Thursday, April 25, 2013

Obama and Bush

The one thing Dick Cheney couldn't do in the Bush Administration with his "dark side" policies of torture and violations of the laws of war was to have a subsequent Administration that validated those policies by either continuing them directly or by failing to prosecute known crimes. Obama did some of both for him. But the failure to prosecute the torture crimes is the most consequential.

Kevin Gosztola has useful things to say about Obama's laudatory comments for Shrub Bush today at the didication of the Bush Library in 'The World's Most Exclusive Club': Obama's Speech at the Bush Library Dedication FDL Dissenter 04/25/2013. Including this:

... today President Obama has more in common with former President George W. Bush than with Senator Barack Obama, who decided to run for president in the 2008 Election.

That is partly because Senator Barack Obama did not know what it would be like to be the most powerful man in the world. It is also because Obama has bought into many of Bush's counterterrorism policies and that has helped Bush’s legacy in ways that many of his supporters probably never imagined.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden, who served under Bush, has said, "Obama came to embrace Bush's positions. Both Bush and Obama said the country was at war. The enemy was al-Qaida. The war was global in nature. And the United States would have to take the fight to the enemy, wherever it may be." Former vice president Dick Cheney said in an NBC interview in January 2011, "In terms of a lot of the terrorism policies — the early talk, for example, about prosecuting people in the CIA who've been carrying out our policies — all of that's fallen by the wayside. I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate." Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who authorized torture at Abu Ghraib, said in September 2011 Obama had accepted much of the Bush doctrine out of necessity.

Jack Goldsmith, who served as an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyer under Bush, wrote in 2009, "The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit." He argued, "Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. This does not mean that the Obama changes are unimportant. Packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric, it turns out, are vitally important to the legitimacy of terrorism policies."

Thus, Obama has done what Bush could not do: he has taken policies that were unpopular or reviled and transformed them into something legitimate and acceptable. He also has made the "war on terrorism" more permanent by abandoning the phrase "war on terrorism" and relying on covert operations that involve targeted assassinations by drones or the outsourcing of detentions and interrogations to unsavory characters that national security agencies have allied themselves with (like, for example, in Somalia). [my emphasis]
Not a pretty picture.

Neither his foreign nor domestic policies on the whole have been as destructive as those of the Cheney-Bush Administration.

But he has also largely accepted the framing of both. The foreign policy strategy of world hegemony and not allowing any "peer competitor" country or alliances to arise remains, virtually insuring future wars like that in Afghanistan and more limited military interventions like those in Libya and Syria.

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