance I may miss something,
since, again, I'm no legal expert.  However, the debate on this particular
issue is not legal but rather political in nature.

So, let's move onto a different but related issue that, it seems to me, is
truly behind the criticisms of the President's actions.  The author of this
article chose to center on the legality of the measure, while what seems to
have surprised quite a few people (mind you, it's not only liberals who are
shocked in this case) is precisely the fact that the US government may at
any given time arbitrarily decide to spy on foreign *and* US citizens
without any prior court approval.  In other words, what we are facing in
this case is a drastic dissociation between what American legislation is and
what Americans think it is or, to put it another way, between American
ideals and American realities or, to put it yet another way, between
American rhetoric and American legal facts.  I believe that is the ultimate
root of all the criticism, and it goes way beyond any discussion on whether
or not this or that action abides by the letter of the law.  What we are
facing here is whether or not these actions comply with the American spirit,
more than anything else.  

We have all repeatedly heard speeches opposing democracy to tyrannies.  We
have all heard how the yardstick to measure a truly democratic government is
precisely that it makes it impossible for the executive power to arbitrarily
decide who should be imprisoned without prior approval of an independent
judicial system.  Even more important, whenever someone discussed the
possibility that the government might be well intentioned and might truly
have the people's interests at heart when imprisoning someone, we were
constantly reminded that one should never trust governments to that extent.
As a matter of fact, Lord Acton was repeatedly quoted in this regard: "power
corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".  It strikes me as a moral
double standard (yes, the dreaded "moral relativism" of the neocons) to
maintain those positions when we were talking about other governments and to
completely forget them now that the chicken came home to roost.  Americans
tend to disregard everything that goes on abroad, but I still remember (and
resent) certain comments that American politicians and journalists made back
in the 1970s and 1980s when European countries had to fight leftist
terrorism and were criticized for their "lack of freedom" or their "lack of
guarantees of due process", etc.  In this respect, to hear now how "9/11
changed it all" smacks of near absolute hypocrisy and does nothing but to
reinforce the belief that many people have abroad: Americans love the
rhetoric about freedom and democracy, and certainly will take any
opportunity they can to give lessons about them, but when hard times knock 
on their door, when they have to prove thay they can eat their own dog food, 
they couldn't care any less.  Shall I remind you of Reagan's relish when he
quoted Churchill saying that democracy was to be absolutely sure that if you
heard a knock on the door early in the morning you knew it would be the
milkman?  Well, not anymore.  Where are all those precious speeches now
then?  If democracy was all that, and the guarantees are gone, what is
democracy then?  Or should we also define democracy in a relative manner?
"Democracy is whatever regime we, the good guys, happen to have at any
given time".  If it sounds scary is because it is scary, although quite
widespread these days when "morality" and "tyranny" also appears to work
both ways: Saddam was a tyrant when he became annoying, but not before when
he proved usefult to my political interests in the region; bin Laden is a
terrorist now, but not when he killed and maimed against the Soviets; the
insurgents are terrorists because they have no trouble aiming their weapons
against civilians, even though the "contras" did the very same thing and
Oliver North is out on the streets, considered a "hero" by many, just like
Ronald "Morally Clear" Reagan...  

In this sense, the author's *political* arguments are, I believe, quite
weak.  The subtitle of his article is "why the Founders made presidents 
dominant on national security" but fails to even mention that they didn't
give presidents absolute powers *even* in cases where national security was
at risk.   Likewise, his retort to the argument that allowing this to happen
amounts to having an executive power that is unaccountable is just that
"nobody beats Congress".  In other words, he offers no argument, just a "but
you're worse" reply.  

In the end, it all boils down to something that, to date, is rarely
discussed (although I must say I do see it mentioned every now and then):
President Bush chose to approach this as a "war".  I remain convinced that
was a bad mistake.  This is not a war.  This is not an armed conflict
between two governments representing two different nation states.  There are
no armies involved here.  There is no chance of ever getting the enemy to
surrender.  As a matter of fact, it is quite likely that this "war" will
never end, especially if we take into account that the constant advances in
technology and the unstoppable process of globalization will make it easier
for small groups of disaffected individuals to take up arms against any
established authority.  It's a risk we'll have to learn to live with, but
one that people who still see things with the old black and white glasses
simply cannot comprehend.  

Jesus Ortega