I listen to a lot of podcasts. I mean a lot. Occasionally they cause interesting thoughts. For example, this morning I was moving boxes and listening to the latest Chris Hayes show when he had an interview with former UN Ambassador and Obama adviser Samantha Power. The focus was on Trump in Iran and the justification/credibility of war.
After a discussion of our loss of credibility internationally following Bush’s justification for the Iraq war and Trumps constant lying, at around the 18 minute mark Power brought up the insanity of having one person with the unconstrained ability to control our war machine. Hayes asked the question that people seem afraid to ask:
… Under the Obama administration targeted killing by drone and by other means was sort of enshrined both legal architecture policy architecture and a technical capability that now means the American president can basically kill anyone anywhere in the world at any time, and I wonder what you think about handing that off to this individual who now wields that power.
To paraphrase the great blogger driftglass, it’s forbidden to ask someone what they did more than a week ago (usually about David Brooks).
Her answer essentially boiled down to “it’s too bad that we never have this debate as a country, so instead of following the law the Obama administration just made sure to have a devils advocate” and “its sad that Trump used the weapon we built without using the optional safety features”. There was no follow up or further discussion.
This is the closest I’ve seen someone come to the dread question “but why didn’t you do something about this when you were in power?” And the answer was “isn’t it a shame…”.
I don’t hate Samantha Power, she’s just the example that set me off this time. But I do hate the idea that we refuse to hold people accountable for failing to take action when their actually in position to do so. Instead we let them go on TV afterwards and talk about how someone should really do something about this. This is why we still have everyone who was ever wrong about Iraq telling us how great Iran is going to go. So every time you see David Frum, John Bolton, Bloody Bill Crystal, David Brooks, etc. on your TV, think about Samantha Power too. And then get mad that no one will ever ask them “why should we trust you, given how wrong you were last time and given that you didn’t do anything about the problem when you could have?”
I know no one who can actually do anything about it will ever read this, but maybe if enough of us scream into the void something from the void will scream back.
Which brings me to the other half of the problem. People with power refuse to look beyond their own current circumstances and advantage to improve the system.
The left has been pushing for years to reform the FISA process and limit our surveilience state. Well, suddenly people on the far right have all gotten up in arms about said process and how evil it is. Maybe this is a good time to push through a FISA reform bill and limit our domestic spying.
When President Sanders/Anylivebody takes over, we can use the Republican hatred of them to reign in the Presidents war authority. But who am I kidding, it’s going to be our guy with the power and we can clearly trust them. Just like how after Bush we could clearly trust Obama so there was no reason to reign him in. Because it’s always going to be us in charge.
So here’s my humble proposal: when thinking about presidential powers, first ask yourself “would I want a criminally insane game show host to have these powers?” And then scream into the void a bit.