Who do you trust?
George W. Bush is asking Americans to trust him one hell of a lot in recent weeks. On the Miers nomination, as George Will put it, “The president’s ‘argument’ for her amounts to: Trust me.” The problem is, this kind of presidential assertion runs into the “crony too far” problem, as Jacob Levy points out: ...
George W. Bush is asking Americans to trust him one hell of a lot in recent weeks. On the Miers nomination, as George Will put it, "The president's 'argument' for her amounts to: Trust me." The problem is, this kind of presidential assertion runs into the "crony too far" problem, as Jacob Levy points out:
George W. Bush is asking Americans to trust him one hell of a lot in recent weeks. On the Miers nomination, as George Will put it, “The president’s ‘argument’ for her amounts to: Trust me.” The problem is, this kind of presidential assertion runs into the “crony too far” problem, as Jacob Levy points out:
[T]he administration and its allies are resorting to saying: “Trust us; the President knows her really well, and she’s a real right-winger not a potential Souter.” But that only emphasizes the fact that she’s an insider pick. The more they say “trust us,” the more skeptics of [Miers’ competence at jurisprudence] will say, “We shouldn’t have to take Supreme Court nominations on faith, and the fact that George W. Bush is the guy who has all this secret knowledge about her makes us more worried, not less.”
Then there’s this Congressional push to ward off further Abu Ghraibs by codifying the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation as the uniform standard for military interrogations in the field. According to the AP’s Liz Sidoti, Bush doesn’t like that proposal at all (link via Andrew Sullivan):
The stalemate began in July when [Bill] Frist, R-Tenn., who shepherds President Bush’s agenda through the Senate by deciding what bills get a vote, abruptly stopped debate on the [defense authorization] bill. That avoided a high-profile fight over amendments, supported by Warner and sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., restricting the Pentagon’s handling of detainees in the war on terror. The White House had threatened to veto the entire measure over the issue and sent Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to press the administration’s opposition.
In the Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk state why the administration is off base:
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. When it comes to detaining prisoners seized in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the other fronts of the terror war, the Pentagon’s “just-trust-us” mentality continues to undercut American strategy. Thankfully, Congress is at last on the verge of doing what the administration clearly cannot: set clear standards for the treatment of detainees…. [T]the well-documented pattern of abuses from Afghanistan to Iraq reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of the Pentagon’s prized “ambiguity.” Despite the unique challenges posed by the war on terror, the Congress–and Republican conservatives, in particular–should be skeptical when the executive branch says, in effect, “Just trust us.” Although it’s understandable that the Defense Department would like to act with the maximum freedom of action, it has created a Balkanized set of standards in which different rules apply in different places, which plainly does not work. If ever there were an appropriate object for congressional oversight, this is it.
There are good people working in the executive branch in whose competency I trust. At this point, George W. Bush is not one of them. UPDATE: William J. Stuntz argues in TNR Online that Bush is echoing Truman:
Truman didn’t believe in deferring to experts; as the sign on his desk said, the buck stopped with him. Though an ex-senator, he had a very un-legislative disdain for decision-making procedure. Mostly, he just called ’em as he saw ’em, with little reflection and no second-guessing. In a White House like that, decisions are bound to be high-variance. When layers of process and staff surround every appointment, the extremes–good and bad–tend to be lopped off. Brilliant minds with controversial ideas get nixed along with third-rate schmoozers. But when the boss refuses to staff it out and trusts his own intuition, all those options remain on the table. Cream can rise to the top. So can scum. That is how Harry Truman’s presidency produced both Dean Acheson and Fred Vinson, the brilliance of the Marshall Plan and the ineptitude of the Korean War. Few administrations have such highs or such lows. Like Truman, George W. Bush makes decisions easily. He obviously trusts his own intuitions, especially about people–remember, this is the man who looked into Vladimir Putin’s soul. Also like Truman, Bush does not readily admit mistakes, and hence rarely corrects them. It is no accident that both presidents fought badly improvised wars. Finally, Bush has a Truman-like virtue many presidents lack: He doesn’t mind having people with better minds and better educations around him. Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz–these are major-league talents, a cut above the norm for their jobs. So is John Roberts, who might be the smartest chief justice since Charles Evans Hughes. But along with the Rices and Robertses come an Alberto Gonzales here, a Michael Brown there–people who are a notch or two below the norm for their jobs. As is Harriet Miers.
This is a nice piece of analogical reasoning, but I don’t think it holds up. The first problem is that even the Bush people who are “major-league talents,” like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, have not acquitted themselves well. The second problem is that Truman, unlike Bush, was a voracious reader who demonstrated a fair amount of intellectual curiousity.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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