No, Obama Is Not ‘Worse Than Bush’ on National Security

obama_bush_dronesJust when I thought it was safe to carry on a conversation on the left about various Obama administration policies, the phrases “same as Bush” or “worse than Bush” have skulked back into popular use thanks to the leaked Office of Legal Counsel white paper on the targeted killing of terrorist combatants who were born in the U.S.

You really can’t miss it. It’s all over Twitter and the blogs — screeched by experts in the field of shaming anyone who doesn’t similarly screech for the immediate censure or impeachment of the president over his national security strategy.

As with last week, I’m going to start a Monday column with a word about something from Real Time with Bill Maher the other night. Maher brought out The Daily Beast‘s Tina Brown who, during a segment about drones, said, “[Obama] would be impeached by now on drones, if he were W. Bush. Don’t you think?” And then she somewhat backed off the impeachment talk and continued, “If this were a Republican president, the outcry about drones would be far greater.”

First of all, I’m shocked that Tina Brown doesn’t know. There’s a huge outcry about drones and OLC white paper. But before I get into specifics, here, too, is The New York Times with some shocking sensationalism:

Four years into his tenure, the onetime critic of President George W. Bush finds himself cast as a present-day Mr. Bush, justifying the muscular application of force in the defense of the nation while detractors complain that he has sacrificed the country’s core values in the name of security.

This is absolutely ridiculous, regardless of whether you’re pro-drone or anti-drone — pro-white paper or anti-white paper. There’s simply no comparison between the two, but the pervasiveness of this meme leads me to believe that some of these people are desperate to use the line regardless of the circumstance or severity of the trespass.

Let’s take a look back to the dark ride of the Bush years. In spite of his awesome Wes Anderson-esque artwork, George W. Bush, under the influence of sociopathic neocon warhawks, invaded two nations in the name of fighting terrorism. He committed legions of American soldiers to invade and occupy Iraq under false pretenses and in the complete absence of an exit strategy or a true sense of mission. Because Bush’s defense secretary failed to provide these soldiers with adequate body armor or properly outfitted Humvees, more than 30,000 American soldiers — again, in a war of dubious origins — were either killed or mutilated or psychologically shattered or a combination thereof.

In the name of fighting terrorism, the Bush administration tortured a wide variety of detainees: an unethical and completely immoral series of war crimes, say nothing of the fact that it’s an ineffectual form of interrogation. Meanwhile, aided by a compliant Congress, the Bush team suspended the civil liberties of Americans when it passed the PATRIOT Act and other fearmongering policies. And yet the Bush administration failed to capture or kill Bin Laden, and the commander-in-chief who tasked scores of Americans to fight and die for his Cause admitted through a giggling smirk that he doesn’t spend time thinking about getting Bin Laden.

I could spend vast column inches running through the egregious national security policies of the previous administration, but I think you remember.

On the other hand, President Obama not only ended Bush’s hubristic war in Iraq, but he’s in the process of ending the war in Afghanistan. This is a critical point: he was handed a pair of wars and the Herculean responsibility to wind them down in a way that didn’t leave the troops who sacrificed everything with a sense that their service wasn’t an exercise in futility. That’s no easy task. But it appears as if we’ll be able to nobly withdraw from Afghanistan without witnessing desperate scenes of American personnel grappled onto the skids of evacuation choppers on the rooftop of the American consulate. In other words, this president has created an exit strategy that never existed during the Bush years and it’s a strategy that honors the sacrifices of the men and women who served in country for far too long.

The use of drones in Pakistan, the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and continued use of indefinite detention of enemy combatants are all byproducts of the third war: the war on terrorism. To repeat what I wrote last week, the president ought to work with Congress to repeal the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which would rescind his extra-constitutional powers. The use of drone technology as a CIA and military weapon ought to be regulated and checked to make sure its risk-free convenience doesn’t lead to its abuse. But if the exercise of these powers are the worst aspects of the Obama administration, there’s no intellectually honest way to market in the claim that Obama is as bad or worse than Bush. There’s no way.

Going back to Tina Brown’s accusation that liberals are hypocritical for evidently giving Obama a pass on the above powers, I’ll take the bait. Would I be angrier at Obama’s anti-terrorism efforts if he was a Republican? Absolutely. If Obama was a Republican, or if somehow Bush was still president, his actions would be significantly worse — an assumption made with significant evidence gathered over eight brutal years. It’s not difficult to see how a Republican’s conduct would be significantly more hawkish and bloody. Bush Republicans are more recklessly bellicose than Democrats. So instead of using drones in Pakistan and Yemen, perhaps a Republican president like Bush would commit more soldiers in more boots-on-the-ground invasions. Is that so far-fetched given what we’ve observed in Bush and the two Republican presidential nominees?

