On Wednesday, Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush has taken beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki under his wing. Once every two weeks, sometimes more often, Mr. Bush gathers up Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley and they all head to the White House situation room for a videoconference with Maliki. These sessions last over an hour, during which the two heads of state discuss leadership, democracy, troop deployments and their domestic challenges.
Too bad for Maliki that his main mentor on leadership, democracy and troop deployment is a man who has clearly illustrated total lack of understanding of any of those subjects. On the other hand, if Maliki wanted to learn how to create domestic challenges, he couldn't have picked a better role model than Bush. And just in case Bush can't tell Maliki the best way to screw up things in his country, Cheney and Hadley are there to pick up the slack.
Thus it is that we find ourselves in the kind of mess we're in. The leader of the world's most notable failing state is taking advice from the most failed presidency in the history of the United States.
But Seriously, Folks
If Maliki is really taking Bush seriously, he's among an ever-dwindling minority of the global population that does. The problem is that as laughable as Bush and his self-parodying rhetoric has become, we all need to take him seriously because he's still the president of the United States, one who thinks he has absolute powers to conduct his woebegone "war on terror" in any manner he chooses without so much as passing go, collecting two hundred dollars or asking permission from Congress.
In his speech at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina on Tuesday, Mr. Bush made one of his most convoluted, nonsensical arguments to date attempting to tie al-Qaeda in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Bush accused his opponents of having a problem with the facts, but as usual, the only person in this debate playing fast and loose with the facts is Mr. Bush himself. Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist prior to the 9/11 attacks, and its original leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, did not swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden and the larger al-Qaeda movement until October of 2004, more than a year and a half after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq.
Bush's assertions were part and parcel of the administration's recent propaganda campaign to re-associate the Iraq war with 9/11 and the greater war on terror in the public mind, but there's an even more sinister motivation behind the attempt to relate all things terrible and scary to al Qaeda.
Remember that little resolution both houses of Congress passed a week after the 9/11 attacks called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)? The AUMF is a short and sweet piece of legislation that many consider to have been a blank check that gave Bush the virtually unlimited executive war powers he claims to have. Here's the money clause:
…the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
This gives Mr. Bush "specific statutory authorization" under the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to use armed force against anybody he determines had anything whatsoever to do with the 911 attacks.
Bush doesn't need to prove the al-Qaeda connection to continue U.S. involvement in Iraq. That's covered by a separate authorization passed by Congress in October 2002. But the 2001 AUMF leaves Bush with a virtually unlimited option for expanding his war on terror whenever, wherever and however he wants to. We've been running air strikes on villages in Somalia since January 2007, ostensibly for the sake of terminating "top al-Qaeda members." We've heard hints that Iran has provided safe haven to members of al-Qaeda. Now, the Bush administration is talking about dropping bombs on al Qaeda targets in Pakistan or anywhere else it deems necessary. On the July 22 edition of CNN's Late Edition, Bush's Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend told Wolf Blitzer that if the U.S. had "actionable targets anywhere in the world," including Pakistan, "then we would pursue those targets."
Of Iraq, Mr. Bush recently , "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war." Based on their performance since September 11, 2001, I don't think Mr. Bush or his advisers or his generals ought to be running the war, either the war in Iraq or the so-called "war" on terror. I won't pretend to have a definitive diagnosis of Mr. Bush's mental state, but his words and actions, as well as those of his subordinates and supporters, are not sane.
Congress may not yet be poised to legislate us out of Iraq, but it should do everything it can to put our out of control executive branch back in its box. One of the first steps the newly installed Democratic majority should have taken in January was to repeal the 2001 AUMF. The longer it waits to take this necessary action, the longer it risks allowing the Bush administration to commit this country to even further unrecoverable fiascos.