Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Poor Pakistani President Perez Musharaff....that bothersome constitution of his, it seems, is so severely hampering his ability to stem Islamist violence in his country that the only way to deal with it is to “suspend” it. That is code for “do away with” and/or “abolish” so that he can grab near absolute power. That level of control will certainly allow him (or anyone) to more efficiently crackdown on terrorism but what does this bode for the credibility of this important country? The Bush administration’s abysmal Middle East foreign policy strategy (lack of strategy?) now is faced with a terrible dilemma: support an emerging dictator whose country is home to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist friends (thus completely abandoning the “Freedom Agenda” articulated in his last inaugural address) or dump an important US ally in the legitimate war on terror (as opposed to the war in Iraq).

Is this overly simplified? Yes. The real situation is far more complex (as all matters of international relations are). However, the important point for Americans to take away from this is how precious the rule of law is. Let’s compare Musharaff’s justification for utterly suspending his “democracy’s” constitution with the Bush administration’s consistent and aggressive efforts to chop (not “chip”) away at ours. They are only inches apart.

Don’t get me wrong - I understand that there is a need to balance security and civil liberties. This will always be the case. However, we must ask for both the United States and Pakistan: Must we abandon our core values and the actual structure of democracy to achieve security. The US has been through many wars, we have been attacked, we have been infiltrated by spies, and our constitution has weathered all storms. But in the current terror hysteria (some real, some manufactured) I can easily see the scenario whereby a US president could justify suspension of even our constitution in order to respond to a terrorist attack(s). That is what should have us worried.

Am I engaging in scare tactics myself. I don’t think so. Witness the tremendous centralization of power in the last 7 years: the Patriot Act, consistently withholding information from Congress, essentially sanctioning torture (see, “rendition” and/or “waterboarding”) and, most recently, seeking to “redefine” the term “privacy.” Just today, the New York Times reported that:

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.”

What? “Trust us, we’re the government?” We’ve been down that road and if there is one thing the current administration has demonstrated - they are NOT to be trusted with increased power. I would say the same thing about any new Democratic administration. Checks and balances such as a legislative body and courts are intentionally inconvenient - they are there to slow down the tendency of one branch of government to either slowly accumulate or quickly grab more power than they are supposed to have under our system. So far, the past 7 years have been a slow, but quickening, accumulation of power by the executive branch. I think our institutions and the American people are strong enough to resist a sudden grab, the slow devolution of our freedoms is what we must all stay ever-vigilant against.

John A. Birdsall, Birdsall Law Offices, S.C.
135 W. Wells St., Ste 214, Milwaukee, WI 53203
414.831.5465 -