On top of a would-be Republican’s management of the wars and the war on terrorism, a Republican president’s domestic and fiscal policies would be guided by the tea party and Fox News’ influence, seriously threatening our economic and climatological progress; jeopardizing the reproductive rights of women; and further deregulating the corporations that caused the Great Recession.

Comparative political analysis of the presidency requires serious evaluations of context. A question for Tina Brown: how should liberals evaluate progressive hero FDR given how he fire-bombed Tokyo, a paper city, while also incarcerating more than 100,000 American citizens in indefinite detention camps without due process? How should liberals evaluate Abraham Lincoln who unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus, threatened to arrest the Chief Justice and killed 250,000 enemy combatants who happened to have born in the U.S.? Naturally we have to consider the context of these actions. In spite of their more questionable deeds, these presidents were otherwise historically strong leaders with powerfully liberal legacies. Had they not been, and had their more harrowing decisions been accompanied by many, many other harrowing decisions (what if Lincoln acquiesced to slavery and southern secession?), then yes, liberals ought to view them through the same contextual prism, say, Nixon, Hoover or George W. Bush.

But kneejerk conflation of Obama and Bush could be the most ridiculous talking point to come out of the mouths of liberals in the post-Bush era. Without the benefit of logic or historical context, it’s merely a cheap crowd-pleaser used by anyone seeking the accolades of similarly nearsighted sycophants.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sharin.khosa Sharin Khosa

    Thank you Bob for this article, it is informative, articulate and insightful. I always had the big picture view but could not fill in the blanks, especially the issue of the “exit strategy” g. I completely agree. You do have the ability to clear out the noise and get to the point. I wish you well and hope you continue writing with great enthusiasm and loudness to ensure all hear the manner of natural conclusions that you arrive at when common sense and the ability to see the truth amalgamate. Best Regards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1655290390 Steven Skelton

    Bob

    The sad truth is that your just an Obama cheerleader.

    GWB may have done an awful lot of bad things, but he and his attorney general never believed they had the power to kill an American Citizen with absolutely no oversight from or accountability to any other part of the government.

    You should display, at the very least, the courage of Eugene Robinson and come out and admit it.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      I think it’s awesome that you hate my posts so much yet you always read them. Thanks for the traffic! Every click is money in my pocket.

      By the way, how do you know what Bush and Ashcroft did to American citizens — I mean other than the American soldiers he mutilated and sentenced to death in Iraq under false pretenses?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1655290390 Steven Skelton

        I don’t hate your posts Bob. I find you very entertaining. I’m glad you make money every time I read you. I’m always happy to help somebody make money at what they love to do.

        See, it’s possible for me to like you and still think you’re an Obama Cheerleader. It would be a sad and lonely world if I could only like people who agree with me.

        That said, it would behoove you to be a little more respectful to those who disagree. After all, we make you dough!

        • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

          If you think I should be respectful of anyone who accuses me of waving pom poms in the name of the president, you don’t know me.

          By the way, I’m no one’s disciple. I simply dig reality and the truth.

          Thanks for liking my work. Could’ve fooled me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1655290390 Steven Skelton

            I can like your work and not agree with it. We see the world very differently, but I’m cool with that. I admire your passion.

          • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

            Cheers.

    • http://twitter.com/BarryBummer Barry Bummer

      *you’re

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1655290390 Steven Skelton

        Sorry Barry. I sometimes mess up my grammar on the internet.

    • i_a_c

      Yes, poor ole Anwar was the victim of the murderer Obama. Never mind the fact that he is directly responsible for the Underwear Bomber (who, fortunately, was too incompetent to light his shorts on fire) and the Ft. Hood shooter (from whom we weren’t so lucky). No, Anwar’s citizenship gives him a shield, behind which he could launch armed attacks against his own country without fear of return fire.

      No, that’s ludicrous. Anwar is dead because he facilitated the death of Americans on American soil. Due process as it pertains to a court of law makes zero sense. The dude was in rural Yemen far away from the power of any government, let alone any American court. But according to some, we should risk additional American lives to capture him and bring him to “justice,” and in the meantime let him plot more armed attacks, because that’s just the price we pay for freedoms and such!

