July 12, 2007
In May of this year Mr. Bush issued National Security Directive No. 51, giving to himself power to control executive, legislative, and judicial branches in the event of a catastrophic national emergency. The Directive had an apparently benign rationale and normally one would not take notice. But it is worrisome that Bush declared in Directive #51 that such emergency might include “any incident, regardless of location” that would “damage or disrupt” US population, economy, or government functions.
Such “damage or disruption” need not be in the United States. “Any incident” in some foreign country that would seriously “damage or disrupt” the US economy would therefore give George W. Bush, upon his own initiative, the sole right to declare himself in control of all functions of government. How small an “incident” would be sufficient to equal a “disruption?” How small an incident could damage “the economy?” The Directive does not say.
There is no language in Directive #51 that requires Mr. Bush to obtain consent of Congress before he seizes such power and no acknowledgement that under existing law he is already required to do just that. Directive #51 simply ignores the existing National Emergencies Act and in so doing Mr. Bush authorizes himself—or if he is disabled, the vice president—to control all functions of government for the duration of the emergency and “afterward.”
How long is “afterward?” The Directive does not say.
Presidential Directive #51 assumes that the Vice President will not be disabled and specifically instructs agencies to coordinate with the Vice President to coordinate any questions surrounding succession. It makes no mention of any coordination with the Speaker of the House—who, according to the Constitution, is next in line. Whatever the succession emergency may be, the authors of the Directive do not assume that they will have to reach farther down than the Vice President.
It is worrisome that Mr. Cheney has for six years shown an inordinate appetite for executive power. It is even more worrisome that he has made every effort to shield this appetite from public view. In March 2001, six months before 9/11, he kept from the public the fact that he was reviewing with his Energy Policy Task Force detailed maps of oil fields in Iraq. In White House circles, and with Haliburton supporters, these maps could be used to justify permanent occupation by US forces. A year later, throughout 2002, Cheney scoured the CIA and sources in the Defense Department for any WMD facts, no matter how thin, to rationalize the upcoming occupation. His intention to control the case turned the matter into a White House executive action, not a war to be considered by Congress.
Weeks before the onset of war, in March 2003, to encourage public enthusiasm, Cheney represented as absolutely true evidence that he had been advised by both the CIA and Defense Intelligence was most likely not true. Thereafter, in July 2003, after the invasion and when no WMD had been found, Cheney orchestrated an attack upon Ambassador Joe Wilson who had made public that the White House knew, in advance, the weakness of its WMD claims. He then furiously attempted to cover up those attacks, forcing Scooter Libby to commit felonies to protect him. Finally, in these last weeks he has declared himself either inside or outside the executive branch, depending upon whether it serves to secure executive power.
Regrettably, the unthinkable now becomes thinkable and raises the question: Would Mr. Cheney exploit the broad language of Presidential Directive #51? Is he, that is, capable of planning first, the Directive itself, and second, a “disruptive,” perhaps foreign, “incident” and then seizing power? No other vice president since Aaron Burr would ever even slightly warrant such suspicion. In Mr. Cheney’s case, National Security Directive No. 51, raises the hackles on a prudent man’s spine.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have shown no reluctance to seek power—or to seize power—since their first massive occupation of the hallways of the county court house in Florida in 2000. To think the best of these two who have so often moved us toward the worst is no longer prudent and may even be naive.
The wise course is therefore now to use the Constitution as the founders intended that it be used and to take the initiative to enforce restraint of those who would act like kings, perhaps before it is too late. For these and other reasons, the movement to impeach them both is gaining ground across the country. It is the work of patriots.