Thursday, December 22, 2005

Guest Blog: What's a President to Do?

Country Bumpkin reports in from New Zealand on the hubbub over President Bush's secret directive:

Just so we don't expend all our energy on one side of the outrage, here is an editorial from New Zealand's Christchurch Press. The awkward question, after all, is this: In times like these, what's a President to do? Another 9/11 would lead to charges of not doing enough to prevent it. That's long been said about 9/11 number 1.

So? What?

It's one thing to be outraged about telephone tapping. It's another to suggest a workable policy. But someone has to.

The entire editorial can be found at:

Meanwhile, here’s an abridged version:

SPYING DEFENDED

When the New York Times last week revealed that President George W. Bush had secretly authorised a United States spy agency to intercept communications between US citizens in America and suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, the news looked bad . . .

. . . The spying has been done by the National Security Agency, a highly clandestine electronic surveillance outfit. It has a larger budget than the CIA but its work is so hidden that it was once said that its initials stood for No Such Agency. Generally it is not supposed to spy on US citizens within the United States without a court order. Domestic intelligence-gathering is normally the responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other police bodies but after September 11, Bush authorised the NSA to intercept and act on communications between terrorist suspects abroad and potential collaborators within the United States . . .

. . . According to the administration, the interceptions have led directly to the capture of terrorists and the prevention of attacks. The President claimed the power to order the surveillance under the US Constitution and congressional resolutions, which he argued was not limited by the statute his critics alleged he had violated. He pointed out that it was rigorously scrutinised by Justice Department lawyers to assess its legality beforehand and that senior congressional figures, both Republican and Democrat, had been consulted at least a dozen times in the four years the scheme had been running. Further, two judges of the special court that authorises such spying also knew about it.

A factor in the President's favour with public opinion on the matter is the fact that the programme was, as one administration figure put it, "probably the most classified programme that exists in the United States Government". Americans are understandably sensitive about anything that might compromise their security and are inclined to give the President the benefit of any doubt in dealing with it. Bush played on this at a press conference when he said that while he agreed with the need to defend Americans' civil liberties, he was also sworn to protect the US from attack. Although nothing official has been announced, it is likely that the Justice Department has already begun an investigation to find out who leaked the information about the surveillance.

The President is, in any event, enjoying an upswing in support. Having been as low as 39 per cent in opinion polls measuring his approval rating, Bush is now back near 50. An exceptionally vigorous economy and low unemployment, a relatively peaceful election in Iraq giving the promise that the country may be on course to sufficient stability to enable the US to withdraw some of its troops there, and an effective public-relations campaign to boost the President's standing have all combined to make the impact of the spying allegations less than they might otherwise have been. American voters also recognise that many of those making the most noise about the issue are senators and representatives who are facing re-election next year and others with their eyes on the presidency in 2008. Thirty years ago, Richard Nixon unscrupulously used police agencies to spy illegally on his political enemies. But these are different times and attempts to portray Bush as a latter-day Nixon are much less likely to succeed.

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