Thursday, December 15, 2005

No Touchy

What a great country.

There are, of course, issues with the McCain amendment. There seem to be genuine questions over legislative meddling in an area that is arguably the purview of the executive*. From a purely utilitarian perspective the record of Congressional poking about in the President's foreign policy back garden is in no small degree positive. For all that Congressional interests run to pork, interest groups, noisy passion without responsibility (as over Taiwan for example) and general guff, I think it's fair to say that the historiography (by no means all of it left wing) to date seems to indicate that on the issue of Latin America in the closing years of the Cold War, Congress largely got it more right than Reagan. On the other hand, arguably Congress was significantly behind the curve during the early years of WW2 and much of the backdoor support to Britain from the Roosevelt administration, which is now seen as both crucial and entirely laudable, would have found little favour either in Congress or among substantial sections of the American public at large and was, well, rather naughty.

But the fact of the matter is that even if it's wrong in every other way, every legal and political particular, McCain was fundamentally (on a spiritual, zen, karmic and whatnot type thingy level) right. Indeed, if there are negative consequences of his amendment, and I believe they have been overplayed, I think they will almost certainly be worth paying. The fact of the matter is that, rightly or wrongly the US's cache and credibility right now is not good. The overwhelming support gathered by Senator McCain speaks volumes that, fundamentally, even if they bugger stuff up along the way, the USA is still one of the Good Guys (or as close as we get to good guys in the hugger mugger world of international politics) and the elected representatives of the American people aren't about to sell their (much trumpeted) values down the river. This is a good day for America, it's a good day for American values and it's almost certainly a good day for a soundly conducted War on Terror. Which is a pretty happy combination.

It's also a very bad day, in my view, for Dick Cheney, who seems to have been positively frenzied over the past few weeks for precious little result. The Vice President seems to me increasingly detached and to be honest I'm really not sure sure what the hell is going on in his office. I'm not a natural Dick Cheney hater: Unlike some commentators I see relatively little in his past to mark him out as a natural enemy of all things wholesome and creamy. But frankly his judgement seems rather off on a whole array of issues, from this to Iraq - where he has "mis-spoken" with regard to everything from WMD to progress in training the Iraqi armed forces so often that one begins to feel uncharitable.

*Or so I read - Americans feel free to enlighten me if I'm groping about in the dark.


Blogger J. said...

"There seem to be genuine questions over legislative meddling in an area that is arguably the purview of the executive*."

I would seriously question your view of this issue in that context. Not sure how it is in the UK, but the whole purpose of the "checks and balances" in the U.S. govt is to ensure that we don't have an Executive Branch (which includes DOD and DOJ) doing whatever they feel is warrented, that the Congress (representing the public's norms and beliefs) can tell the Exec Branch "stop doing that" or approve it as the situation warrents. The Prez does not have carte blanch to do whatever he feels is in the best interest of the country. There's a process here, and just because the Repub-dominated Congress hasn't done much other than rubber-stamp the President's foreign policy doesn't mean it was right.

As you note, Congress's record on doing the right thing has been spotty at best, and that's a fair assessment. But it doesn't excuse their responsibility to step up and correct what has been a pretty bad record in the past five years. And evidently, with the relevation that Prez approved the NSA's snooping on US citizens, the Repubs have been negligent in their responsibilities. Maybe they'll wake up. Or better yet, maybe they won't and the American public will wake up.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I'm aware that, in general terms, checks on executive power are much tighter in the US than they are in, say, the United Kingdom (where the Prime Minister has vastly more power, relatively speaking, than the US President does [especially when the PM is cut from the Mrs Thatcher/Tony Blair cloth]). However, I was under the impression that when it comes to the matter of goings on outside the borders of the US, the executive is generally afforded - or at least generally tries to claim - a somewhat longer leash than it gets when domestic issues are at hand, at least in terms of how it conducts itself.

9:33 AM  
Blogger J. said...

Yes, you are correct, but that does not eliminate or excuse the Senate's oversight role. Not so much the House, but the Senate usually keeps a better handle on foreign policy.

6:42 AM  

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