During the Cold War, foreign policy stopped at the water's edge. For the most part, elected leaders, in a common cause against an ideological foe, abandoned partisanship to join a united American democratic ideal. Well, those days are really over. Late last week the House GOP leadership demonstrated that the water could be a reeking sewer and they'll still take off their shoes and jump right on in.
After Thursday's Supreme Court ruling (Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld) rejected the Bush administration's plan to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, Majority Leader Boehner attacked Democrats who -- upon hearing the result -- praised the Rule of Law and acknowledged the importance of cautiously moving forward in the realm of post-9/11 military justice. Boehner and the GOP echo chamber pounced -- accusing the Democrats of wanting "special rights for terrorists" while acknowledging how this talking point would rally the conservative base for November '06. Time to take the gloves off. This kind of language demands that we make a clear distinction between politics and policy. Congressional conservatives -- in a fit of self-hate for their own institution -- are attacking our constitution. Their disgraceful talking points, purely to rile their base, serve to undermine another American institution as well -- the US military. This at a time when our military needs our support -- getting to the bottom of abuses within the ranks with a thorough and orderly process is vital to its own preservation.
This contemporary conservative (as opposed to real conservative) breed of democracy slander rhetoric is not "just politics." There are no exuses for political talking points that rationalize threats to the foundation of American thought and practice. Today's conservatives, for example, love to brag about how they value the military, but the truth is that they have few military values.
And I don't even mean values like common sacrifice, internationalism, teamwork and careful planning. How about just protecting the constitution? Military professionals, when they sign up, swear to defend the constitution, not the Commander in Chief and his feudal tendencies. Our military, deployed all around the world, is risking life and limb to build institutions that uphold American-style rule of law and constitutional values. What is the Army lawyer -- stationed in Afghanistan -- supposed to say to the locals when asked about presidential power? Republican talking points would prescribe that he shout the query down -- and accuse the questioner of treason.
Remember, the abuses at Abu Ghraib AND Guantanamo were exposed by the military's own investigators and prosecutors. Neal Katyal, the plaintiff lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case -- was initially drawn into this struggle by the military JAGs assigned to Guantanamo and who -- in collaboration with human rights organizations -- have carried out a lonely battle to uphold America's international decency and the rule of law.
Conservatives are screaming bloody murder about the Geneva conventions, yet the Court also refers to the military's own Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ Article 36) in its decision. Article 36 of the UCMJ requires that the rules for military commissions be roughly the same as those for courts martial (which generally are used for offenses committed by our own soldiers). The UCMJ also requires that military commissions comport with the laws of war, which include the Geneva Conventions.
In Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Executive Branch does not have unlimited war powers -- this gives all Americans a chance to hold the president's feet to the fire on whether or not he values the constitution -- much less the Declaration of Independence and its call for the "decent respect to the opinions of mankind." What is this plea but an old fashioned way to talk about global "hearts and minds"? Isn't this the primary struggle in the Global War on Terror? Do conservative operatives even think about how their talking points put our people at risk? In Iraq and Afghanistan but also every other place US soldiers, diplomats or citizens live?
As Reagan Justice appointee Bruce Fein says, it seems that today's leaders
"have never struggled with the lofty ideas and ideals of great philosophers and the Founding Fathers sufficiently to appreciate that the history of liberty is the history of procedural regularity and the rule of law"
Apparently today's conservative leadership is so corrupt that they have actually become what they hate -- relativists who "go with the moment" which, in this case means compromising American greatness for their power base. Their rants about political correctedness and their caricatures about the 1960s -- i.e., tie-dyed hippies with their psychic crystals and lax values -- are meaningless in the face of this anti-democratic onslaught. Do they even care?
I'm afraid to answer my own question. But all signs point to the negative.