Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States, saw himself obliged to suspend a Middle East tour and return to Washington in a hurry in order to prevent a budgetary cutback the government considered “crucial” from sinking in the (majority Republican) Senate. With the vote of the Vice President, the government achieved an antagonistic 51-50 vote which allowed it to avoid the humiliation of a defeat brought about by its own party.
But not even the presence of Cheney could stop the Senate, a few days later, from refusing to extend for four more years, as the government was demanding, the enforcement of the “Patriot Act”, the law which allows the intelligence agencies to commit all kinds of abuse in the name of “national security”. The senators extended its enforcement for only six months. But this defeat for Bush turned into a catastrophe when the House of Representatives (also dominated by the Republicans) reduced the extension of two months to only one (and was backed by the Senate). According to the media, these votes were the consequence of “a deep malaise” created in Congress by the revelation of Bush having ordered telephonic espionage of US citizens without judicial authorization. For the same reason, one of the judges of the court authorizing the taps resigned.
Clique in disgrace
The political crisis unleashed by the failure of the occupation of Iraq and deepened by the catastrophe provoked by Hurricane Katrina (which “showed that Bush was not prepared to confront it and unconcerned by the consequences” —Stratfor, 29/Nov—), has struck the Bush clique with a series of overwhelming blows to the head.
Their principal “man of confidence” in the House of Representatives, Tom De Lay, Republican Majority Leader, had to resign because of fraudulent management of campaign funds; his peer in the Senate, Bill Frist, is being charged with financial fraud. At least another twelve legislators (and there are twenty more in the sights) are under federal investigation because of their relationships with the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramov. The scandal —which could become “the biggest in Congress for more than a century”— could lead to “Republicans losing control of the lower House if Abramov starts talking” (El País, 31 Dec). The scandal has already begun to hit Bush's clique: “David Safavian, a former prominent official of the White House budget office, resigned in September before being arrested for having lied about his relationship with Abramov” (ídem).
The lawyer Harriet Miers, designated by Bush to cover the vacancy on the Supreme Court, resigned her nomination after the Republicans and the Democrats united to reject her for “incompetence for the position”. Her only “merit” was being Bush's personal lawyer.
A short time afterwards, Cheney's cabinet chief, Lewis Libby, was convicted on five counts (ranging from perjury to obstruction of justice) in the investigation of the “leakage” to the press of the name of an undercover CIA agent (in reprisal for the accusation of the agent's husband, a diplomat, according to which the government had forged proof involving Saddam in an attempt to obtain nuclear material). The same investigation is aimed at Karl Rove, considered the “gray eminence” of the White House, as well as Cheney himself.
Bush has fought, says Stratfor (29 Nov), with the religious right and the Republican party “hawks”. The latter, joining the Democrats, have given him a beating in Congress by forcing him to accept —after threatening to veto it— the so-called “McCain amendment” prohibiting torture.
Bush does not control the legislative agenda even in the case of his own Republican legislators. Or in the judicial branch: recently a federal court of appeals rejected the transfer to civilian justice of the US citizen José Padilla, detained over three years ago, without trial or charges brought against him. A last minute intervention from the Supreme Court itself was necessary to authorize the transfer. Nor even the intelligence services, as revealed by the clash with the CIA over the leaking of the name of an undercover agent to the press by agents of the NSA (the most secret of the secret agencies), or Bush having ordered telephone tapping without judicial authorization. And much less, the generals, who are in a state of deliberation due to the failure of the occupation of Iraq.
“Bush seems more isolated and impotent than ever”, wrote some time ago The Economist (29 Oct), when not even half the things mentioned above had even happened.
In this picture, the amazing New York transit workers strike shows that the political crisis not only develops “on high” but rather that it has already begun to show its consequences in the activity of the exploited.
Congreso fills the void
The New York Times (23 Dec) characterizes the blows that the Legislature and Justice (both dominated by conservative Republicans) have struck against Bush's clique as “encouraging (that) finally there are signs that the democratic system is attempting to rein in the imperial presidency” of Bush and Cheney.
