Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Spy Games

The reaction of some of my more liberal friends and family to my recent post praising Bush for accepting "responsibility" for the situation in Iraq was predictable, but instructive nonetheless. They were not impressed with what they saw as a bare-bones attempt at rectifying a serious wrong. I'm reminded of that old Simpsons episode where Lisa tells Homer "the first step is admitting you have a problem." Homer responds "Is it the last step?" If only!

Richard Cohen wrote on Tuesday that responsibility needs to be replaced with accountability. It's one thing to say "I am responsible", but like Jay Leno quipped, "Yeah, well, I don't think [Bush] has to worry about other people trying to take credit for that one." I hope that, given the president's sorta-kinda-"mea culpa" on Sunday, he is on the road to reform.

A big test of accountability will be seen with how the whole NSA domestic spying kerfuffle plays out. For those of you who missed it, the New York Times sparked a firestorm a couple days ago with the revelation that after 9/11, Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans inside the U.S. without requiring court-issued warrants.

The ensuing uproar has focused on the limits of the power of the president and the further encroachment on civil liberties. Tuesday's Post contained three editorials on the subject, all worth reading. Eugene Robinson decried Bush's convenient dismissal of "strict constructionism" and for bypassing the "legally established procedure to obtain warrants for such domestic surveillance." Conservative commentator George Will is also upset with the president, saying that while the executive does have extraordinary rights during wartime, Bush's bypass of Congress raises the "danger of arbitrary power." In defense of the president, William Kristol and Gary Schmitt laid a convincing argument for the executive's discretion. After all, even Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War.

Thus far, Bush has come out swinging in outspoken defense of the spy program, even charging that the Times has endangered national security with its revelation. While that line of attack is lame and diversionary, I have not yet reached a conclusion as to what to think about this issue. Understandably, these kinds of actions help in the fight against terrorism, and most of us cheer when we see the gang at CTU make full use of them on 24. Yet in real life, I remain wary of the idea of devaluing basic American ideals in order to fight a war--one to maintain our values --against an enemy that has none.

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