Thursday, March 1, 2007
The Office That Wasn't
I was a little busy last week to really get to Seymour Hersh's New York Magazine article on the shift allegedly taking place in American Middle East policy. But it's worth taking a second look at, and for more than just the sensational excerpts that have made the rounds. In case you haven't read it, it makes the following claims:
- That elements of the Bush administration have identified the containment of Iran, whose influence has grown significantly as a result of the Iraq War, as America's highest regional priority.
- That according to these elements, the most effective way to do this is to enlist Sunni proxies throughout the broader region, and in particular in Lebanon and Syria, to combat Iranian proxies and their interests.
- That many of these Sunni proxies are cut from the same radical, extremist mold as al-Qaeda.
- That the Saudis are largely underwriting the initiative, both from a financial and diplomatic standpoint, with assurances that they'll be able to keep the radical Sunni groups under control.
- That a great deal of the American side of the initiative is being run covertly, in the manner of the Iran-Contras scheme, with no Congressional oversight.
Here's the operative paragraph from Hersh's article for the last claim:
Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal... One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”... (Emphasis added.)
Why the Office of the VP? Well, as Tom Engelhardt points out in the Nation, because it's become something of a bureaucratic black hole in Washington. David Kurtz made the same observation over at TPM. And later followed it up with this pseudo-explanation offered by the OVP to justify their refusal to even provide a list of the personnel assigned to its staff to a Federal registry:
The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).
Notice that it is neither a part of the executive nor the legislative branch, rather than a part of both. The implication being that as a result of this Constitutional ambiguity, the Vice President is free to operate as a free electron within the Federal government, subject to absolutely no oversight.
These guys have taken what's historically been considered the most impotent office in the Federal government and transformed it into the most powerful, beyond even the limits of the separation of powers. It's time to do something about that.