snfrank (snfrank) wrote in debate_politics,
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snfrank
debate_politics

In the midst of my intellectual hiatus, I went to the bookstore and picked up Policy Review, an especially enlightening, if poorly edited, political journal. Therein, I read an essay entitled "Law and Terror," written by Kenneth Anderson, Hoover Research Fellow and  law professor at American University. Due to Anderson's obtuse style and a very poor editing job, the essay took me a solid hour to work through, despite its relative brevity. Needless to say, by the time I reached the second page, I was frustrated and somewhat unreceptive of Mr. Anderson's arguments. Upon a second reading, however, I find that the thrust of the argument is sound and worthy of consideration, although he makes one grave omission.

The argument Mr. Anderson makes in his essay states that, in order for a counterterrorism policy to be truly effective for the United States, it must be institutionalized. The Bush administration has been operating its policy and its war on the foundation of executive discretion, and the administration's motives for doing so are certainly questionable. Indubitably, there is a contingency within the Bush administration whose primary aim is not the institutionalization of sound and effective counterterrorism policy, but rather the institutionalization of supreme executive power. Of course, I would be remiss in offering a sound analysis if I did not give credit to those within the White House who are merely doing what is, to them, necessary to combat terror and protect our nation. For them, the establishment of greater executive power is a byproduct. Why, though, must this be the case? Why must increased power of the executive be a byproduct of the implementation of sound counterterrorism policy? Anderson argues, and I agree, that Congress has allowed this to be. The Bush administration, caught up in a fanstastical quest to "protect and enhance executive power for the long run," has allowed Congress to take an easy, passive position on the issues of counterterrorism policy. It's rather telling, I believe, that a Congress (led by Bush's own party) has been less than eager to "exert itself legislatively" to institutionalize the president's current policies. Why should it? As it is, Congress has been allowed to second-guess the Bush administration's policies, criticizing its moves after their failure, without being asked to legislate its own policies as potential solutions. It's shocking that the White House has permitted this, but I (unlike Mr. Anderson) am not so perplexed by its behavior.

As mentioned previously, Anderson briefly speaks to the idea of a power-hungry administration, seeking institutionalized power for itself over the good of the nation at war. He explores the concept briefly, in the section of his essay entitled "The executive power cul-de-sac," but does so without making any sort of concrete argument. This is the point at which I must voice my frustration with this essay. Anderson makes some sound and sensible proposals towards the close of his piece, and calls for the Bush administration to seek legislative aid from Congress. To this end, his essay is practical in that it does not argue abstract or ideological points, but instead calls for concrete action of both the executive and legislative branches of government. I believe however, that the Bush administration's blind and singular quest for increased power in its particular branch is too troubling not to be addressed further. 

Anderson's insistence upon debating only concrete, practical points of policy is not lost on me, and I respect and agree with most of his proposals. However, I fail to understand his reasons for treading so lightly around the actions of the administration, and their zeal for greater power. I would argue that any attempt by the executive to establish increased (indeed, supreme) power for itself is a matter of policy (insofar as it seeks to alter the nature of our democracy), and therefore is worthy of extensive discussion and debate. What troubles me about Anderson's essay is that his arguments on this point are weak and half-hearted. I should set my scholarly tone aside for the moment and state for the recond that my head basically exploded when Anderson cited The Powers of War and Peace, a recent book written by John Yoo in defense of enormous executive power. I was only somewhat mollified as I read on. Anderson states that he finds Yoo's arguments "compelling, if not finally conclusive" [Insert smoke pouring from my ears]. He goes on to argue that, "the Patriot Act is a minor inconvenience" compared to the policies of western European nations that have been combatting terror since the 1970s. It takes Anderson nearly twenty lines of incomprehensible doublespeak before he admits that which, to me, is immediately clear.

A nation in a state of emergency is sometimes a necessary thing. In times of heightened threat to the safety of a nation's citizens (read: times of war), the most complete possible safety might only be obtained through a trade of some certain liberties. By my understanding, though, ours is not a nation at war. The term "war on terror" is, as Anderson points out at some point, misleading and finally incorrect. The United States cannot be at war until war (the formal use of armed force) becomes an institutionalized mechanism of counterterrorism policy. Here is where the Bush administration's policy becomes frightening. It has used the fact that our nation is in a "state of emergency" to operate by executive discretion. In the world today, "war" has become a rather abstract term. It seems to me that the administration has (and has been allowed to) bend and morph this term as it has seen fit, in order to cushion the executive power bank. 

I fervently wish that Mr. Anderson had explored this point further, as he is vastly more knowledgeable than I. It disturbs me that such a politically-minded academic would mention, only in passing, that the attitudes and aims of the administration threaten to erode the strength of our democratic system. This idea, expressed on a single sentence, is more important to the long-term survival of the United States than the nuanced points of counterterrorism policy Anderson lays out. Perhaps it is a concept that is a bit too bourgeois for Mr. Kenneth Anderson. But the results of the midterm elections are not a fluke. The erosion of our system allowed by Bush and his Republican Congress was no small issue for American voters, many of whom would be rather disinterested in the finer points of Anderson's essay. This erosion impacts every one of this nation's citizens, and touches every issue and every platform. I would like to think that, even for the intellectual elite, such an issue would be of a bit more import.
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