I have no doubt that George Bush thinks he is doing everything in the best interests of America. I just think he's dreadfully, dangerously wrong. Everything he's done has been calculated to consolidate power into the hands of the president and to marginalize the judicial and legislative branches of government. Everything he's done has been done in the name of "national security." However, everything he's done has pushed the country in the direction of becoming a police state, or an authoritarian structure.
Why is this not good for the average citizen? What harm could there possibly be in making the country safer in this manner? Let's ignore for the moment the thousands of experts who refute the claim that the country is safer today than on September 11, 2001. Let's look at why this could be bad for Joe Sixpack.
- Bush enacted a "first strike" doctrine when he invaded Iraq. While other presidents have struck first on occasion, the policy has always been one of prudence and restraint. Bush turned that around and said he will go kick ass if he thinks someone's ass needs kicking, even if they didn't do anything to us. (See: the well documented LACK of connection between Iraq and 9/11. Also, the well documented LACK of evidence of WMD in Iraq.)
- Bush initiated a "war on terror," claiming expanded presidential power because we are in "war" time. A war with no definable enemy and no discernable end point is a dangerous thing. Given that there will always be people who disagree with the president, this is potentially a war that never ends, with an enemy that can never be clearly identified.
- Bush has encouraged the use of wire taps without seeking the warrants that are traditionally required. He claims this is legal due to the expanded executive power in "war time" and the necessity of such wire taps for "national security." A creepier invokation of fear in order to spy on citizens has never been told. If you do not have the necessary evidence to secure a warrant for a wire tap, then perhaps you should not be presuming the target guilty. Bush's justification: We are only tapping those international calls to or from people who are suspected of having connections to terrorist organizations. Let's play the "Six Degrees of Osama" game and determine whether your phone call to that hotel in Vancouver qualifies. What is next: justified searches of people's homes without proper warrants in the name of national security?
- Under Bush, American citizens have been labeled "enemy combatants," making them enemies in the war on terror. Now we have a president who can tap your phone without just cause and who can call you an enemy combatant in the "war on terror." It becomes very convenient that the enemy is not clearly definable in this new "war on terror."
- Bush's administration has held "enemy combatants" and "suspected terrorists" indefinitely, without formal charges, without access to lawyers or even family members, on foreign soil. The Guantanamo Bay facility is a good place to keep legitimate prisoners, and I've no problem with that. The problem lies in the idea that Bush thinks that anyone he has detained is, by virtue of their detention, a legitimate prisoner. Circular logic: We would only detain you if you were dangerous, so if you've been detained then you must have been dangerous.
- Bush and his administration have defended the use of torture and extreme interrogation techniques for enemy combatants held on foreign soil. If you're detained, you must be dangerous. If you're dangerous, you must know something. If you know something, by god, we'll get it out of you, even if it kills you.
You want to plan a nice little vacation to Puerto Vallarta, so you call up this nice resort there. You didn't realize that a suspected terrorist had once stayed there, back in 1994. Since the hotel has ties to a suspected terrorist organization, the NSA listens in on your phone call. During your call, you have the TV on in the background, and the CNN anchor reads a story about Osama bin Laden. The NSA hears that in the background and do not realize it's actually the TV. A month later, you are picked up at the airport while trying to board your plane to Mexico. The government instead treats you to an all-expenses paid vacation to Guantanamo Bay. When you arrive, the interrogators are told that you might have ties to Osama and that you were going to a hotel where a suspected terrorist had been known to stay. They are told to get whatever information you have. And, they know they are allowed to torture you because you have been labeled an enemy combatant, and you are on foreign soil.
Far-fetched, sure. But if it's possible, then it's not a long stretch to imagine a different scenario:
You didn't mean it to happen, but you had an affair with a married woman who subsequently left her husband and moved in with you. What you did not realize was that the jilted husband was an NSA wire tapping agent. He watches your phone until a mysterious call comes in from overseas to your phone, a call you did not expect from someone you don't know. It could have been a wrong number. It could have been arranged. He then sets up a wire tap on your phone to listen in on all your conversations.
Or maybe this: You are a Democrat about to run for president in the next election. A "wrong number" call from a phone in Iran rings at your home phone. Boom, the NSA suddenly has the authority to tap your phone.
That last one is not so far-fetched. In this president's administration, we are only one ethically-challenged moment away from such a misuse of power. That is why this president scares me. He thinks the existence and use of such power is just fine, and justified, and that no one will misuse it. Restrictions are put on power, however, to protect us from false accusations, from belligerent evildoers, from bullies with badges. It is important to remember that not all bad guys wear black hats, and not all people who wear white hats are beyond reproach.