Jewish World Review
May 20, 2009
/ 26 Iyar 5769
George W. Obama
The 44th president of the United States has quietly declared certain phrases of the 43rd president's verboten like War on Terror.
Yet the war itself continues, and the policies currently being pursued in that war become more and more like his predecessor's. For example:
This president originally okayed the release of inflammatory photographs showing how terrorist suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan had been handled: roughly. But he's now changed his mind after realizing what a propaganda coup he'd be handing the enemy by releasing these pictures, for they would surely be used to recruit more young men to kill American and allied soldiers.
There is something about a politician's moving into the Oval Office that brings home his responsibility for the safety and welfare of the troops he now commands, not mention the security of the nation and the free world.
In Afghanistan, the new commander-in-chief has even adopted a central tenet of the Surge that he used to say would never work in Iraq making alliances with local tribes while beefing up the American presence. Who says he can't learn from experience? (Though it would never do to acknowledge it.)
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama denounced the use of the American base at Guantanamo to house prisoners, but he continues to defend the use of Bagram air base in Afghanistan for the same purpose, even though a federal district court has ruled such use just as constitutionally dubious as the prison at Gitmo.
With remarkable speed, the new president has come to recognize the superior law of necessity in wartime, just as a predecessor named Abraham Lincoln did in this nation's most perilous hour, though without being as forthright about it as Mr. Lincoln was.
President Obama has promised to close the prison at Guantanamo this year but has yet to develop a clear alternative, especially after Democrats in Congress objected to accepting any prisoners in their states. The good people of Leavenworth, Kansas, would already seem to be doing enough to house federal prisoners, and it seems the Democratic senators from California would prefer to keep Alcatraz a tourist attraction.
Nor have all those European countries President Obama courted so assiduously during his humiliation tour of the continent stepped forward to take all the dangerous types at Gitmo off our hands. Who can blame them? Their attitude seems much the same as that of American politicians who raised Cain about Guantanamo during last year's campaign, but now, when it comes to accepting al-Qaida types in their home states, will say only: Not In My Backyard.
Lest we forget, George W. Bush, too, said he wanted to close the prison at Guantanamo, and kept it open only because he couldn't find a better alternative. Now his successor is facing the same dilemma, and adopting much the same policy.
Even now the trials by military commissions that Candidate Obama denounced are scheduled to resume under President Obama at Guantanamo. Yes, these are the same time-tested military commissions that Sen. Obama used to describe as "a legal black hole."
But he's not about to admit his turnaround, claiming he's now tweaked the commissions to make them models of legal procedure, mainly by installing safeguards that the military judges were quite capable of respecting under the last administration, such as ignoring hearsay evidence or the kind obtained by duress.
This president is also going to assure the detainees' right to choose their counsel, as if they weren't already being represented by lawyers from some of the most prestigious firms in the country (Covington and Burling, Shearman and Sterling) who have rushed to volunteer their services to the defendants at Gitmo.
This president isn't following his predecessor's lead just in the war on terror. He's also defending the domestic prerogatives of the executive branch the same way. In a little-noticed gesture the other day, he issued a statement on signing the stimulus bill that he'd rushed through Congress, warning against "legislative aggrandizements" that "unduly interfere with my constitutional authority," and therefore need not be enforced.
Sound familiar? It should. This is just the kind of language George W. Bush issued when he felt the legitimate authority of the presidency needed defending from the legislative branch.
The more Barack Obama proclaims himself different from his predecessor, the more of Mr. Bush's policies he adopts as his own.
Confident that he can talk his way out of any contradiction, our smooth-talking president proceeds to do just that. It's an impressive performance, for his rhetorical gifts are great. Indeed, they may be exceeded only by his cynicism. Many of those who believed his campaign oratory about Guantanamo or military commissions during the late presidential campaign may now go along quietly with his reversals once in office rather than admit to having been suckered. Who likes to acknowledge having been taken in by a politician?
This new president, a fast learner, is to be commended for facing reality, rising above his campaign promises, and taking the responsible course in case after case even as he insists that his policies are oh-so-different from those of his predecessor.
You have to admire this president's style; he can out-clinton Bill Clinton. He's making his compromises with necessity so smoothly that many of his admirers haven't yet noticed or would prefer not to.
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