But the Congress that is now presented as a “counterweight” to the clique has been the main political support for Bush and his clique: it backed the “Patriot Act” and the policy of liquidating democratic rights; it backed the invasion of Afghanistan and all the lies leading to the occupation of Iraq; it voted all the funds the government demanded for the war; it backed the secret prisons; it voted for all the tax breaks (for the rich) and social welfare cuts (for the poor) that Bush wanted; the presidency and his clique were given superpowers.
The “democratic system” now defended by The New York Times was an accomplice —and necessary participant— in all Bush's crimes against the people of the United States and against all the peoples of the world. The New York newspaper itself kept locked up in a drawer for a year the denunciation that Bush had ordered illegal wiretaps. It is a phony “counterweight”: the much defended law prohibiting torture is “devalued” (El País, 17/12), because it does not permit the detainees in Guantanamo to take any legal action in the case of torture, because it authorizes the military tribunals to use the evidence obtained in this manner and, finally, because it does not make any legal definition of what constitutes “torture”.
The trade union bureaucracy —closely tied to the Democrat party— was an accomplice of the clique. In March 2003, John Sweeney, president of the trade union confederation, declared that “the AFL-CIO firmly supports our troops (...) Now that the decision has been made, we are unswerving in our support for our country and the men and women of the United States in the line of combat (...) We also call on the president, as commander in chief, to redouble the determination of the government to improve the protection against terrorist attacks” (web page of the AFL-CIO). Two years later, the Convention of the AFL-CIO approved a resolution calling for the “quick return” of the troops (after having rejected one demanding “withdrawal as soon as possible”). This illustrates the reactionary and cowardly character of those now attempting to “put limits” on Bush.
The “democratic system” was an accomplice and continues to be so. Because no-one misses the fact that, scandal or no scandal, the intelligence agencies continue to spy on US citizens, the secret prisons continue operating and in them, systematically and methodically, torture continues to be carried out on the prisoners.
Congress occupies the place of the failed Bush clique... to back Bush to the end of his mandate; that is, to limit the scope of the political crisis opened up by the failure of the occupation of Iraq.
In this way, it faces the risk of the inevitable counterattacks of the clique, which resists abandoning the scene. One of these rounds could be the replacement of Donald Rumsfeld by Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman vis a vis the Pentagon. In this way, Bush would attempt to not only split the Democrat party (today dominated by its left wing); but above all, would get rid in the legislature of a right-wing democrat capable of “articulating” against the clique a part of the Republican party itself.
The protagonist role which Congress (and to a lesser degree, Justice) has taken on constitutes an abnormality in a strongly presidential regime like that of the US. The growing “protagonism” of the legislators and the judges is the other side of the coin of the weakening of Bush and the Executive, which concentrates the power of the State.
Bush is obliged to negotiate with Congress, that is, to co-govern with it. This obligation will become even sharper next year if, as the prognosis goes, the legislative elections are a catastrophe for Bush (although not necessarily for the Republican party, as long as Abramov keeps his mouth shut). The polls indicate that the voters are prepared to vote “against Bush”; for that reason, the legislators of his party “distance themselves” from the president, who they qualify as “radioactive” (The New York Times, 29 Oct).
Bush's inadequacy is manifest. Not only is he an obstacle to the possibility of arriving at an international agreement allowing the yanquis to withdraw from the Iraqi quagmire; he is going against the current with the turn to the left in Latin America and the evolution of the class struggle itself in the United States.
There is a regime crisis. Bush's constitutional mandate lasts until January 2009. “If Bush does not recover, (that is) a very long time, in which many things can happen” (Stratfor, 29 Nov). If the international crisis and the US crisis itself continue to worsen, there will be a resurrection of the center-left (“liberals” and “left liberals”), and as a result, of the trade union bureaucracy. Under these conditions, the longer the presidential change-over is delayed, the more to the “left” Bush's replacement could be aligned.
The passage of a government of cliques, which governs by decree and in secret, to a government obliged to find support in the legislature and with the judges, and even to co-govern with them —and from there to a virtually “parliamentary” regime”— will not be pacific: it can only arise as a result of violent clashes, confrontations, scandals and crises.
Our strategic prognosis —that the war lead to a crisis of political regimes in the principal imperialist countries— has been shown to be correct. Now it is about taking advantage of the commotion created by those crises in everyday life and in the consciousness of the exploited in order to impose the struggle for the recovery of gains and the development of a working class and socialist alternative.