10 June, 2008

Well don't that just beat all...

I was surprised when I saw this, literally shocked because of how unexpected it was. That in itself is surprising, because I always said I wouldn't be surprised if Bush were impeached.

A whole lot of surprise flying around in here.

I'm a lukewarm fan of Kucinich, but I've got to give him props on this one. I personally think G-Dubs is a war criminal of the first order, and should have been impeached at the latest when we failed to find any WMD's or any other proof to back his reasoning for going to war with a sovereign nation, thus embroiling his country in an intractable quagmire for going on 7 years.

Whatever the outcome of these proceedings, I'm just glad that it's been said, loudly and publicly, that George W. Bush messed up. He messed up bad. Accountability had seemed to me beyond reach. In America I feel like we talk a lot about war crimes and the horrible regimes of other nations. I would submit to my fellows that several American administrations are guilty of the same, or equatable crimes against various peoples. That's where I stand, at any rate.


spencer said...

I'd love to see Bush impeached, but I'd like even more to see him arraigned by an Obama-signed, Democratic-Senate-ratified International Court of Justice. Though I doubt that will happen...

Cassady said...

That would be pretty great.

It's probably a tough situation for Obama. I doubt he'll say much about it if he can avoid it.

Guadalupe said...

where do we stand in the blame for our country's actions?

Cassady said...

that's a tough one. We elect officials who purportedly represent us. So, in one realm, we are responsible for the actions of our country at large. I suppose that even holds if you didn't vote for those people who mad the mistakes in question.

As American citizens, and citizens assumedly registered to vote, you knowingly place your faith in a system that could consistenly produce results you don't agree with--namely, electing George Bush TWICE. Participation, I feel, equates to support, and thus accountability.

On the other hand, this system is extrememly impersonal, and in many cases those elected officials scrape victories out with a bare majority, leaving half their constituency unsatisfied. It's hard to throw blame to individual citizens for the actions of the country as an entity in that view.

This is where it gets interesting to me. In the case of the President, he is expected to represent all American people, regardless of whether they voted for him or not. It is his job to listen--in my mind--to all voices. When opposition voters consistently and determinedly voice their dissention publicly to the person who is supposed to represent the whole country, and are essentially ignored and led where they do not want to be, I can't help but say that they are absolved of some of the guilt when things go awry. Neither would they deserve credit if things go well, but I don't think people seriously consider that fact. What I'm talking about amounts to a giant "I told you so," but that certainly doesn't bring back thousands of casualties of lies.

spencer said...

Cassady and I talked about this briefly and I thought I'd summarize my view.

It's interesting that people often espouse the exact opposite view to Cassady's. Cassady says that participating in the electorate (i.e. voting) amounts to support, even if your side loses. Then what of bumper stickers reading "Don't blame me, I voted for Kerry"? Under that view, voting excuses you from any complicity if the "wrong" candidate is elected.

This latter view makes more sense to me. After all, why should we excuse people who refuse to participate in the political system at all but NOT those people who did participate and made a choice that was overruled by the majority? It seems as though blame should rest either with everyone or just with those people who voted for the "wrong" choice.

So are we responsible for our countries actions? On an individual level, there's no action we could have taken to prevent any of the things that the Bush administration has done. So I'd be hesitant to assign any individual blame.

But perhaps there were collective actions we could have taken that were not taken because of any of the various problems that can prevent collective actions from being taken. Perhaps these actions (more aggressive protests?) could have done something. So I'd say there's some degree of collective blame that we all share, though admittedly that is a fuzzy concept.

Guadalupe said...

Elie Wiesel told me once that the 11th commandment should read: Thou shall not stand idly by.

Elliot said...

I like the philosophical tenor of the conversation, but I think in this case the answer of who is to blame is quite straightforward.

In the first tier of responsibility is the Bush Administration, plain and simple. This is because, first, they deliberately misled the public about both the facts and the range of reasonable interpretation of those facts. The American people were denied the ability to make a properly informed opinion. Second, inasmuch as the tragedy of the war was its cavalier and corrupt implementation in addition to the initial decision to invade, the Bush Administration has been almost solely responsible for the conduct of the war -- the lack of post war planning, the mistreatment of detainees, the undermining of the Constitutional restraints on executive power, etc. In both jus ad bellum (initiation of war) and jus in bello (conduct of war) the vast majority of the moral burden lies with the Administration. It is only the Administration, I think, that can and should be held legally accountable.

