Battle Over Presidential Power Looms in Washington

It is not the war or prisoner abuse or the failure of intelligence agencies that has galvanized the staunchest Congressional opposition to President Bush - but his ambitious 'expansion of executive power.' According to this editorial from Sweden's Dagens Nyheter, 'The Battle over executive power has only just begun.'


Translated Carl Bergquist

December 20, 2005

Original Article (Swedish)    

"I know this war is controversial - yet being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences," George W. Bush stressed in a televised address to the American people on Sunday evening [Dec. 18: WATCH RealVideo].

This is a statement that says quite a lot about Bush as president. At times he may be ridiculed, at other times he is not taken seriously, but he is obviously a politician who knows what he wants and often also how to get it.

Domestically, at least during the first term, things worked out fairly well. He gambled and in the end often achieved more than was thought possible, e.g. on tax cuts and judicial nominations.

In foreign policy, he has used a similar approach. The goals have been bold, and he has not been risk averse.

Resistance on the international stage has been strong, however. The supposition that others would follow when the sole superpower takes the lead proved wrong. Instead, the U.S. appeared arrogant and unwilling to listen. Washington has freely pursued policies, which essentially means that the U.S. doesn't need to adhere to the rules that others must respect.

The most prominent example of this is Iraq - and the problems that appeared following the invasion have been gigantic.

Senators - Both Republican And Democratic - That Forced Bush to Back
Down on Torture Ban: (L-R) Tom Carper (D), John McCain (R), John
Thune (R) Joe Lieberman (D), Lindsey Graham (R) and Norm Coleman (R).

RealVideoC-SPAN VIDEO: White House Forced to 'Agree' to Torture Ban,
Dec. 16, 00:01:43

The American tone softened somewhat after Bush's reelection, and there is no doubt that the successful parliamentary elections [in Iraq] represents a very personal feather in Bush's cap. It has also dulled some of the harshest criticism.

Still, criticism remains, as do the demands for a speedy troop withdrawal. Even within the Republican Party, opposition has been persistent.

One can assume that this was one of the main reasons the president adopted a new tone in his [Oval Office] address. "This (the continued suicide bombings) proves that the war is difficult - it doesn't mean we're losing," he said, with a choice of words that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. Back then, there could be no hint that misjudgments had been made or that there were difficulties ahead.

The White House has evidently changed its strategy. The President is trying to reach out to those who are critical of the Iraq War, while forcefully striking back at those who believe that the "war on terror" has gone beyond the pale. He admits to mistakes, but will not budge from the conviction that the U.S. is on the right track, and that "victory" is within reach.

Perhaps this humbler outlook will reverse the collapse in the president's approval ratings, but the address should be seen more as a premonition of upcoming battles in Washington.

Senator Lindsey Graham - a Republican 'Defector'

Presidential authority in the form of expanding executive power has become the focal point, and here opposition is mounting. Recently, Congress refused to extend the controversial Patriot Act, and last week the White House felt compelled to sign on to Senator John McCain's amendment on torture and the interrogation methods of the CIA. The New York Times recently revealed that Bush had permitted electronic eavesdropping without a court order.

"Even in a time of war, you have to follow the process, because that's what democracy is all about," Senator Lindsey Graham stated in relation to the wiretapping revelations.

Some say that the battle over executive power has only just begun. While Social Security reform -  which was to be the big policy triumph during the second term -  appears to be dead in the water, domestic power struggles tend to offer home field advantage to the president.

But the question is whether it is not too late. The president may have already gone too far in the "war on terror" for any hope of also declaring "victory" at home.

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