Leaders do not lose wars and remain in office to negotiate the terms of defeat or organize the withdrawal. Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and thereafter to St. Helena. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned and barred from holding further federal office. Harry Truman was defeated in the New Hampshire primary and dropped his bid for re-election. Lyndon Johnson was strongly challenged in New Hampshire and was polling badly in Wisconsin. He declined to seek re-election. We now are faced with a similar situation. And we only have one constitutional way of replacing our leadership so that we can begin to move forward after a military defeat. The only legal course open to us is impeachment. And, due to the unique role and responsibility in this catastrophe of our Vice-President, Dick Cheney’s removal from office is an even higher priority than George W. Bush’s.

It would be easier if we had a parliamentary system of government.

Following the debacle of the British expedition to Norway, [Neville] Chamberlain found himself under siege in the House of Commons. During the Norway Debate of May 7, Leo Amery – who had been one of Chamberlain’s personal friends – delivered a devastating indictment of Chamberlain’s conduct of the war. In concluding his speech, he quoted the words of Oliver Cromwell to the Long Parliament:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

Alas, our course cannot be so simple. Strictly speaking, impeachment is not reserved for a mere lack of confidence. The President and Vice-President are the only officers elected by all the people. And their removal from power can only be for the most serious of crimes (the Clinton precedent notwithstanding).

Therefore we find ourselves in an awkward position. It is clear that the administration has lost the confidence of the nation, of his own party, and of the military, but that alone is not sufficient cause to merit impeachment. So, we come to a conundrum. The only tool available for doing what has become necessary is not ideally suited for the task at hand. Moreover, impeachment would normally follow an exhaustive investigation that details specific high crimes and misdemeanors that are then spelled out in articles of impeachment. But, in our situation, the need to impeach and convict is recognized prior to the investigations.

This means that the actual grounds for impeachment are more a matter of behind the scenes negotiation between the leaders of the Congress than the result of some specific revelations. Rather than having a straight up or down vote of confidence, Congress must maneuver in secret. This gives things the flavor of a palace coup, or a giant conspiracy. Things are further complicated by the constitutional limits on succession. Congress cannot easily choose successors to the President and Vice-President, but must operate within the limitations of the law. This involves more intrigue.

There is, however, a way forward, and leaders within Congress must move carefully and with wisdom.

The starting point lies with the Congressional leaders most responsible for our foreign policy and armed services. They are the ones that are in touch with our foreign allies and our military leaders. The corp of this group are the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Foreign Relations, Armed Services, and Intelligence Agencies. These are, respectively:

Foreign and International Relations: Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA-12) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-13)

Armed Services: Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), Ike Skelton (D-MO-04) and Duncan ‘Rice Pilaf’ Hunter (R-CA-52).

Intelligence: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-04).

To this group we should add outgoing Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-VA), and Foreign Relations heavies Chuck Hagel, Norm Coleman, Chris Dodd, John Kerry, and Russ Feingold.

Aside from Duncan Hunter and possibly Ros-Lehtinen, this group constitutes the realist block of Congress that is responsible for our international relations and foreign policy. They prefer to think of themselves as statesmen and they try to conduct their committees with as much bipartisan consensus as possible. This hasn’t been easy under Bush. It is their job to steer the ship off state through the shoals of impeachment and land it safely in the harbor with one of their own as the temporary caretaker President.

Accomplishing this is complicated by the fact that Biden, McCain, Dodd, and Kerry all have Presidential ambitions.

Their mission can be broken down into discrete tasks. Their first task is to come to an agreement that both the President and Vice-President are no longer mentally or competantly fit for office. Then they must decide whom among their group (or drafted from without) will be entrusted with the caretaker government. Then they must decide on what articles of impeachment (avenues of investigation, principle of government) will justify the removal of both Cheney and Bush. Then they must build a coalition within the Senate of 67 Senators that will agree to uphold those principles. Once this is accomplished, they will have to work out a way to put their chosen caretaker in the constitutional line of succession. And then they need to go to the White House and make an ultimatum. Either they resign from office or the House Judiciary committee, under John Conyers will begin an inquiry of impeachment.

It must be remembered that this would not be going on in a vacuum. As soon as Congress convenes tomorrow, there will be oversight investigations going on in both the House and Senate. For the time being, those investigations are not aimed, at least ostensibly, at building a case for impeachment. And for the time being, the Republicans in the CIA, Pentagon, and State Department that have the smoking guns that can bring down this Presidency have no incentive to turn that information over to Congress. That will change if McCain, Lugar, Bond and Warner decide it should change.

Let’s look at how things stand at the moment. Here’s how the Establishment’s ABC The Note puts it:

Not all of these are locks, but if you are the wagering type, we suggest putting cash money down on these:

— The Gang of 500 will vote — mercilessly and instantly — 494 to 6 against President Bush’s new Iraq policy.

— Support in Congress will be (only) slightly better for the POTUS.

— It will take weeks (and maybe months) for the White House to realize just how thoroughly distrusted it is by the Democratic leadership…

— Anyone at the White House who thinks they can keep 2008 in a bottle will realize by April Fool’s Day that they can’t.

It is the last of these predictions that will prove to be the most consequential. If McCain can command a block of seventeen or eighteen Senators that support his Presidential bid, then he can assure a conviction in any impeachment trial. And his ability to attract that coalition will grow much faster than the White House (or anyone else) likely realizes.

The moment the President decided to buck the Iraq Study Group and call for an escalation of the Iraq War, he assured that 2007 would see a collapse of his administration. You cannot lose a war, cost your party control of Congress, and continue on in office. The only way for Bush to survive is for him to beg for mercy, offer contrition, and turn over his foreign policy to congressional leaders responsible for oversight. Since he has eschewed their advice, he leaves them with no choice but to fight back. He cannot sustain his policy.

It is the moral responsiblity of Congress to rid us of this administration. They must tell them:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

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