A little over two months ago I wrote that we may have been at “the moment newly-emboldened actors began a decisive push against an overreaching executive” (hat tip me) and a couple weeks after that “[o]ne way or another by the end of the year things will look very different” (ibid). I’m glad I hedged my bets on the first one, and my unfavorable scenario for the second seems the likeliest to come to pass. Congress looks like it will continue to be timid on war policy and oversight, and now appears to be complicit in torture.
On war policy, here was David Obey on October 1st:
Obey said more war funding would not be approved unless it is linked to a plan to bring home U.S. combat troops by January 2009.”As chairman of the appropriations committee, I have no intention of reporting out of committee any time in this session of Congress any such (war funding) request that simply serves to continue the status quo,” he said.Now, however, war funding without timelines is fine as long as some additional spending is included. So we’ve gone from no war funding without timelines to some war funding without timelines provided a bargain could be struck. Based on past experience it seems safe to say this is the midpoint to the final destination of war funding without timelines, no bargains. When he first came out with his timelines requirement I was hopeful he’d stick to it even though I wasn’t that familiar with him. Now I am: He is unwilling to stand behind what he says and is an all-too-typical profile in cowardice.
The abdication of responsibility on war policy, as big as it is, is only a part of this Congress’ disgrace. I think if we could only have one statement to sum up this session it would be (hat tip Prairie Weather): “I took no notes; it was five years ago; and this feeble grandma just ain’t that good!” Jane Harman sums up all that is contemptible in the body with that little epigram. Consider the enormity of the betrayal conveyed in those few words. First, she took no notes. Why is that? She was told she couldn’t. She was in that meeting as a member of the Intelligence Subcommittee. Its whole purpose is oversight of intelligence activities. It’s unclear on whose authority note taking was prevented but it’s entirely clear that Harman went along with it. Couldn’t she have whipped out a legal pad and simply asserted that she required notes in order to perform her oversight role? Couldn’t she have made some noise to that effect? Gone public with it if she was refused? What prompted her to be so meek and submissive on such an important issue? What is the point of oversight if those you are charged with overseeing are dictating the terms?
“It was five years ago.” This appears to be part of the emerging attempt to get us to ignore what we’ve done (as in, “second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair”). Crimes are crimes and those who commit them should be liable for punishment as long as the statute of limitations has not expired. Her intent seems to be to excuse her not remembering and to discourage us from wanting to look at it because it was so long ago. That is offensive. We are talking about crimes committed in our name, or to put it more plainly, crimes we committed. That’s you and me, pal. We elected them and they authorized those crimes in our name, so we committed them as much as if we were holding the prisoners down ourselves. If we as a country hope to make any claims of moral or ethical probity we are obligated to confront our crimes no matter how painful and shameful it may be.
“[T]his feeble grandma just ain’t that good.” Nauseating. If she really is nothing more than a weak little old lady she needs to leave Congress immediately. Our representatives MUST be that good, Ms Harman. We depend on you to be that good precisely so we don’t end up in situations like this. We are in the midst of a crisis that you helped midwife. You ran for Congress, got elected and made it on to an influential committee. After all that careful, deliberate, thoughtful action you now claim to be an imbecile. It’s hard to imagine a more insulting statement.
Keep in mind I haven’t covered the impotent Senate Judiciary Committee, the toothless press releases (hat tip Raw Story) that now have a “protest too much” subtext or any other of a number of other failures. Not too long ago I thought the problem was an authoritarian executive. It’s much bigger than that. It’s time for us to mentally write off an entire generation of leadership.