TCS Daily

King George? King Abraham?

By Philip Klein - February 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Recently, author and Time magazine blogger Andrew Sullivan has taken to calling President Bush "King George," because of powers he has claimed during the War on Terror. Anybody who draws comparisons between a monarch and a term-limited leader who is popularly elected is clearly engaging in a bit of hyperbole.

Is it fair?

The vilification of President Bush for assuming more power during wartime is curious coming from Sullivan. In an informal poll taken by Reason magazine before the 2004 presidential election, Sullivan was asked to name his favorite American president. He responded, "Lincoln, of course. He saved the Union." This despite the fact that in saving the Union, Lincoln assumed more executive powers than any president in history, and his measures were more far more extreme than any of Bush's actions that have drawn scorn from Sullivan.

Sullivan has criticized Bush for ignoring other branches of government and seeking to pack the Supreme Court with justices who share Bush's view of expansive executive wartime powers. But when Lincoln decided to suspend habeas corpus in 1861, Chief Justice Taney of the Supreme Court ruled that his actions were unconstitutional. Lincoln simply ignored his ruling.[1] This was not an isolated case of contempt for the judiciary by Lincoln, who stated that the judicial system "seemed as if it had been designed not to sustain the government, but to embarrass and betray it."[2]

Under Lincoln's command, the Federal government made arbitrary military arrests of civilians throughout the Civil War, casting such a wide net that anybody who was deemed disloyal to the Union could be arrested.[3] Conservative estimates suggest that nearly 14,000 civilians were arrested[4], but other studies suggest the true total could be far higher.[5] Adjusted for population, even the conservative estimates would make the arrest total the equivalent of more than 130,000 people today.[6]

Sullivan has been among the most outspoken critics of the Bush Administration for its treatment of detainees in the War on Terror. But political detainees and prisoners of war jailed during the Civil War at institutions such as Fort Lafayette, Camp Douglas and Elmira faced brutal conditions that make Guantanamo Bay look like the Ritz Carlton. There is also evidence to suggest that cold water torture was used on suspected deserters.[7] Overall, 25,796 people died in federal prisons during the civil war, or slightly more than 12 percent of all detainees.[8]

Sullivan has offered several explanations in an attempt to reconcile the contradiction between his criticisms of Bush's conduct during the War on Terror and the praise he heaps on Lincoln, but none of them holds up to close scrutiny.

For one, he quotes Lincoln as saying, "I fear you do not fully comprehend the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens."

Sullivan praises Lincoln for being able to make that statement in the "middle of a national insurrection," and asks why Bush cannot say it today. But in that instance, Lincoln was referring to shutting down a newspaper. Why is Lincoln a hero for not shutting down a newspaper when Bush has never attempted to shut a newspaper, even though the American media can hardly be called sympathetic to him?

Bush, in fact, has been tolerant of Muslims during the war on terror, and hawkish critics have even taken his administration to task for it. The Administration has been criticized in these circles for referring to Islam as a "religion of peace," for politically correct profiling at airports and for not instituting a moratorium on immigration after Sept. 11.

Whenever Bush expresses any concerns about balancing liberty and national security, Sullivan argues that his words are contradicted by his actions. But Sullivan ignores the fact that despite Lincoln's lofty rhetoric about tolerating dissent in the media during wartime, his administration was no friend of press freedom. In one prominent case during the Civil War, the postmaster general excluded five New York newspapers from the mail because they were critical of the war.[9]

In his defense of Lincoln, Sullivan also suggests that the Civil War could be seen as a bigger crisis than the fight against terrorism, which therefore makes Lincoln's actions more justifiable. Clearly, the United States was closer to falling apart during the Civil War than it is now. But Lincoln did not have to worry about the threat of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. And Confederate soldiers wore uniforms and, by in large, Lincoln knew where to find them. The September 11 attacks were carried out by terrorists living amongst us in civilian clothes and planned by leaders who hide out in caves across the globe.

