Monday, January 29, 2007

The Caudillo of Crawford

Here's a two-part question for my American readers:
1. Is George W. Bush your Commander in Chief?
2. Are you in the Army or Navy?
If the answer to #2 is no, then so's the answer to #1. It's a small but crucial detail in our form of government, which--on paper, still, at least--places the military under civilian control and not vice-versa.

Gary Wills has penned an overdue reminder that American citizens--apart from those who have taken the oath and entered military service--are not obligated to follow the dictates of our President. In fact, Junior works for us.
The president is not the commander in chief of civilians. He is not even commander in chief of National Guard troops unless and until they are federalized. The Constitution is clear on this: "The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States."

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, "commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just "commander in chief," or even "commander in chief of the United States." This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken “for the duration.” But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and "the duration" has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.

And with that modulation has come the gradual creep of the Presidential job description from civilian chief executive toward military and political strongman. Cheney calls the ultimate destination "the unitary executive." Bush calls it being "the decider."

Mr. Bush should be more forgiving of our current system of government. True, as he's often said, he'd be having more fun if he were a dictator; but on the other hand, if we had a parliamentary system of government his 30% approval ratings would have earned him a no-confidence vote and new elections in a couple of months, rather than two more years to act out his fantasies.

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