August 30, 2007

The Problem With Fredos

"I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world and that I have lived the American dream. Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days."

--from Alberto Gonzales' resignation statement.

Even a determined Gonzales-hater might find this statement somehow poignant, given his family's hardscrabble background. But what Mr. Gonzales evidently fails to understand is that he has diminished our collective American dream, alas. He diminished it by dismissing the Geneva Conventions as "quaint", by allowing a horrific torture policy to take root, by his banana-republic like late night visits to John Ashcroft's hospital room, by ignoring Congressional subpoenas, by authorizing illegal wiretapping programs, by firing qualified United States attorneys in an apparent putsch, and on and on.

Still, I will confess to a measure of sympathy for the man. Much like Harriet Miers, he was so supremely underqualified for his position, so spectacularly beyond his depth, that he should never have been put in such a difficult position. Instead Bush's bovine obsessiveness with loyalty--basic competence be damned--has focused the brutal kleig-lights of international opprobrium on old friends like Harriet and Alberto. Like Brownie, say, they will become key examples in the history books of the rampant cronyism and incompetence of this Adminstration.

Their legacy thus sealed, one wonders, is Bush even cognizant of how he's effectively besmirched his friends by trying to elevate them to realms they should have never occupied to begin with? I suspect not, as the President's capacity for self-criticism appears somewhere between minute and non-existent. Instead, he's doubtless bitterly nursing his grudges, rankled that Senators like Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy and Chuck Schumer dared to challenge an Attorney General whose sycophancy to the President was so complete as to render the Department of Justice a totally discredited arm of Government, one where Administration lawyers dutifully genuflected before David Addington and John Yoo's youthful exuberances.

In the end, I suspect Gonzales simply couldn't tolerate the punishing mortification anymore, the spectacle of his gross incompetence playing out so harshly on the national stage. And so he finally summoned up the courage to confront the President, that one time, if only to try and salvage whatever crumbs of dignity he had left, likely pleading with Bush to set him loose. Put differently, his only act of rebellion came at the very end, not on the important issues of the day that so badly sullied our democracy and highest traditions, but because Gonzales could no longer abide a crushing humiliation that had by then become total.

Ironically evincing a smigden of backbone only in a bid to persuade Bush to allow him to move off stage to spare himself further misery, this belated act of banal self-preservation sadly came far too late. By then our collective American dream had been badly tarnished. Still, if it is part of the price of him leaving, let us allow him to fancifully imagine he is still somehow living his. All told, it's a small price to pay as we begin to clear out the rot left in the wake of this baleful Administration.

Posted by Gregory at August 30, 2007 08:42 PM

Well said.

Posted by: tron at August 30, 2007 09:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You said it, buddy.

Posted by: Chris at August 30, 2007 09:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would argue that his comment about the worst of his days being better than the best of his father's is the mark of a man drunk with self-importance.

Posted by: GHB at August 30, 2007 10:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is the nature of the human animal to want to know why -- particularly in the wake of some disaster or act of monumental stupidity. And it's also true that there often isn't much of a reason, or, really, any reason.

As a result, I'm a little less inclined than our host to even attempt to understand the state of mind of someone like Alberto Gonzalez or ponder much about why he finally quit. I hope he has some glimmering of what he has done -- you don't get to repentence wthout, in some way, understanding that you've sinned. And I share our host's sympathy. He never seemed actually out to harm anyone -- but, as someone on this blog has noted before -- there comes a point where its hard to distinguish incompetence from malice.

But history, to the extent it wises to deal with someone like this, will be harsh. At best, he was the ever willing enabler of the whims of a criminally negligent president.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at August 30, 2007 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So what is Gonzalez saying about his father?

That the worse days of perjurer and possible war criminal in the boot licking service of his gringo master was a better than a humble existence lived with integrity?

What a turd.

Posted by: JPL at August 30, 2007 10:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does the "Fredos" of the title refer only to Gonzales et al or can we include Bush? Because if ever there was a Fredo, then it's Bush. Only he's what happens when Fredo DOESN'T get the boat ride to the middle of the lake. Would that make Jeb the Michael of the family? Just wondering.

