Bush-Cheney Administration alumni have risen from the ashes to denounce President Obama’s decision to force Congress to play its constitutional role in a decision to use military force in Syria. It is, they insist, yet another surrender of power by a feckless President presiding over the degradation of the Executive Branch itself, the empowerment of which was one of their central goals.
Welcome to TNR’s 2011 List Issue. In putting the issue together, we had one major priority: to avoid creating a power list featuring anyone who regularly dominates headlines. Instead, we had a different idea: What if we revealed something about D.C. by documenting who quietly wields power? From there, we began to hatch other ideas for lists, and we realized that—while they can certainly be cheap gimmicks—lists can also convey a lot about a city. Below is the first list from the issue: Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.
Harold Koh and John Yoo are two peas in a pod, except that Yoo is the right-wing pea and Koh is the left-wing pea. Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer during the Bush administration, interpreted “torture” narrowly in order to advance a constitutional agenda in which executive power has primacy. This interpretation permitted the Bush administration to use harsh interrogation tactics on suspected members of Al Qaeda.
Former Bush administration torture enabler John Yoo mocks Democratic voting blocs of non-high school graduates and people with graduate diplomas: Postgraduates, by which I believe the AEI analysts mean those with something more than a bachelor’s degree, were 20 percent of the electorate. They went for Democrats by 52 to 46 percent. No surprise there. Obama, after all, is himself a creature of the university ecosystem, and the way he talks reminds me of nothing more than a professor at a faculty meeting talking about changes to the grading curve.
Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush By John Yoo (Kaplan, 544 pp., $29.95) Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State By Garry Wills (Penguin, 288 pp., $27.95) I. In December 2008, Chris Wallace asked Vice President Cheney, “If the president, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” Cheney’s answer included a reference to a military authority that President Bush did not exercise.
Will Bunch is arguing that the Philadelphia Inquirer, which employs John Yoo as an occasional columnist, should pull his gig unless he talks to the federal investigators looking in to the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program: So John Yoo gets paid to spout off about the news of the day, on his own terms, but when agents of his country's intelligence agencies wanted his help in a major investigation, he clammed up. I think that's a huge ethical problem. Here's why. Like most institutions, newspapers can be horrible at practicing what we preach.
BARACK OBAMA is trying to split the difference on torture. He wants to move forward—no messy dwelling on the Bush-Cheney era—except that he’ll look backward if forced. There will be no independent commission to hold top-ranking officials politically accountable. But, if Attorney General Eric Holder wants to prosecute the Bush lawyers who defended the legality of waterboarding—John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury—well, the president won’t stand in the way. What does Obama gain by this approach?
Michael Schaffer is the author of One Nation Under Dog. If John Yoo had any writerly creativity, he'd have come up with a better name for his Philadelphia Inquirer column. The possibilities are endless: "Tortured Logic." "Stress Positions." "Hints from the Gulag." But the author of the Bush administration torture memos apparently used up all his creativity in explaining why waterboarding doesn't violate America's legal obligations.
During every presidential campaign for the last two decades, liberals have predicted an apocalypse in the Supreme Court. In their dire visions, as many as four justices are always about to retire, meaning that a Republican victory would turn the court radically to the right and lead to the certain overturning of Roe v. Wade. In each of the past three elections, of course, these hyperbolic predictions have turned out to be wrong.
The House Judiciary Committee hearing with David Addington and John Yoo is proving to be exceptionally bitter and acrimonious even by House Judiciary Committee standards. If you're around C-SPAN, I recommend turning it on--this is entertaining stuff. Addington continually displays unveiled contempt for the members of the committee (I was about to say "thinly veiled," but even that would be too charitable). Yoo is slightly more polite, but no more helpful.