A second tier of responsibility, I would say, belongs to members of Congress who in fact did have access to the pertinent information but who decided not to challenge the President. In this category I place mostly Democratic leaders (such as one Hillary Clinton) who were too afraid of looking weak, and who thus gave the Administration the benefit of the doubt. These are the enablers, since it was much more difficult for the average American to disagree with the war when the leadership of both major parties were united in support of it. Their actions were not criminal, but it is a great thing for electoral accountability, in my mind, that war enabler Clinton lost (mostly due to her war vote) to anti-war Obama.

The press also stands indicted, although that is a much more difficult issue, since how and why the press covers issues the way it does is very tied up in institutional incentives and market forces.

Finally, the voters. I am much more sympathetic to the voters than I used to be, I think. I really think we as an American people have very little moral investment in this tragedy -- although in the aftermath we certainly have the responsibility to investigate what went wrong and what we need to change. In the 2000 vote, when we first (sigh) voted for Bush, we have to remember that he had run on a platform of anti-intervention, of anti-nation building. That he radically changed in the aftermath of 9/11 was more or less out of the electorate's control. And the anti-war movement, I've come to think, was actually remarkably broad based, vibrant, and vocal given that it basically had no support from either major political party. Compare with Vietnam: no protests of note occurred until after many lives had been lost and the draft had been implemented. I think the anti-war movement of 2002-03 was prescient and courageous, and I'm proud of my involvement. I'm not sure, though, that more "aggressive" protests would have been any more effective.

And even in 2004, when we re-elected Bush, the margin was extraordinarily close for a time of war, signaling deep unease about the course of the war even as we were being lied to our faces about the course of events in Iraq. Now that the truth is more or less visible, support has plummeted, even without most people being personally affected.

In short, I think the voters largely did their jobs, but were fatally constrained by disinformation and structural limitations to the exercise of accountability. It is those constraints, not the voters, that should be targeted for blame and reform.

Eremita said...

I like your tiers, Elliot, they are convincing especially in terms of pointing out the misinformation that was deliberately given to us. I would like to point out though that the voters are also the consumers of the media, and I do think that we could make a difference in how the media reports stories and facts if we demand good coverage by refusing to consume bad, inaccurate, or exceedingly biased media.

If we had a more robust and truthful media it might not have helped with the problems you point out in the Administration's misinformation or in the Congress' inaction, but it might have sped up the coming of the severe drop in support of the war, which I think we are all hoping will in turn have a real effect.

Cassady said...

The discussion between Spencer and myself really got me thinking about the basis of representative democracy.

Our elected representatives are meant to act in the public interest, though not as our proxies. So, while they have the obligation to look out for us, they are well within their rights to disagree. That said, I feel like I need to revise my position slightly--I would also say that I didn't really have everything worked out to a T in my head before, either.

I'm temped now to say initially that the electorate-at-large cannot be held responsible for the actions of the US government, most especially in the case of the Iraq war.

The fact of misinformation and outright lies, as Elliot points out, strips the electorate of their ability to respond to their leaders. As such, the full weight of blame lies on those people, i.e. the administration, who were perpetrating the deception and spearheading the invasions.

Elliot also pointed out a interesting blame-niche in the opposition leadership who sided with the administration. I want to say that it has recently become fashionable to oppose the war--about the time support plummeted I would think. Conversely, it was fashionable to support the war when the American people were aching for retribution and it was felt that we could walk in and finish the job in a year--maybe less.

The turnaround in support seems to coincide with the blunt force realization that this is a dirty job with no easy end in sight.

With all that in mind, certain representative who have switched their stated positions and had to justify those decisions acted, in Elliot's words, as enablers, and so share the burden of consequence in my mind. I would say now, like Spencer, that no individual blame can be placed on a citizen, simply because of the nature of representative democracy: we endow our government with the authority to make war, removing the responsibility from ourselves. When that power is misused, it's obvious where to point the finger.