Posted by: LL at August 31, 2007 12:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You ask is "Bush even cognizant of how he's effectively besmirched his friends by trying to elevate them to realms they should have never occupied to begin with". The answer seems self evident. This fate that Bush has bestowed upon his cronies is precisely what has happened to Bush himself, in terms of being elevated to a position so spectacularly beyond his depth. So if Bush notoriously has no self awareness of his own predicament, it would be highly unlikely that he'ld have any insight, when he enables the identical process to happen with his own appointees.

Posted by: tom at August 31, 2007 03:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I don't mean to egg you on, but are you reading this Kirchick drivel?

He's using ca. 2002 Beinart talking points about "muscular, progressive" militarism, impugning those who support withdrawal and are horrified by the prospect of war with Iran as betrayers of the ideals of the Spanish Civil War, representing Nick Cohen as a representative figure of the British left, etc. It's embarrassing.

Posted by: A guy at August 31, 2007 06:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Much like Harriet Miers, he was so supremely underqualified for his position, so spectacularly beyond his depth, that he should never have been put in such a difficult position. "

But noone made either of them accept their respective appointments/positions. They chose to accept them. And because they made they choices they did, both should bear as much responsibility for their "besmirching" as Mr. Bush.

Posted by: MDCox at August 31, 2007 07:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For a guy "supremely underqualified" for his position he sure accomplished a lot (in the negative sense from my perspective....but extremely significant nonetheless)i.e torture policy, detention policy, surveillance policy, cronyism policy, cover ups, and so forth. Further, he got away with a lot as well. And for all the fluster about the guy....for all the noise about his role as the reviewer of death sentences in Texas, for all the serial lying to the Congress....they STILL gave him special authority to have final say, in selected cases, whether those sentenced to death had adequate legal representation. To say nothing about the power given to him regards FISA surveillance. All in the last month or so mind you. After all the testimony....after all the evidence of his gross incompetence (if incompetence it be)....they still bowed down to the guy. I don't call that going out like Fredo.

He seems supremely qualified to me if the job called for pissing on both the constitution; and America's standing in the world.

Posted by: jonst at August 31, 2007 11:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kirchick is an embarassment--as bad as when Sullivan let Douthat guest blog for a week a couple of years ago. I'm trying to figure out what he ever did, much less why he would have any credibility.

The combination of smugness, inexperience, and daftness is glorious.

Posted by: Jamie's Cryin at August 31, 2007 01:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kirchick, like Alberto Gonzalez, remains simply out of his league. Of course, Kirchick focuses his writing not on common sense or its application, but, instead, on proving his loyalty and devotion, blind or otherwise, to the masters at the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Posted by: John P. Normanson at August 31, 2007 01:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Don't worry. Kirchick is doing a particularly nice piece of work today proving his fidelity to AIPAC. Marty Peretz would be proud, but we can't be sure that Marty isn't giving him the daily talking points, can we?

Watching him deride the "realist wing" of the Dem FP community would be utterly laughable, if it weren't occuring on Sullivan's site. Washington Times would be far more appropriate.

Posted by: Jamie's Cryin at August 31, 2007 02:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gonzolas didn't actually call the Geneva Conventions "quaint." He argued that declaring that Taliban solders were not entitled to the protections of the third Geneva Convention would "preserve flexibility," explaining:

"As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians, and the need to try terrorists for war crimes such as wantonly killing civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments."

These are not the arguments of someone who takes the Geneva Conventions seriously. The "war against terrorism" may be "a new kind of war," but the war against the Taliban was not. As for the remote possibility that the Geneva Conventions would force us to spend money on athletic uniforms, is Gonzalas seriously suggesting that we should abandon our core moral values to save a few bucks?

