Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: The Bush Legacy

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Bush Legacy

A couple of newspaper pieces over the last couple of days seems to be suggesting that we just might be focusing on the wrong things this election cycle. Writing in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, Andrew J. Bacevich argues that the Bush administration has changed the basic understanding we have of the United States. For voters concerned about backing off from that, between the candidates there's really only one answer:

The challenge facing Obama is clear: he must go beyond merely pointing out the folly of the Iraq war; he must demonstrate that Iraq represents the truest manifestation of an approach to national security that is fundamentally flawed, thereby helping Americans discern the correct lessons of that misbegotten conflict.

By showing that Bush has put the country on a path pointing to permanent war, ever increasing debt and dependency, and further abuses of executive authority, Obama can transform the election into a referendum on the current administration's entire national security legacy. By articulating a set of principles that will safeguard the country's vital interests, both today and in the long run, at a price we can afford while preserving rather than distorting the Constitution, Obama can persuade Americans to repudiate the Bush legacy and to choose another course.

This is a stiff test, not the work of a speech or two, but of an entire campaign. Whether or not Obama passes the test will determine his fitness for the presidency.

Sure, it's an easy generalization to make, but if that's the case, why isn't everybody talking about these issues? Why is our dialogue instead dominated by such questions as how far to expand the president's surveillance powers? I don't think Bacevich's truths are quite so self-evident as we might like to believe. As if on cue, the New York Times published a story on interrogation techniques from Gitmo:

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of "coercive management techniques" for possible use on prisoners, including "sleep deprivation," "prolonged constraint," and "exposure."

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

. . .

The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo was to drop its original title: "Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance."

Although the story suggests that the trainers making this presentation may not have known the origin of the chart, somebody in a position of power knew this, and they signed off on it. (And somewhere, Angela Lansbury is smiling.) This is the legacy the Bush administration is leaving behind it, and it will have had eight years to work itself into the power structure. Such poison won't dissipate by itself; it has to be flushed out.


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