The mad emperor

Can Congress block Bush’s urge to surge?



It’s hard to believe anyone could find ambiguity in the message Americans sent with the November elections. In an open repudiation of President Bush’s policies and the rubber-stamp approval of his Republican-controlled Congress, voters said clearly that we want out of the Iraq war, we are embarrassed by the level of open corruption in D.C. politics, and we have had it with the snooping and spying on Americans by our own government. Yet President Bush, like some mad emperor, has decided that the American people are wrong, that only he and his pals Condi and Cheney are right, and that even if his popularity ratings hit rock bottom, he won’t change his course: to escalate the war, the spying and the torture. If ever there was a time for Congress to exercise its duty as an independent body to check an out-of-control presidency, that time has arrived.

Well before she ever stepped into her historic role as the first woman to be elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, firebrand Nancy Pelosi took impeachment of President Bush off the table. It seems likely that Pelosi wanted to assure a politics-weary public that the Democrats were going to get down to the business of running the country rather than spend their time fooling with Articles of Impeachment.

For his part, President Bush also mouthed such phrases as “bipart- isan cooperation” with the new Congressional majorities. Those who have been paying attention to the president and his actions should have been immediately suspicious. What he was saying was a radical departure from the previous six years, in which he did virtually everything possible to destroy the Democrats and ensure what he once envisioned as a permanent Republican majority.

While Pelosi’s desire to set the nasty business of impeachment aside was perhaps understandable, last week’s speech by President Bush announcing a “surge” of American troops in Iraq by 21,500 young, or not-so-young, men and women tosses a considerable new factor into Pelosi’s equation. What Bush has done, as he has done so many times in his presidency, turns all talk of cooperation on its head and puts Congress right back into the “you’re either with us or against us” dilemma he has successfully exploited in the past.

But even if Bush is in what appears to be a continuing state of denial, this is a new Congress, specifically sent by the American people to restore the governmental checks and balances specifically guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Given Bush’s radical move to further escalate the Iraq war, it would seem Congress—should any of them wish to return to office in the next electoral cycle—had best be listening to the American people and taking actions in line with the wishes of the vast majority of citizens.

If there were some reasonable margin of error, some possible alternative interpretation of the polls, perhaps it would be possible for Congress to weasel out of its duty. But there is not. The latest polls show those who approve Bush’s plans to escalate the American presence in Iraq at less than 30 percent, about the same as his plummeting approval ratings. Nearly 70 percent oppose the escalation, with about the same percentage believing such an escalation will fail to help stabilize Iraq. But the number Congress should be paying attention to is the 60 percent who believe Congress should be taking action to block the president’s plan for more troops, more spending, and more bloodshed.

Congress might also want to take a close look at what the military generals are saying. Initially, Bush professed he would always listen to his generals, since they were on the ground in Iraq. Of course those with even a scintilla of memory will remember that the first thing this same president did after making such declarations was get rid of General Shinseki, who initially disagreed with then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld by saying many more troops would be needed to take and occupy Iraq. History aside, today both serving and retired generals, military experts, think tanks, and even Republican senators such as Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, believe the Bush escalation will be a costly, bloody, and ineffective strategy that should be dumped before it is ever tried.

In a refreshing change from the past, Montana’s new U.S. Sen. Jon Tester addressed the Montana Legislature this week and called the Iraq war “an open-ended conflict” that costs $2 billion a week and counts 14 of our fellow Montanans among the more than 3,000 Americans who have lost their lives there. In keeping with an early campaign promise—one that significantly distinguished him during the primary—Tester is maintaining his opposition and calling for Bush to “wrap it up, not escalate” the war. Sen. Max Baucus has also recently seen the light and now opposes further escalation in Iraq. Only our lone congressman, Republican Dennis Rehberg, maintains his support for Bush, and even he seems to have toned it down.

The question, though, is how to stop President Bush. Sen. Ted Kennedy has introduced a bill that would halt funding for the escalation unless specifically approved by Congress. Meanwhile, a resolution opposing the escalation will soon be introduced into the Montana Legislature.

But in the end, perhaps the best way to stop Bush and his warmongers from their chosen course of destruction is to return to the action Speaker Pelosi once set aside—impeachment. There can be little doubt, given their horrific history of lies, torture and domestic spying, that grounds exist to start impeachment hearings against both Bush and Cheney immediately.

To be sure, impeachment hearings would set the Bush presidency aflame in its waning moments of existence. But that flame would tell the world that America has returned to its senses, that we are crawling out of our dark night of infamy, and that we are taking the only course available when dealing with a mad emperor—and that is to remove him from power completely.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at


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