Friday, September 21, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt nine)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The Iran-Contra scandal hasn't exactly turned into a badge of honor for those who had starring roles, but neither does it tarnish the high sheen retrospectively applied to the Reagan presidency or those who did his illegal or extraconstitutional bidding. Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, pardoned most of the Iran-Contra convicts; Bush's son George W. hired on a number of the scandal's key players for his own administration. The Obama administration kept W's defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, whose name is the title of chapter 16 of the Iran-Contra independent counsel report. ("The evidence established," said the report, "that Gates was exposed to information about North's connections to the private resupply operation that would have raised concern in the minds of most reasonable persons about the propriety of a Government officer having such an operational role.")

But even more dangerous was the sad fact that the shameful Meese-made legal arguments about nearly unlimited executive power were not seen as the crazy talk they were, and killed off for good. One leader in Congress was instrumental in making sure this executive-power argument remained politically viable, by loudly declaiming at the time of Iran-Contra, in the midst of the scandal, that Reagan was right to do what he did. As the main author of the minority's 145-page written dissent from the congressional investigation of Iran-Contra, Wyoming Representative Dick Cheney insisted, radically, that Iran-Contra was no crime, that Reagan was right to defy Congress, because there was nothing in Congress, nothing anywhere in America's political structure, that could constrain a president from waging any war he wanted, however he wanted. It was an extreme view of executive power, a minority view when written, but it quickly became a blueprint for the next generation of Republican thinking about war and its limits. "The President was expected to have the primary role of conducting the foreign policy of the United States," Cheney argued in his minority report on Iran-Contra. "Congressional actions to limit the President in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism. If they interfere with core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down. Moreover, the lesson of our constitutional history is that doubtful cases should be decided in favor of the President."

And who won this argument? The answer is kind of surprising, but sadly obvious today, when we find ourselves in a succession of indefinite hot wars the country does not really want.

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