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The paradoxes of the Bush presidency

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In the first presidential debate of 2000, George W. Bush emphasized his military restraint. "I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders. I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and therefore prevent war from happening...." he said.

That view changed greatly after Sept. 11, when he proclaimed a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world – even, evidently, if it requires US troops to act as nation builders. The part of the world where he chose to start that campaign, however, was one of the areas least attuned to it by culture and history.

This is just one of the many paradoxes that mark Mr. Bush's presidency.

Another paradox is that, in the name of spreading democracy abroad, Bush is doing things that tend to destroy it at home. One of the first acts of a scared, compliant Congress after 9/11 was to pass the misnamed USA Patriot Act.

Its sponsors said it would be a bedrock of the war on terror; in fact, it is an affront to many rights guaranteed by the Constitution and ingrained in US criminal procedure.

Closely related is a third Bush paradox: In the name of national security, he has asserted the most expansive view of executive power of any post-World War II president. Bush has carried it to the point of saying he has the right to ignore provisions of laws passed by Congress through the use of presidential signing statements.

He has flouted international standards of justice and the Constitution – which he claims to uphold – by endorsing such un-American activities as holding suspects indefinitely with no charges or tapping domestic phone lines to monitor international calls without a judicial warrant.

There was, and is, no good argument that 9/11 demanded retaliation, except against those directly responsible for the attacks. The 9/11 culprits were Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers. They were given refuge in Afghanistan; therefore, a US attack on Afghanistan was appropriate. But there was no reason to attack any other country, no matter how offensive its government.


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