Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gonzales and Rumsfeld stuck around far too long

Republican Politics, American Style
Published September 13th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my last column I discussed the Guantanamo Bay detentions as well as other questionable Bush administration legal positions in addition to the reasons why I believe that President Bush and many Republicans in Congress have betrayed Republican values over the course of the past six years. I am now back in the states completing my postgraduate work at the University of Texas at Dallas and thus will be writing my next 12 columns from the “scene of the crimes” so to speak.
Now that Alberto Gonzales has finally yielded to pressure from White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and resigned as Attorney General, Guantanamo Bay’s days as a detention facility for “enemy combatants” may finally be numbered. Long before he became Attorney General, Gonzales had been the chief architect of President Bush’s controversial counterterrorism policies including the administration's questionable interrogation policies, its secret overseas prisons and the government's warrant-less domestic surveillance program. After Gonzales departs later this month I expect a renewed push by Defence Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Rice to shut down Guantanamo and reign in some of the aforementioned policies.
Although I expect VP Cheney to put up a spirited fight to maintain the status quo, he has lost one of his few remaining allies in support of these policies who the President also had confidence in. Coupled with previous departures of other neo-conservatives from the Bush administration and their subsequent replacement with foreign policy realists, Cheney is now increasingly isolated within the White House national security and foreign policy establishment. This is one of the few positive developments I have seen within the Bush administration during the past year and while I may wish for more in the next 16 months, frankly I don’t expect there will be many others.
That is because President Bush has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to admit any mistakes in judgment where either administration personnel or policies are concerned. Donald Rumsfeld held on to his job as Defence Secretary far beyond his label’s “expiration date” and in the face of overwhelming evidence that his strategies in the Iraq war and his leadership in conducting that war were both failures.
At a White House dinner six months before Rumsfeld was forced to resign following the disastrous 2006 mid-term elections, President Bush had asked for a show of hands among his other advisers on whether or not Rumsfeld should be dumped as his Defence Secretary. Seven of them, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, current chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, former chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and current White House counsellor Ed Gillespie, raised their hands in favour of forcing him out. Only three said he should be retained including national security adviser Steven Hadley and my old buddy Karl Rove. Bush also raised his hand in favour of keeping Rumsfeld on and, of course, wasn’t that the only vote that really counted anyway?
However by the time Bush finally cut Rumsfeld loose six months later, any positive political capital that he might have garnered with such a move had long since been lost. Rumsfeld had by then lost all credibility with the American people, military and defence department employees as well as most members of Congress including many Republicans. As such the general reaction from all quarters to Rumsfeld’s resignation was “Well, it’s about time. What took you so long?”
The saga of Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General is even sadder than Rumsfeld’s reign (of terror?) in the “war on terror” as Defence Secretary. Here was a man of humble beginnings as the son of poor Mexican migrant workers, who worked his way through college and eventually rose to the heights of power as the United States’ first Hispanic attorney general. But Gonzales’ fall from office was excruciatingly slow and painful and was needlessly long and drawn out due to President Bush’s inability to admit that Gonzales had made any mistakes while he was in office.
Virtually all of the wounds suffered by Alberto Gonzales over the past year were self inflicted, rather than the result of partisan politics as President Bush would have us believe. When he announced Alberto Gonzales’ resignation last week, Bush claimed that Gonzales had been the victim of “months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department.” In so doing the President ignored the fact that most members of his own Republican Party, as well as many members of his White House staff, believed that it was Gonzales who had demonstrated both his incompetence and poor judgement as Attorney General in his initial response to the controversy surrounding the firings of several US attorneys.
In his appearances before congressional committees investigating the efficacy of these firings, Gonzales repeatedly angered lawmakers by saying that he could not recall key episodes and details related to the U.S. attorneys' dismissals, testifying nearly 70 times at one hearing alone that he could not remember specific events. Furthermore, testimony by other Department of Justice (DOJ) employees, like his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and his senior counsellor, Monica Goodling, was often at odds with what statements, meetings and facts Gonzales could recall and did testify about.
Gonzales then added further fuel to the fire with his testimony regarding his previous role as White House counsellor in extending the government’s warrant-less surveillance program. FBI director William Mueller and others subsequently undercut Gonzales's reputation for honesty by providing accounts of events surrounding the government's warrant-less surveillance program that were at serious odds with Gonzales's account of the events surrounding the renewal of that program and the opposition to it by then Attorney General John Ashcroft.
DOJ investigators have now said they are examining whether Gonzales purposely misled Congress in his warrant-less surveillance program testimony or attempted to improperly influence a witness in his employ, Monica Goodling, as regards her testimony on the US attorney firings. What a way to end your term in office.

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