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The New Madness of King George

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On the Sunday before Christmas, a fidgety George W. Bush interrupted regular programming on U.S. networks to deliver an address to the nation that painted the Iraq War and the War on Terror in the same black-and-white colors he has always favored.

Despite the media's conventional wisdom about Bush’s new “realism” on Iraq, the old canards were still there – Saddam Hussein choosing war by rejecting United Nations weapons inspectors; blurred distinctions between Iraqi insurgents and non-Iraqi terrorists; intimations that Bush’s critics are “partisan” while he embodies the national interest.

Plus, there was the same old stark choice between success and failure. “There are only two options before our country – victory or defeat,” Bush declared, brushing aside the political and military ambiguities of the Iraq War and the War on Terror.

But Bush’s speech and his curious hand gestures as he sat behind a desk in the Oval Office suggested a twitchiness over his apparent realization that the nation increasingly doubts his leadership.

Indeed, it appears the American people finally have begun to understand the costs in blood, money and freedoms that have resulted from letting the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks become a justification for transforming the United States into a modern-day empire led by an autocrat who claims the untrammeled right to strike at his perceived enemies abroad and crack down on his opponents at home.


A day earlier, an angrier-looking Bush used his weekly radio address to denounce as “irresponsible” senators who resorted to the filibuster to demand more civil-liberties protections in a revised version of the Patriot Act.

Bush also lashed out at press disclosures of his three-year-old decision to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by personally approving warrantless electronic eavesdropping on international communications by people inside the United States.

“As a result (of the disclosure), our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk,” Bush said. “Revealing classified information is illegal.”

Bush’s outrage might seem strange to some observers since he has refused to punish his deputy chief of staff Karl Rove for leaking the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused Bush of twisting intelligence to build his case for invading Iraq in 2003.

But Bush apparently has judged that he, as president, and his close advisers can decide which laws they wish to obey and when, while simultaneously condemning those outside their circle of power for violating the same laws.

This attitude follows Bush’s view that the “commander in chief” clause of the U.S. Constitution grants him virtually unlimited powers as a “war president” as long as the War on Terror lasts, a concept of executive authority that recalls the days of absolute authority claimed by Medieval kings and queens.

Already, Bush has asserted that his “commander in chief” powers allow him to arrest citizens and hold them indefinitely without charges; to authorize physical abuse of prisoners; to invade other countries without the necessity of congressional approval; and to ignore international law, including the U.N. Charter and other treaty obligations.

As the New York Times reported on Dec. 16 and Bush confirmed on Dec. 17, he also is claiming – as his constitutional right – the power to wiretap Americans without court review or the presentation of evidence to any impartial body.

When Bush is challenged on these authorities, he asserts that he is following the law, although it is never clear which law or whether anyone other than his appointed lawyers have advised him on the scope of his power.

(Conservative legal scholars may have to stretch their notion of the “original intent” of the Founders to explain how the writers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 decided to give a future president the authority to use spy satellites to intercept phone calls and other electronic communications.)

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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