Even when Sullivan concedes that Lincoln's assumption of executive power during wartime may have been broader than Bush's, he has argued that at least Lincoln's abuses lasted for a shorter period of time. "What makes today's situation uniquely worrying is that, unlike previous wars, the current one has been defined with no discrete enemy and no foreseeable end," Sullivan has written.

But Sullivan is mistaken if he believes that the impact of Lincoln's actions ended with the Civil War. Sure, habeas corpus did eventually get reinstated, but other parts of his legacy lived on far longer. The draft, for one, lasted until 1973.

But in a broader sense, the amount of power Lincoln assumed was unheard of at the time, and therefore he set the precedent for future presidents to expand powers during wartime. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recently invoked Lincoln to defend the Bush Administration's wiretapping program.

None of this is to say that just because Lincoln took extreme measures during the Civil War that President Bush is automatically justified in whatever he does in the fight against terrorism. Nor is it to suggest that Lincoln's greatness is matched by Bush. It's simply to point out that historical comparisons cut both ways; as such, if it's appropriate to dub the current president "King George," it's probably fair to dub the 16th president "King Abraham."

Philip Klein is a New York-based journalist. He can be contacted through his Website:

[1] William H. Rehnquist, All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime (New York: Random House, 1998), p. 38. Hereafter referred to as: Rehnquist.

[2] Rehnquist., p. 59.

[3] Rehnquist., p. 60.

[4] Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 115. Hereafter referred to as: Neely.

[5] Neely., p. 130.

[6] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States in 1860 was 31, 443, 321 and the current population is about 297, 986, 886.

[7] Neely, pp. 109-112.

[8] Lonnie R. Speer, Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War, (Mechanicsburg, Pa: Stackpole Books, 1997), p. xiv.

[9] Rehnquist, p. 47.



More like curious Georege
The good news is that Bush wasn't President in 1862 with his gang of incompetent cronies. The confederacy would have won in a walk.

Very good and very interesting. Thanks.

Lincoln had a difficult time finding a general who could win the war.
Bush did a pretty good job picking his generals.

What if...
Lincoln had allowed the south to cecede?

Based upon their slave based agrarian plantation style economy, I believe they would have become like Mexico or Haiti and would reach a point where some states would beg to be brought back into the Union.

You think so?
I mean, the war in Iraq was planned so perfectly, wasn't it? The intelligence it was based on so accurate. And how about that bang-up performance during the hurricantes. The medicare drug benefit -- that's working well too.

How many battles did the Union lose and how many Generals did Lincoln appoint before he found Grant?

The military performed brilliantly in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
The job of the military is to kill people and break things, force projection, not hurricane relief.

the campaign in Afghanistan was handled well until we left tracking down Bin Ladin to the Pakistanis. That was less than brilliant. In Iraq, yes, we were able to defeat a 5th rate army with no workable air power pretty quickly. Then the whole country exploded in looting and destruction and a crowd of hack political appointee clowns were put in charged of the government. Call me hard to please, but this doesn't bring Abraham Lincoln to mind. More to the point, Lincoln kept getting stronger and more effectve as the war went on. Compare and contrast...

Sullivan judges everyone by how well they agree with him on his homosexual agenda.
If you agree with him on that, he supports you in everything else.
If you disagree with him on that, he opposes you in everything else.

Considering the many and spectacular successes Bush has had. That's a strange comparison to make.

Not only that, during the first two years of the War of Northern Aggression, the invading forces of the North were being wiped at every turn.

Compare and Contrast
You inserted Bush into 1862.
I used his successful war record, defeat of the Taliban, significant disruption of Al Queda's network, defeat of a terrorist sponsoring regime in Iraq, and support of the people of Iraq to hold several, high turn-out elections, all within six years.
No disrespect towards Lincoln, but he did not get it together for a year or two and damn near lost to the south.
Lincoln and subsequent administrations never were able to help the south prosper for decades.

No war is ever run to perfection, you should spend some time reading about the major screw ups during WWII. In hindsite, the War in Iraq has been run amazingly well.
Perfectly, of course not. You are the only one who demands that standard. And then only for those you disagree with.

The intelligence has not been proven false. And regardless, the intelligence agencies of the Western Europe came to the same conclusions.