No. The only serious argument Gonzalas is making is the one about "preserving flexibility." If we commit to following the Geneva Conventions, then we lose the ability to violate them. And that seems to be Gonzalas's core value: preserving and enhancing Bush's power.

I feel sympathy for Michael Brown, because I believe that when Hurricane Katrina struck, Brown wanted to do the right thing, even though he didn't have the ability, or the backing of his superiors, that would have allowed him to deal effectively with the crisis.

On the other hand, I can't say much about Gonzalas's competence. As far as I know, Gonzalas could have been a good attorney general --if he had wanted to.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at August 31, 2007 05:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My impression is that Gonzo's wife put her foot down....not so much for herself or Gonzo, but because she would not permit their children to have to face the abuse of their peers...

Posted by: kspena at August 31, 2007 09:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, much as I'd like to appreciate that quote by Gonzo to have some sort of deeper meaning, the bit: "Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days." seems beyond backhanded and vile, so it makes me hard to feel anything but contempt for the man who enabled torture and transformed the civil rights division into voter suppression and hooray for school prayer.

Just saying

Posted by: Luke at September 1, 2007 05:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'm sad that AG ruined your dream.

Was your dream made from the weltanschauung that was given us by Ashcroft or Reno? Perhaps by John Mitchell or Ramsey Clark? Tell me youre no longer clinging to the vestiges of Camelot qua Bobby K., whose systemic wiretapping of MLK and the 60s' Bobby Seale Panthers makes Gonzo look like a Mickey Spillane reject.

AGs rarely make or ruin dreams, Greg. The whole of them last two or three years, historically, and often exit their post in the same vein by which they entered it; i.e., to jump aboard the capitalism train and corporate payola. Few if any became transcendent figures-the stuff of which your dreams are made-and those that do usually seek refuge in the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

Which is where your dreams ought to find solace, and the Platonic guardians who shape them.

Posted by: reshufflex at September 1, 2007 12:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Translated into English: What Reshufflex is saying is that the Justice Department is ALWAYS as crooked as a dog's hind leg and a puppet of the President. Which, of course, just further proves that we need a Constitutional readjustment to separate it from complete control by either political party. (A need which, as usual, the Framers failed to foresee because of their stupefying failure to foresee the rise of political parties in the US at all. Lest we forget, they originally expected a wholly nonpartisan Congress to be the arbiters of the Constitutionality of any law -- the existence of the Suprme Court at all was a last-minute afterthought at the Constitutional Convention -- which led to that emergency major software patch job to the US political system in the form of "Marbury v. Madison". They also confidently expected that nonpartisan Congress to immediately impeach and remove from office any President who used his unlimited pardoning power to get crooked aides off the hook.)

Sean Wilentz tiptoes partially in this direction in his new "New Republic" article ( ), but he doesn't go nearly far enough. I remain convinced that we need -- immediately -- a Constitutional amendment requiring reconfirmation (and reconfirmation, every two years or so) of the Attorney General by a Congressional supermajority, along with giving him veto power over the President's other DoJ appointments.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 1, 2007 08:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Thanks for the translation. Feel free to spin my words into your foggy comfort zone. Since you didn't grasp the concept initially, I merely observed that Gonzo is neither unique in his blind loyalty nor exceptional in his abuses. Capeesh? Greg's wistful lament doesn't change history.

You might be able to name a handful of As/G who even passed the smell test. The rest of the dumb bastards were a dim mosaic of empty suits, political hacks and semi-degreed crooks. When they weren't spying on their wife's lovers or their political opponents' campaigns, they spent the balance of their tenure hijacking the Bill of Rights.

I'll be more than happy to serve up the archival detail of injustice if you need a lesson.

And don't expect much to change. Getting anyone of any substance confirmed today thru a hostile congress is like asking Jonah to swallow the whale. Ain't happening. Prepare yourself for mediocre, pedestrian zealots-mostly men of lost opportunity-who see the scales of justice as an untidy weight upon their partisan shoulders. Politics 101, bro.

