Monday, 17 August 2009

New books: The Bush heritage

Somewhat to my own surprise I have recently found myself reading several books and articles on George W. Bush and his presidency. With Bush back home in Texas and Dick Cheney, now powerless, busy ranting about how the current US government is opposed to the use of torture and is leading the country into the abyss, the Bush regime is now distant enough to feel more like history than an ever-present danger.
Earlier this summer I read Robert Draper’s Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, which was interesting but already out of date. Written in 2007, it does not cover the financial crisis which was the last nail in the Bush presidency’s coffin, nor the extent of that administration’s crimes against humanity which have been revealed during the last year.
The latter issue, although he does not just exactly that expression, is however thoroughly dealt with in a new Danish book, Arven efter Bush – Præsidentembedet og krigen mod terror by the jurist Anders Henriksen, published by Gyldendal. Henriksen demonstrates how people around Bush wanted to increase the President’s power and resurrect the “imperial presidency” which disappeared with Richard Nixon after Watergate.
Key figures in the book are Dick Cheney, John Yoo, who worked at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2001-2003 and David Addington, who was legal advisor and later chief of staff to Dick Cheney and sometimes known as “Cheney’s Cheney”. At the heart of the story is the so-called Unitary Executive Theory, coupled with the belief expressed by Nixon to David Frost that things are not illegal if they are done by the President.
The Unitary Executive Theory was first formulated by legal advisors to the Reagan administration in 1986. The theory argues that the usual interpretation of the US Constitution’s words on the separation of power is wrong and that the original intention was that certain powers were exclusively reserved for the President and others exclusively referred for Congress. It follows from this that the President has no right to interfere with those areas reserved for Congress and that Congress will have to stay out of those things left to the President, among them the power to shape the USA’s foreign and security policy.
Henriksen shows, in a detached and balanced manner of writing, how the Bush administration used this theory in many creative ways to stretch the President’s authority, to ignore Congress, to reinterpret laws and conventions to suit their needs and how they by this sort of manipulation were able to justify (at least to themselves) their right to hold prisoners without giving them access to the judicial system, to treat prisoners in a way which we now know amounted to torture, etc.
The Unitary Executive Theory, which has very few supporters among constitutional experts, was in the end soundly rejected by the Supreme Court and Henriksen argues that its supporters achieved the exact opposite of what they wanted – rather than strengthening the office of the President, they left a weakened presidency which will be watched closer than before by Congress and the Supreme Court to make sure that this abuse of power does not happen again.
Meanwhile it has emerged that Dick Cheney in discussing his upcoming memoirs has expressed the view that President Bush become too soft on the “War on Terror” and too concilatory towards public opinion during his second term in office and showed an unexpected independence in not always following Cheney’s advice. As someone commented on Swedish radio last week, one wonders what Cheney’s references are if he finds Bush too soft. The schism between the former President and former Vice-President was also highlighted by Time recently in an article about Bush’s refusal to pardon Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for his role in leaking a CIA agent’s name to the press in retaliation for her husband’s criticism of the Bush administration.

Some information on Henriksen’s book from the publisher’s website:

Time’s report on the final days of Bush and Cheney:,8599,1912297,00.html

Washington Post reporting on Cheney’s disappointment in Bush:

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