The problems with Katrina were the fault of the mayor and governor.

Hard to please?
No, your not hard to please, your an idiot who applies different standards to people depending on whether you like their politics.

The goal in Afghanistan was destroying al-queda. That was done. Finding Bin Laden was never more than a side show, since he's no longer in operational control of al-queda.
I can understand why you on the lunatic left insist on finding him as the only criteria, for judging that phase of the war.

Maybe you're thinking of another President Bush
The one in office now has shown serial incompetence in the war in Iraq, did nothing about the Cole, did nothing about an August briefing "Bin laden determined to strike in the U.S," misread prewar intelligence about Iraq, blew off allies by insisting WMDs existed even though inspections weren't finding them. totally misjudged the aftermath of the Iraq war, allowed the country's infrastrcutre to be looted and destroyed, installed an utterly incompetent group of crony clowns as occupation and on and on. Maybe the response to Katrina was your idea of efficiency and executive expertise.

He does come in first in one thing: beats even Reagan in vacation days while in office.

Sure, it wasn't really important to capture Bin Laden
I mean, what'd he ever do the US?
But they did a good job cleaning up all those WMDs in Iraq, didn't they??? Sure is lucky Iran and N. Korea don't have any...

You're right: no war run to perfection
So let's give the Bush administration a grade that reflects that, and compares it to other wartime administrations. I think D+ is about right.

War of Northern Aggression??
Sorry your team didn't win, guy. But you count the score at the end of the game. But here's an exercise: compare the length of the civil war to the war in Iraq. You really think Bush is in as good a position after four years of war in 2006 as Lincoln was in 1865?

Besides picking incompetent generals to lead his army, Lincoln was not able to provide the most modern arms, the repeating rifle, which would have given the Union a significant advantage, possibly shortening war.
He apparantly was not too concerned with casualties.

USS Cole
The USS Cole was attacked when Clinton was President.

This happened when GW was President.
"The deaths in Yemen of six suspected al-Qaida terrorists, including a key planner in the bloody attack on a American destroyer two years ago, were the work of a missile fired by a unmanned US aircraft."


"Ever since the United Nations weapons inspectors were shut out of Iraq, a year ago, the world has been left to wonder what Saddam Hussein is up to."
Saddam's nuclear shopping spree.

by Gary Milhollin

The New Yorker
The Talk of the Town
December 13, 1999, p. 44. 13 DEC 1999

"allowed the country's infrastrcutre to be looted and destroyed, installed an utterly incompetent group of crony clowns as occupation and on and on. Maybe the response to Katrina was your idea of efficiency and executive expertise."
Objective sources please?

Attacked under Clinton, nothing done pre-911 by Bush
The Cole was attacked in October 2000. An investigation was immediately begun into who carried it out. It was concluded, just as Clinton was leaving office, that it was the work of Al Qaeda. Nothing was done. Following 9/11, the administration became motivated. But the record Jan 2001-Sept 11 2001 is one of non-feasance.

The New Yorker story is one of many wrong-os floated by Chalabi and others. The facts, established by Kay & Duelfer, at huge cost was no WMDs. These facts could have been establiised by the U.N. without an invasion.

Regarding the occupation - Baghdad Year Zero, presents a deeply detailed horrifying picture of juvenile relatives of important Republicans put into responsible positions in Iraq utterly ignorant of the country and everything else. Nothing that has happened since has cast doubt on the accuracy of the reporting.

Regarding Katrina -- yes, sure, Brownie did a heckuva job, didn't he? That's why he was moved from being the head of FEMA to being a consultant.

So: Lincoln a bumble, Bush a genius. Except your facts are wrong.
But don't let facts interfere:


Carbines, such as this Sharps New Model 1859, were developed primarily for mounted troops since with their shorter barrel they were much easier to handle on horseback than their longer brethren. Breech loaders were preferred because they could be loaded on a moving horse -- something virtually impossible with a muzzle-loader. Additionally, breech-loading carbines which fired moisture-proof metallic cartridges were more reliable than rifles that fired paper cartridges. At the beginning of the war, Southern cavalry was as well armed as its Northern counterpart, if not better. Carbines were in short supply in both armies. The rebels favorite weapon was a sawed-off shotgun loaded with buckshot, a formidable weapon throughout the war. As the war progressed, the Union outstripped the South in production and by 1864/65, well-led divisions of experienced Yankee horse soldiers, armed with rapid-firing Spencer carbines were using their superior firepower to great advantage in the closing campaigns.

