Saturday, October 29, 2005

The long weekend

It must be a long weekend up at Camp David.

It has been a brutal week on the home front, but not as bad as it could have been. Harriet Miers withdrew, so the bleating has ceased from that travesty of a nomination. Scooter Libby has been indicted, but Karl Rove has dodged a bullet. The Atlantic hurricane season is winding down, the price of oil and the price of gasoline have waned, and the market was up sharply to close the week.

All in all, it could have been worse.

This is a moment of truth for the President. He will shortly announce his new nomination for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and that nomination will set the tone of his administration through the mid-term elections next November.

The Miers nomination cost the President dearly with his base––who have followed him patiently through war and deficit spending in search of the promised land of a transformed high court––and there will be no messing around this time. Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, Sam Alito, or better yet, one of the judges appointed during the nomination battle this year, Priscilla Owen or Janice Rogers Brown.

Trust is now in short supply and the President is on a very short leash. “The days of the blank check have ended,” suggested American Conservative Union Chairman David Keane. Long-time conservative leader Paul Weyrich added, “We are up for a fight. We are ready for a fight. And if we get a good nominee, all will be forgiven as far as Harriet Miers.”

All will be forgiven. Sitting in Camp David, that statement has to burn, and burn deeply. President Bush submitted a nominee that he trusted, and they chewed her up and spat her out. And now they feel entitled to lay down the law? Who the hell is Paul Weyrich, and who elected him to anything?

For George W. Bush, this weekend is about his legacy. It is about how he is going to spend the balance of his term in office, and it is about his capacity to lead the nation and the world.

Karl Rove will be there, and he will be arguing for the base as he always has. But Karl Rove is the one who almost got indicted and brought down the house of cards because of his arrogance and his recklessness. Rove may be calling the shots, or maybe Andy Card, the soon-to-depart chief of staff. Perhaps, five years into his term, it is time to call his father for counsel. This is about the legacy of the family after all.

The problem of this nomination transcends the Court. If he cedes the nomination to the demands of the right, the fight––which Weyrich and his minions are itching for––will be a millennial one. Conservative leader Senator Sam Brownback has encouraged this outcome by suggesting that it is time for the nation to engage in a “great debate” about the future of the courts and “the kind of country we want to live in." But there will be no “great debate,” it will simply be a cataclysmic clash of saturation media and anger and ads and screaming. Like the sound of one hand clapping, it will all be fury but no one will be listening.

Meanwhile, the world badly needs an America that leads. In the uni-polar world that has emerged since the end of the Cold War, the nations of the world depend on America. Not as a military power, but more as an umpire. While nations verbally attack America for their own political purposes, they nonetheless depend on its stability as a point of reference for international conduct.

Today, America’s capacity to lead has been diminished, and that is one of the great losses of the Iraq war. Our contempt for international institutions has damaged our credibility, but the nations of the world know well that there is no alternative.

Now, as our domestic turmoil continues, nations have felt Bush’s weakness. While domestic events have dominated our news, Condi Rice is flying solo and international affairs have slowly been spinning out of control.

First there is Iran, who with soaring energy revenues and revitalized leadership is moving to assume leadership in the region. Riding a wave of growing confidence as it has resumed its nuclear development program, Iranian President Ahmadinejad this week called for the destruction of the State of Israel.

Then there is Syria, which was accused in a report to the United Nations Security Council last week of complicity in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the opposition leader and former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Recognizing America’s diminished credibility and capacity to respond, Syria eschewed its prior stance of keeling to Washington’s wind, haughtily denied the substance of the report and staged large public demonstrations in support of its leader Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein’s political cousin.

Then yesterday came the Russians. Faced with a report authored by former Fed Chairman Paul Volker––a man of impeccable credentials––on the United Nations Oil-for-Food program that accused them of paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, the Russian government denounce the report as based on fabricated documents.

Finally, in Israel, where prospects for anything positive seemed to be unraveling even more than usual, both the Israelis and Palestinians dismissed American calls for restraint, suggesting that they would look after their own interests.

And, of course, there are other matters. An Al Quaeda attack in New Dehli has opened up a new front, and there is always the back burner, with North Korea on a slow boil.

So George Bush faces hard decisions this weekend. And with him will be Harriet Miers, his lawyer and devoted friend. But while the pundits bray and the conservatives pray, there is more at stake than just the Court. This is a moment for reflection and sage advice, and the hope that those are not in short supply.

No comments: