New Cabinet members, posts — old problems

For those of us hoping the second coming of President George W. Bush would be different than the first, the recent nominations for Cabinet replacements are a first step in crushing such hopes.

Last week’s resignation of Attorney General John Ashcroft was the first sign Bush was not going to take any chances by offering Cabinet-level posts to individuals who may question him. No litmus test was needed for his recommendations, as Bush has known every single one of them for years and can count on their loyalty. For his political agenda, this means that it is even more unlikely that someone will speak up if mistakes are made, a modus operandi put into action in the White House during Bush’s first term.

The new nominee for the post of attorney general is Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s White House legal counsel during his first term and former secretary general in Texas. Gonzales also served on Texas’ Supreme Court, both times appointed by Bush during his term as governor.

Not only has Gonzales presided over more executions than any other state attorney general, he was the writer of an internal White House memo which characterized the Geneva Convention as “obsolete” and “quaint.” In the memo, he argued the president of the United States had the right to torture suspects in the “war on terror.” Based on this record, it is very unlikely Gonzales can be trusted to speak up when civil liberties are infringed upon, as he has argued for such infringements himself. The rumors that Gonzales is a likely candidate for a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court subsequent to his years as attorney general do not make this nomination seem any less detrimental to civil liberties in this country. But he has proven to be loyal to Bush, which seems to be all that counts.

The biggest clamor, though, was created by Secretary of State Colin Powell’s resignation. His resignation was a chance to send a message to the world community that past mistakes would not be repeated. He had appeared in front of a United Nations Security Council meeting to declare, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

Later virtually all assertions made to bolster the case for war not only turned out to be false, it also became apparent the intelligence they had been based on had been flimsy at best, outright false and contrived at worst.

Powell recently indicated he regretted the appearance, but felt his loyalty to the president called for it. He chose loyalty over integrity, a move that squandered the good will the world community had expressed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

When Powell served as national security adviser and as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, he coined what is generally known as the “Powell Doctrine.” The rule, first used when he oversaw troop deployment in the first Gulf War, dictated that war would only be resorted to if all other options had been exhausted and with troop levels and resources that assured a sustainable win.

Powell’s disagreements with Bush had been no secret. He had called some members of the Bush administration “f—ing crazies” for being hell-bent on taking out Saddam Hussein at all cost. And while he was arguably one of the most experienced military strategists on the team and several high-ranking military officials agreed with his assessment that more troops would be needed to not only win the war in Iraq but also pacify the area once it was won, his opinion was nevertheless brushed aside. While it now is painfully apparent that Powell’s assessment was correct, the Bush administration will not acknowledge that mistakes were made.

The nomination of Condoleezza Rice as his replacement also sends the clear message that Bush intends to continue in the same manner as before. Rice, who has served as National Security Adviser, dropped the ball on preparing the nation against a terrorist attack even though she had been warned repeatedly by members of her own staff, warnings that included a memo titled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.” Yet Bush seems to be overlooking such clear shortcomings in his zeal to surround himself with loyal “advisers.”

Rice has also made the news when she misspoke, saying, “As I was telling my husb–” before correcting herself to say, “As I was telling President Bush.” All kidding aside, the two are close and her loyalty to Bush is unquestionable.

This in itself is fine, but advisers have to be able to speak truth to power. Similarly, acceptance of criticism for the sake of formulating better alternatives must be practiced by those they are advising. The administration now taking shape apparently does not believe in either, a fact that could be disastrous.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and is the Oracle’s Opinion Editor.