Clarification, plus Baghdad Year Zero web address
in the item about the Cole: the fact it was an A1 Qaeda operation was established just as Clinton was leaving office. The information was turned over to the incoming Bush administration. Which sat on it and did nothing.

website for Baghdad Year Zero story:
if you find inaccuracies, let me know

Iran situation
Dear Mr. Fortunato,
Thanks for your comments. How would you propose to deal with the current Iranian situation?

Not ready for war
"Faced with such a daunting task, the War Department pretty much threw up its collective hands and declared that no new patent weapons would be ordered. In such a climate, it is not very hard to understand why Spencer met so much resistance to the purchase of his new repeaters. This is especially true when one realizes that the people in the War Department were essentially bean counters. They had never seen such a weapon and didn't have a clue as to its tactical implications."

By parking an unjammable tv broadcasting satellite over Iran.

continue by setting up broadcasting towers in the Caspian, the Persian Gulf, and all along the Afghan and Iranian border.

Speak the truth.

Licoln in 1865
Lincoln was dead by mid-1865. So Bush is in much better shape. The North had lost 364,000 soldiers, more than 100 times more than we've lost in Iraq and more than 1000 times more per capita.
Richmond is a lot closer to Washington than Bagdad, so it's harder to get force in place in Iraq. The Iraq war is being fought with very little disruption to Americans; such was not the case in 1865. But the technology has changed so much in 140 years that such comparisons have little worth.
What is worthwhile is comparing the abuses of power by these two Presidents, and Lincoln comes off looking very bad. Lincoln-worship is a serious disease in this country, particularly in Illinois; people need to think more carefully about him.

As a matter of fact:
It's not mid-2006. Lincoln did not seek a war; it was forced on him when the South began hostilities. He nevertheless moved effectively to win it. Perhaps the concept of "winning" is obscure or hard to understand.

"The Iraq war is being fought with very little disruption to Americans; such was not the case in 1865."

Which makes the use of torture, warrentless eavesdropping, detention without trial and the rest much less defensible: our backs aren't up against the wall.

As far as "Lincoln-worship," the idea in my experience comes from unregenerate confederates who still haven't gotten over the Confederacy losing the war.

I see. So this means Lincoln was incompetent?
Yes, the Army wasn't ready for war in 1861. The learning curve was steep. But all the mishaps were Lincoln's fault, and none of the Iraq and other screw-ups are Bush"s?

Wait 150 years
Lets wait and see what another 150 years will do to perceptions.

Like Radio Free Europe, sort of?
Information liberates. Yeah, sort of. But the same idea was tried in Europe for several decades, I think. It seemed to be Reagan's willingness to aim for a massive show of force that actually finally helped to bring down the USSR and the Iron Curtain. And perhaps the Catholic Church in Poland, etc. (History is hard to encapsulate and analyze very exactly.)
And if, meanwhile, Iran really does develop nuclear weapons, would you assume the UN would really DO something?
And, based on what happened in Iraq, what makes us really, really believe that Iran may be going after nuclear weapons. How do we know it's not just a Bush and Halliburton plot?

Dictator Lincoln
"Lincoln assumed dictatorial powers and did things, like raise an army, that only Congress is supposed to do. He shut down newspapers that disagreed with his war policy, more than 300 of them. He ordered his military officers to lock up political opponents, thousands of them. Although the exact number is not known, Lincoln may well have arrested and imprisoned more than 20,000 political opponents, southern sympathizers, and people suspected of being disloyal to the Union, creating what one researcher has termed a 19th century "American gulag," a forerunner of the 20th century’s political prison and labor camps in the former Soviet Union. Lincoln denied these nonviolent dissenters their right of free speech and suspended the privilege of Habeas Corpus, something only Congress in a time of war has the power to do. Lincoln’s soldiers arrested civilians, often arbitrarily, without any charges being filed; and, if held at all, military commissions conducted trials. He permitted Union troops to arrest the Mayor of Baltimore (then the third largest city in the Union), its Chief of Police and a Maryland congressman, along with 31 state legislators. When Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote an opinion that said these actions were unlawful and violated the Constitution, Lincoln ignored the ruling."

