Cheney: The American Machiavelli
January 31, 2008
Nearly 500 years ago, during the Italian Renaissance, at a time when Italy was being threatened with barbarian attacks, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his treatise entitled “The Prince,” in which he expounded political cunning and artifice to promote arbitrary power. “The Prince” was a practical guide for the ruler, advocating expediency and ruthlessness over justice and good faith, a course Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be following to the letter.
Incensed with Congress for running President Nixon out of office, Cheney became a fanatic for enhancing executive power, firmly believing that the president can do what he pleases, regardless of what Congress and the Supreme Count may have to say.
For more than 30 years, Cheney has crusaded for an all-powerful president. He supported President Reagan’s right to secretly fund the Contras in Nicaragua. As Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush, he argued that Congressional approval for the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq was unnecessary, and that the president could go ahead with it even if Congress voted against it. In these matters, he enlisted staunch conservative David Addington, a constitutional “deconstructionist” lawyer, to draft legal opinions supporting Cheney’s purposes.
As George W. Bush’s vice president, Cheney found a willing accomplice in his desire to make the president all-powerful. He turned to Addington (whom he made his chief-of-staff), for legal arguments to justify supplanting rule of law with rule by men, and to John Yoo, a young lawyer and a Cheney yes-man, in the President’s Office of Legal Council, who drafted a memo to the effect that there were no limits on the president’s power in a “state of emergency.” Cheney and Addington then went ahead in total secrecy with their own policy for treatment of post-9/11 prisoners (in violation of the Geneva Conventions), and claiming that no one has the right to review that policy ” not even the State Department. When John McCain’s anti-torture bill was passed by a 90 to 9 majority in the Senate, President Bush signed it, but added a “Signing Statement,” prepared by Addington, telling Congress, ” you can pass laws but I’m not going to observe them. This was only one of hundreds of signing statements attached by Bush to laws enacted by Congress.
In 2004, when Bush’s legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card were unable to coerce gravely ill Attorney-General John Ashcroft into signing the reauthorization of the “Patriot Act” (which severely curtailed the legal rights of American citizens), Bush signed it for him. Ashcroft subsequently resigned, and Gonzales became Bush’s attorney general.
All of the above information on the headstrong behavior of Vice President Cheney was abstracted from a recent Frontline program on PBS entitled, “Cheney’s Law.” Even more frightening is a column by Ron Rosenbum that appeared on Slate.com, an Internet news magazine owned by the Washington Post. I quote in full a capsule summary of that column, published in the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of “The Week.”
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“It’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream, said Ron Rosenbaum, except that in this case, it’s based on the truth. Earlier this year, the White House quietly issued National Security Presidential Directive 51, to ensure ‘continuity of government’ in the event of what the document very vaguely calls a ‘catastrophic emergency’ ” which can range from a terrorist attack on Washington, to a nuclear explosion in New York to a particularly nasty hurricane. The directive, issued without any review by Congress or the Supreme Court, gives the president authority to decide when an emergency has occurred, and to do whatever he deems necessary to ensure continuity of government, whether it’s to cancel upcoming elections, suspend the Constitution, or launch a nuclear attack on the enemy. In the blogosphere, NSPD-51 has created a storm of speculation, with some anticipating a Bush-Cheney ‘coup’ sometime in the next year (2008) involving a fake terrorist attack. ‘I have no evidence that there’s a coup brewing,’ but I find the directive alarming none-the-less. Believe it or not, NSPD-51 even has two secret clauses that the administration won’t disclose to anyone, including congressional oversight committees, on the grounds of ‘national security concerns.'”
It has the smell of what happened in the German Reichstag in 1933, making Adolf Hitler dictator. Who says it can’t happen here?
Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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