Was Bush an imperial President ?
To what extend was Bush an imperial President?
An imperial President is referring to a presidency characterised by the misuse and abuse of the powers of the presidency. The Bush administration was seen as imperialistic as it has ignored standing law, violated treaty obligations, undermined the most basic of civil liberties and on the whole, used its powers to avoid congressional, judicial and public oversight.
Firstly, terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 offered Bush an opportunity to reassert presidential leadership. The crisis gave Bush the chance to exercise his constitutional power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. As such, he was able to launch attacks on Afghanistan as an emergency act of self-defence, without a formal declaration of war of Congress. Additionally, he coordinated the creation of an international coalition and worked to ensure that American military operations ran smoothly. In all these actions, he received the overwhelming support of both Democrats and Republicans alike, and from a broad cross-section of the American people. Therefore, this exemplifies his power as an imperial president.
Besides that, the terrorist attacks gave Bush the opportunity to set a foreign policy agenda reflective of his administration’s aims and aspirations. In his 2002 State of the Union address, he declared his opposition to the governments of Iraq, Iran and North Korea and suggested that he would seek to take action against them as part of his war on terrorism. This demonstrated that American’s foreign agenda would be set by a Bush, and that the presidency was the dominant political driving force in this area. This is because, at a time of crisis, America looks to the president to lead foreign policy.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Moreover, Bush violates the Fourth Amendment, for it sends his agents stealing into our lives to search our private communications without probable cause and without a warrant. He also goes against the law by creating NSA, which prohibited the agency from domestic spying without court supervision. He also bypasses 1978’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which set up a special FISA court specifically to issue secret warrants. This meant that Bush had ignored the law hence emphasizing his imperialism. His imperialism was further highlighted when he set up the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and created a virtual state of limbo for the detainees. By putting the detainees outside the reach of the U.S. courts, it prohibited challenges to those detentions by writs of habeas corpus.
Furthermore, Bush has an overwhelming number of signing statements, far more than any president. As of 2008, he had signed 157 signing statements challenging over 1,100 provisions of federal law. Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, requirements that Congress be told about immigration service problems and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. His most controversial one of all is the signing statement associated with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. As such, we can see the Bush uses his power of such to make and influence public policy which establishes his imperial presidency.
Nonetheless, although foreign policy issues have allowed Bush to exercise his power and to set expansive agenda, his actions have been endorsed by Congress. For example, it was Congress that granted him the extraordinary powers to deal with the 9/11 crisis. Additionally, Congress also passed formal legislation empowering the President to act against terrorists which is known as the USA Patriot Bill by 357 votes to 66 in the House and by 98 votes to 1 in the Senate. This meant that he has not attempted to increase his power at the expense of his role as a president as he had acted within the general bounds of what the laws and precedents permit. As such he is not imperial, merely presidential.
Bush had also consulted Congress a great deal on many issues. This can be seen in the military action in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime as the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of the President’s position: 296-133 in the House and 77-23 in the Senate. The 77 senators voting ‘yes’ included the eventual Democratic Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The support was also due to the US public opinion which was clearly in support of Bush. Hence, this indicates that his power depended on a broad agreement among congress, the bureaucracy, and the courts that responsibilities should be delegated to the executive.
In addition, the Supreme Court can declare the actions of any member of the executive branch, including the president, to be unconstitutional. For example, in the case of Rasul v. Bush (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay did not have access to the US federal courts to challenge their detention regarding the war on terror. Also, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), the Court declared unconstitutional the military commissions which the Bush administration had set up to try Guantanamo Bay detainees. As such, this limits the presidential power hence undermines Bush as an imperial president.
Lastly, Bush suffered his first veto override in 2007 on the Water Resources Development Bill. He suffered three more veto overrides in 2008. This left him with the lowest success score on vetoes of any modern-day president at just 64%, and the third lowest of any president. He only had a total of just 11 regular vetoes in 8 years. Also, Congress amended the National Defense authorisation Bill in 2007 before allowing Bush to sign it into law. Additionally, the Patriot Act was reauthorized which created new provisions relating to the death penalty for terrorism, enhancing security at seaports and new measures to combat the financing of terrorism. Therefore, this illustrates that Bush’s powers are heavily limited by congress which does not make him an imperial president.