How ?
"By parking an unjammable tv broadcasting satellite over Iran."

How do you make an unjamable signal?

Some people's perceptions
...seem to be preconceptions, not perceptions.

Here's something to do right now: compare Lincoln's speeches with Bush. "Government of the people, by the people and for the people" vs.

"'I'm thrilled to be here in the bread basket of America because it gives me a chance to remind our fellow citizens that we have an advantage here in America - we can feed ourselves."

"I'd rather have them sacrificing on behalf of our nation than, you know, endless hours of testimony on congressional hill."

"And so, in my State of the - my State of the Union - or state - my speech to the nation, whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation - I asked Americans to give 4,000 years - 4,000 hours over the next - the rest of your life - of service to America. That's what I asked - 4,000 hours."

Tech has advanced
It's not as easy to jam incoming signals. I think now the Iranian zone could just be flooded.

Regarding Iranian ambitions -- yes, we lost credibility with the Iraq thing, but if you put yourself in the Iranians place, your calculation is that the one thing that will stop an invasion is having nuclear weapons. Like it's not very friendly neighbor Pakistan and like Israel. So I don't think it's a phony issue, unfortunately.

The technology's improved, I think.

Don't know?
So you really don't know?

No, I don't know a specific solution.
I do believe that if as much money were spent on developing this kind of system as is spent on useless or marginal weapons system that the problems are solvable.

And the south will rise again...
Save it for the Confederate Pride get-togethers with the stars and bars in the background on the wall.

Make a proposal
Make a proposal.

Data incorrect?
You disagree with the facts stated?

What danger is UBL, if he is not in control of the organization he founded?

This is something rational people understand. Rational thought is something you apparently are incapable of.

The existence of WMDs in Iraq has been proven.

Existence of nukes in N. Korea are the fault of your love interst, B. Clinton.

As to Iran, Bush was being multilateral, I thought that is what you fruitcakes had been demanding?

ignorance, they name is eric
There are ways to make a signal virtually unjammable, but they all require special receivers as well as special transmitters.

How do you propose to get millions of these receivers into Iran?

B+ would be more accurate.
But then you would have to get over your hatred and see to the truth to acknowledge that.

Bush is in much better shape.

A new govt is installed and functioning.

New govts weren't installed in the South for decades.

Continuing terrorist activities continued in the south for almost 100 years.

eric rewrites history
Let's not forget the various provocations prior to Fort Sumter.

There has never been any torture, that's another figment of your imagination.
The warrantless eavesdropping is perfectly legal and well within the president's constitutional powers.

Detention without trial was conducted by your heros Lincoln and Roosevelt as well.
Lincoln also jailed any newspaper editor who publicly disagreed with him. Something I'm sure you would do in a heartbeat, if you had the power.

He just feels that anyone who dares disagree with him deserves anything they get.

one thing about eric
He will always support any tactic that supports his side.

Fortunato reminds me of Eric from the old system.
My former handle was CLJ.
What was yours?

spend money to research it.
there are different strategies. All of them cheaper than invasion.

they're already there
they're called "cellphones."

>What danger is UBL, if he is not in control of the organization he founded?

And we know he's not how?

>The existence of WMDs in Iraq has been proven.

Sure. when they were used against Iran in the 80s. But tthere was no WMD capability- we looked very hard - when we invaded in 2003

>Existence of nukes in N. Korea are the fault of your love interst, B. Clinton

After alternate routes completely failed, Bush is now back to Clinton's policy, probably too late.

>As to Iran, Bush was being multilateral

with the army tied down in Iraq, stretched to the limits, how much choice does he have?

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