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No, Obama Is Not 'Worse Than Bush' on National Security


Just 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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