Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bringing Bush to Justice

The current (December 2008) issue of Harper’s Magazine contains an article by Scott Horton (“Justice After Bush: Prosecuting an Outlaw Administration”) that meticulously identifies and assesses the legal and political difficulties in the way of settling accounts with the Bush administration’s violations of American and international law. Horton’s article includes proposals for steering through the obstacles; a plan that, if implemented, would actually do much of what needs to be done. But, of course, nothing will happen unless Congress and the Obama administration are forced to do the right and necessary thing. That’s why the task now is to make it politically impossible for the Party of Pusillanimity to follow its usual inclinations.

Left to their own devices, Obama and the others will want to “move on.” But the stakes are too high for them to get their way. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest must be brought to justice.

Needless to say, in this instance, real justice can hardly even be approximated; there is no way any punishment could fit the enormity of the crimes for which Bush and the others could be charged. But that is no reason to accede to calls for “bipartisanship” and consensus (within the political class). If Democrats are reluctant to proceed, the first order of business must be to make it clear to them that they will pay electorally for their “reasonableness” (cowardice). It must be impressed upon them, in no uncertain terms, that justice must be done. But not just for justice’s sake.

The more urgent need is to change the political constraints under which Democrats (and Republicans) operate -- as deeply and for as long as possible, the better to deter future criminality, but also, more importantly, to remove the temptation. If anything good can emerge from the Bush Wars, it will be an Iraq (or Iraq plus Afghanistan) Syndrome more disabling than the (short-lived) Vietnam Syndrome was. As American world domination becomes increasingly untenable – at a time when capitalism itself is falling increasingly into crisis – there is no other way for the American people, and the peoples of the world, to avoid a potentially catastrophic, near term hard landing. One change we really do need that lies within the horizons of what is possible in the short run are policies aimed at making the inevitable landing as soft as possible – while the United States makes the transition from a rogue superpower to one of several world powers in more or less permanent crisis.

But, again, for that to happen we must change the constraints under which Obama and his Clintonite colleagues and advisors operate. It is becoming increasingly clear, with each passing day, that Obama won’t do anything of the kind on his own initiative; if he does it at all, it will be because he is compelled. That won’t be easy. But we can make it happen.

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