Saturday, April 8



This vision of uninhibited executive power is damaging both in practice and in principle. Lack of respect for the rules has colored his entire administration, leading to abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere. Lack of respect for the truth has demoralized the U.S. intelligence community and led to numerous flawed decisions.

The violation of principle may do damage that is more far-reaching. The United States is at war in Iraq in the defense of democracy, yet the policies of the president have destroyed the credibility of the United States as a proponent of democracy. Actual torture is bad, just as actual spying and lying are bad. But Bush compounds that damage by clinging to legal justifications, suggesting that he doesn't believe in democracy at all. For him to argue that he can spy, leak, torture and imprison as he pleases is to put himself forward, not as the president of a real democracy, but as a strongman in the mold of Hosni Mubarak or Vladimir Putin.

The people of Iraq and other struggling nations are not going to listen to lessons about democracy from a hypocrite who says one thing and practices another. Respect for the law is what distinguishes democracies from the autocratic regimes that are the norm in many places. People in Iraq and elsewhere are used to hearing platitudes about democracy as they are carted off to jail. Richard Nixon's downfall was brought about because of the activities of his plumbers, a secret unit whose mission was to plug leaks. It is rueful irony that Bush now has been named as the master of the leaks in his administration. It is scorn for the truth and an affinity for secret dealing that has been the undoing of both.


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