Posted by: reshufflex at September 2, 2007 01:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's interesting, in that case, that even a majority of Congressional Republicans were indicating that they were fed up with Gonzales, which hasn't happened too often in the past. Nor am I aware of many AsG who were energetic in arranging for torture to be legalized (and who got their apprenticeship in that role by rubber-stamping doubtful death-penalty convictions on an assembly-line basis).

As for "getting anyone of any substance confirmed thru a hostile Congress": funny, I'd be willing to swear that a hostile Congress would be a lot more likely to confirm someone who WASN'T a puppet of the President -- which, of course, was my point, along with the fact that we need a mechanism to departisanize the office by making it easier for either party to block (and remove) an A.G. not to its liking. I have nothing against cynicism, but it would be kind of nice if Reshufflex was a COHERENT cynic.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 2, 2007 04:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for Kirchick, I have yet to see any evidence that he doesn't believe in the Hogwarts school of international policy, which sees the problem as being that not enough people are willing to wave their wands and chant the right phrases to make the opponents of the US and/or democratic civilization magically disappear.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 2, 2007 04:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Your speculation that Gonzo resigned under the cumulative wieght of the opprobrium being heaped upon him, makes a certain amount of sense; and it is a more persuasive inference than the popular notion that Bush jettisoned him once the headlines died down, for the sake of the Department of Justice

Gonzalez was serving the WH as a crude but somewhat effective barricade against several processes that are poised against the WH on many fronts (which will now begin moving, in Gonzo's absence): political firings; torture; wiretapping and other 4th Amendment activities; habeas corpus; renditions; you name it. His leaving is going to unleash unpleasantness in several areas for Bush/Cheney.

The time had long since passed when Gonzalez' continued presence at Justice was causing harm to the institution; it has been at an historic ebb for quite a while, and his presence was no longer exacerbating things. The department will not be transformed by the appointment of an acceptable replacement. The next Administration will have to work on its restoration.

Given the choice, I agree with you: Bush would have preferred that he stay, regardless of the price that the institution would pay. Fredo will be sorely missed by the WH. His leaving will make it less likely that Dubya will be able to run out the clock.

Posted by: Porcupine_Pal at September 2, 2007 11:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About the reason Gonzalez finally left... he didn't even have the intelligence to be mortified, nor the independence of thought to rebel against the president, as you graciously suggest...

I read this the other day:

"A former colleague urged Gonzales to step down months ago, but the A.G. hung on—believing the president wanted him to stay, the official said. By last week, that no longer seemed to be the case. One big reason: an internal review by chief of staff Josh Bolten concluded that Gonzales was so politically weak he had become an obstacle to Bush's agenda, especially on the passage of an updated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance law."

Pathetic, yes?

Posted by: Hawkmistress at September 3, 2007 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just would like to post a line from The Economist's article on the AG's departure:

"[Gonzales's] various appearances before congressional committees resembled nothing so much as the clubbing of a baby seal."

Posted by: grumpy realist at September 5, 2007 12:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Alex: "As for the remote possibility that the Geneva Conventions would force us to spend money on athletic uniforms, is Gonzalas seriously suggesting that we should abandon our core moral values to save a few bucks?"

Remember that this is an administration which has eagerly screwed over soldiers again and again and again, because those dollars wouldn't go into the pockets of the administration's cronies.

Posted by: Barry at September 5, 2007 01:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I never really understood why the Bush Administration keeps screwing and trying to screw the enlisted men (& women). Why save a few pennies by making more homeless, uneducated veterans? How can it possibly be worth the negative publicity?

Posted by: John Rogerse at September 6, 2007 08:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I never really understood why the Bush Administration keeps screwing and trying to screw the enlisted men (& women). Why save a few pennies by making more homeless, uneducated veterans? How can it possibly be worth the negative publicity?"

Posted by: John Rogerse

I think that it's power. It couldn't be the money itself, since the Bush administration has borrowed and spent like it was going out of style. It's the sheer 'f*ck you' joy that they crave.

Posted by: Barry at September 7, 2007 03:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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