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COLUMN archives back to April 26, 1999

TRANSCRIPT & COMMON GROUND archives back to July 2007

Impeach?

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Impeach?

During wartime, we should move carefully when using the i-word. Cal and Bob find a way to get answers without letting politics poison the well.

Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.

Today:Impeachment proceedings during wartime.

Bob:The movement to impeach Vice President Cheney, and to a lesser extent President Bush, is gaining momentum. It's not limited to Democratic activists, either. An American Research Group poll taken this month found that 54% of Americans favored impeachment of Cheney, including half of Independents. Congressman (and presidential candidate) Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has submitted articles of impeachment, which allege that Cheney "purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and the Congress" to justify the war against Iraq. Impeachment supporters say Cheney's public claims on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were knowingly false, as were his assertions that Iraq worked hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda to pull off the 9/11 attacks.

Cal:In case you've forgotten, we are in the midst of a world war. The best way to win that war is for everyone to stop engaging in partisan bickering and one-upmanship and support the effort to stabilize Iraq. I don't for a minute believe the president or vice president had any ulterior motives in this fight. Meanwhile, the most prominent politician calling for Cheney's impeachment is Kucinich. (Unless you count wannabe politicians such as Cindy Sheehan.) That should tell you something. The vice president's chances of being impeached are about the same as Kucinich's chances of becoming president.

Bob:To call this a world war gives far too much credibility to a group of gangsters that are best stopped by good intelligence and international police work. I don't know if Cheney's misrepresentation of the intelligence that got us into this madness is an impeachable offense, but I support hearings to find out whether it is. The longer we buy into the old "rally round the president and vice president" nonsense, the longer Cheney and Bush rule unabated.

Cal:Let's say, for the sake of argument, that everything you say is true. But let's also say that Osama bin Laden and his murderous thugs are watching this and conclude they can attack us as soon as impeachment hearings begin. Might they see this as an opportunity because the president and vice president would be too weak, or too distracted, to stop them or to retaliate?

Bob:That's a real stretch. Am I to believe that our massive intelligence apparatus that has been upgraded since 9/11 would also be on the fritz, and the Pentagon would be shuttered, simply as a result of these hearings? We're a stronger country than two men, Cal.

Cal:Even the 9/11 Commission suggested that President Clinton's sex scandals, which led to his impeachment, may have diverted his attention from bin Laden and helped pave the way for 9/11.

Bob:Do we really want to play the 9/11 blame game again?

Cal:The point is, leaders can be undermined and made less effective, and during wartime, that's a dangerous prospect. War is ugly and presidents must sometimes improvise in order to defeat an enemy that plays by different rules, or in this case, no rules. Franklin Roosevelt circumvented some laws and interned Japanese-Americans. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Should they have been impeached?

Bob:We're talking about actions that got us into war, not simply actions that commanders in chief take during war. Neither Lincoln nor Roosevelt chose the path of war. And by the way, history judged both of them harshly for those decisions.

Cal:During wartime, the country must be careful not to undermine our goal, which in this case is to protect the homeland. I'm not saying that government leadership should not be held accountable. I'm saying that the government's most important role is protecting its citizens, and an impeachment witch hunt during a time of partisan upheaval would provide a dangerous precedent.

Bob:I don't believe it's either/or. Convening hearings on Cheney's actions, at a minimum, might stop him from doing more damage — like trying to sell President Bush a rationale for torturing prisoners. By the way, if bin Laden doesn't know how weak Bush is politically, he's one of the few on the planet who has missed that fact. Then again, bin Laden is cowering in a cave somewhere, so perhaps that is the case.

Cal:Sure, Bush is a weakened president, but even Lincoln and Roosevelt had strong opposition at the time of their wars. They have legacies because they didn't waver — and won. Look, I have no problem with congressional oversight concerning how decisions were made and what can be learned so mistakes made in Iraq — and I grant you, there have been many — won't be repeated. But the time for that is after the war is won.

Bob:By the president's own account, the war will be going on after he leaves office. Charges of manipulating intelligence, and I should add, the infringement of constitutional rights of our citizens, cannot wait. Though Kucinich's articles of impeachment are about what got us into war, serious questions have arisen since we went to war: illegal wiretapping and trampling citizens' rights to prosecute the war on terror. There's a long list, and much of it leads back to Cheney — but ultimately, the president.

Cal:Motive counts for a lot in criminal behavior. Cheney and Bush have gained nothing from their prosecution of this war. In fact, the opposite could be argued. Their approval ratings are dismal.And unless you are a crazed conspiracy theorist who believes Cheney makes decisions to swell his Halliburton nest egg, he doesn't gain anything from this war. Not only is he not a candidate for president, polls show that the war may hurt Republicans in next year's election.

Bob:You can bet on it.

Cal:My bottom line, and I hope our common ground, is that we should have investigations and hold people accountable, but we must do it in a way that does not encourage the enemy during wartime. And that's the key, Bob. We're at war, so we need to tread carefully. Would you at least agree to that?

Bob:The enemy is already encouraged and even emboldened by the mistakes of the Bush administration. To delay an investigation, possibly for years, is to condone their actions and to relinquish the constitutional checks and balances that form the bedrock of our democracy.

Cal:Unfortunately, the "politics of personal destruction" (to recall a phrase Democrats used when Republicans went after Bill Clinton) create investigations for political advantage more than they produce information that benefits the country. Both sides are guilty of this. I would be more comfortable with an investigation if responsible Republicans and Democrats who no longer hold office conducted it. It could be modeled on the Iraq Study Group, or the base closings commission. Such a non-partisan approach might produce results more acceptable to both parties.

Bob:So they investigate. And then what?

Cal:The panel would then present its findings to the House of Representatives, which could then proceed with impeachment — or not — based on the evidence rather than political posturing. Would you agree?

Bob:That's reasonable with the understanding that those investigations begin without delay. Let's have an outside investigation that focuses on Cheney and those who aided his duplicity (including Donald Rumsfeld). If illegal activity surfaces, the Congress could proceed with impeachment, and the courts deal with his co-conspirators. I can find further common ground with you on not pursuing impeachment hearings of Bush, despite the clamor by the far left to do so. That should not happen and politically will not. I think Cheney duped Dubya along with everyone else. That's a sad commentary on George Bush and his leadership.

Cal:If you and I live to be 100 — and if we win the war against these terrorist maniacs — I bet we'll see historians take a far more favorable view of the president and vice president than you do today. It wouldn't be the first time that harsh judgments made during a presidency were revised after looking in a rearview mirror.

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