      No, Anwar wasn’t worth it. Not even close. The world is better off now that he’s not in it.

      And actually, the president does have accountability to another branch of government, Congress. But they choose to do nothing; in fact, they seem to want to make it easier to breach civil liberties by enshrining indefinite detention and the PATRIOT Act into law.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1655290390 Steven Skelton

        I agree that these were bad dudes that needed killing, but that doesn’t mean the president has the constitutional authority to kill US citizens at his pleasure.

        • i_a_c

          Perhaps on paper; in fact, the ACLU is bringing another lawsuit to that end. (I disagree, and I expect the case to get tossed on political question grounds, but that’s a longer story.) If it were possible to capture al-Awlaki I would agree with you. But he was roaming around rural Yemen, not holed up in a compound like bin Laden. I don’t think capture was feasible. The alternatives to a drone killing were untenable.

          I’m totally for repealing or curtailing the president’s war power granted under the 2001 AUMF, or maybe setting up a system which looks at the targeted killing policy more closely, as long as it’s done properly. But I’m not losing sleep over al-Awlaki or his supposed rights.

    • villemar

      Hear Hear! Also, let’s retroactively impeach that bloodthirsty genocidal war criminal Abraham Lincoln. Who weeps for poor Johnny Reb? We do!

  • Bryce D.

    No mention of Benghazi, NDAA, or Obama extending the PATRIOT ACT?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1655290390 Steven Skelton

      Of course not. It’s too hard to type with the pom poms on.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      Benghazi?

      • villemar

        With Bryce, I’m going to go ahead and guess Whimsical Jalopist.

    • i_a_c

      First, I hate the PATRIOT ACT and the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA. They should be curtailed ASAP and I’ll be the first to admit that the president has not exactly been an advocate for their repeal.

      Second, one big distinction should be made between Bush and Obama. Bush claimed the power to detain any prisoner captured indefinitely without so much as a hearing. That was illegal. The Supreme Court slapped him down on many counts, allowing habeus corpus hearings (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld), but they allowed indefinite detention until the end of hostilities so long as the writ of habeus corpus is granted. When Congress added the indefinite detention provisions to the NDAA, they did not authorize anything that had not already been enshrined into law by the SCOTUS. That is one somewhat subtle distinction that I think gets overlooked.

      And Benghazi? Yeah, no.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Bockenthien/1476190129 Peter Bockenthien

    It’s really interesting to find that I’ve been banned from your main website so that I can’t even read dissenting options. Tells me you’re interested in being a loyal Obama apologist with no real interest in hearing other opinions. Very much like the Tea Party people you routinely criticize. But hey, borrowing is not a crime, especially if it works. Continue on with your legalistic justifications for Obama’s doing away with Habeus Corpus, just be honest and transparent that you’re doing so only because you like him so much more than Bush. Were MMalkin ever to wake up from her self-induced coma, she’d jump up to pull the plug on your life support so you would never come out of yours.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      I don’t know anything about you being banned. But if you were, it was probably because you don’t have anything substantive to add to the conversation and would prefer to just blindly screech about the president. Just like the tea party. Now run along with your white privilege and your murky understanding of history. Habeas corpus?

      • drsquid

        I sense an Occupy hump.

    • i_a_c

      Continue on with your legalistic justifications for Obama’s doing away with Habeus Corpus

      This isn’t a dissenting opinion, this is flat wrong on every possible level.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Jkirk3279 William Carr

      Except that Obama DIDN’T do away with Habeus Corpus. Bush did that, remember ? Oct. 17, 2006.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Alyson.Chadwick Alyson Chadwick

    President Obama is suffering from his own expectation offensive. People expected him to be better than he has been. I don’t think he is worse than Bush but I am more unhappy with his policies because it isn’t what I voted for.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      That makes sense. However, it’s one thing to be disappointed in the president’s decisions (this tends to happen with most presidents — did liberals vote for Japanese internment? Or welfare reform?), but it’s inaccurate on a variety of levels to conflate Obama with Bush.

      • http://twitter.com/gussiejives Gussie Jives

        I think much of the problem came from how radical Bush was to begin with. It was a shock to the system; 2004-2008 was nearly non-stop scandals and godawful news. Back then, I was watching Keith Olbermann religiously, and he was never short on material.

        When Obama didn’t dial it all back, to those who wanted him to, it was like abandonment. That’s all I can chalk it up to.

    • villemar

      What specific promises that he had made prior to January 2009 did he willfully break? (And by break I mean things that he has the ability to do Consitutionally).