Bush changes his tune.

'œIs President Bush surrendering in the war on terror?' asked Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. It's a reasonable question, given the administration's surprise declaration last week that it will henceforth get warrants to monitor Americans' overseas phone calls and e-mails. For more than a year, the White House has insisted that it would be too 'œcumbersome' to let a judge issue warrants for its new spying program. Critics who called the program illegal were labeled reckless, unpatriotic, and accused of exposing the nation to grave danger. But now, in a miraculous turnaround, Bush says that getting warrants will pose no problems, said The Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial. How could that be? With Democrats now controlling Congress, Bush knows that his 'œend runs' around the Constitution will no longer be tolerated.

'œKeep the Champagne on ice,' said Patrick Radden Keefe in Slate.com. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales merely said that any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program would now be conducted with approval of the special federal court established in 1978. But the TSP goes much further than conventional wiretapping, in which a suspect's calls are monitored. Instead, the new program involves the analysis of 'œstaggering volumes of phone calls and e-mail,' almost all of it by innocent people, as the government looks for telltale signs that foreign terrorists are communicating with compatriots inside the U.S. It's unlikely that the administration now will clear every one of those data-mining expeditions with the court. Instead, it could seek 'œblanket authority' to spy on large groups of Americans. The larger question, though, is why the White House keeps playing these silly power games, said The New York Times. By law, the administration had three days to get a warrant for a wiretap it had already placed. So the argument that following the law was too 'œcumbersome' was always an obvious lie. The real agenda here was power, and the administration's desire to create an 'œimperial presidency' that neither Congress nor the courts could constrain.

In wartime, the Constitution assigns all battlefield decisions to the commander in chief, said The Wall Street Journal. Spying on enemy communications falls into that category, which is why Bush should not have backed down. There really are fanatics out to kill us, and it's Bush's responsibility to smoke out their agents and sympathizers in the U.S. He need not submit such intelligence operations to a judge's approval. By surrendering to political pressure, Bush has lost a fight he could have won'”and damaged the anti-terror efforts of future presidents.

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