Obama and the War on Terror: Where's the Change?

The New York Times has published its Sunday Magazine feature article, 9 pages long, by Peter Baker on President Obama's handling of the war on terror. Here's what you need to know:

While setting a one-year deadline to close Guantánamo and formally banning the interrogation methods that had already fallen out of favor, he left the surveillance program intact, embraced the Patriot Act, retained the authority to use renditions and embraced some of Bush’s claims to state secrets. He preserved the military commissions and national security letters he criticized during the campaign, albeit with more due-process safeguards. He plans to hold dozens of suspected terrorists without charges indefinitely. And he expanded Bush’s campaign of unmanned drone strikes against Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Troop levels in Afghanistan are set to triple on his watch.

Bush Administration Veterans say Obama is not "Bush Lite", he is Bush. [More...]

Michael Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under Bush, was willing to say publicly what others would not. “There is a continuum from the Bush administration, particularly as it changed in the second administration as circumstances changed, and the Obama administration,” Hayden told me. James Jay Carafano, a homeland-security expert at the Heritage Foundation, was blunter. “I don’t think it’s even fair to call it Bush Lite,” he said. “It’s Bush. It’s really, really hard to find a difference that’s meaningful and not atmospheric. You see a lot of straining on things trying to make things look repackaged, but they’re really not that different.”

At a meeting at which civil libertarians were invited, Athony Romero of the ACLU told the President:

bq.Look, you’re the only politician I’ve ever believed in,” Romero said, according to people in the room. “When I was a gay Puerto Rican growing up in New York, I never thought I could identify with a political leader the way I identify with you. But this stuff really pains me.”

How did the president respond?

Obama pushed back, explaining the constraints he was under. It was a balancing act, he said; he had multiple obligations. Much of the discussion concerned the military commissions he decided to keep and the dilemma of what to do with the hardest cases at Guantánamo, those who could not be prosecuted because of tainted evidence or other reasons but were deemed too dangerous to release.

To which Romero replied:

Romero said he suspected Obama suffers from the “hubris” of wanting to preserve much of the power he inherited in the belief that he will use it more wisely. “He believes he can do it better and smarter and more in keeping with constitutional principles than his predecessor did,” Romero told me. “If he’s shown himself willing to adhere to some of the Bush policies in the absence of an attack, one worries about what he’ll do when an attack comes.”

And how do you call this anything but what it is: a flip-flop:

The activists left the meeting chilled that Obama seemed poised to continue holding terrorism suspects indefinitely without charges. Just a few years earlier, he wrote in his book that “when we detain suspects indefinitely without trial,” then “we weaken our ability to pressure for human rights and the rule of law in despotic regimes.” Now he was talking about seeking legislation that would permanently authorize such preventive detention.

As to what the loss of Greg Craig means:
"He was the one voice for a constant application of the rule of law in the White House,” Romero lamented. “The others either demur or mumble.” Craig’s ouster, he added, was “unfortunate because it means the likes of Rahm Emanuel will consolidate power in the White House.”

For critics who think Obama is too much of lightweight to order drones and killings, think again.

With information processed at NCTC and elsewhere, Obama has authorized the C.I.A. to greatly expand a program inherited from Bush using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones to launch missiles at suspected Al Qaeda hideouts along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Critics complain that such “targeted assassinations” are morally suspect and strategically dangerous because of the reaction among Pakistanis when civilians are killed. Obama had a searching conversation with Brennan and Denis McDonough, Catholics who oppose the death penalty, about whether to keep the program. “He was wrestling with it,” says one adviser. But in the end, there was no serious disagreement with the decision to continue the program. At one of his first Situation Room meetings as president, according to a participant, Obama said pointedly, “The C.I.A. gets what it needs.”

During his first year in office, he ordered the CIA to conduct 53 strikes -- more than Bush had ordered in his entire presidency.

When Obama found out that the NSA had wire intercepts up that could have led to Abmullatab, he got testy. He again instructed them , as had since day 1, that they must share this information with other agencies.

It seems like nothing has changed, we're still in Iraq, increasing our commitment in Afghanistan, worried about Pakistan, and now have Yemen and , to a lesser extent, Somalia to deal with. They shoud all take a milk and cookie break one afternoon and sing together, "War is not the Answer." It's not for the American people who didn't want the war in Iraq and are loathe to consider we're spendng big dollars on yet another country when we have people needing medical care and schools at home.

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    So, we have a single permanent government, then? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by lambert on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 09:30:19 AM EST
    My takeaway from 2009.

    It's utter nonsense to conclude that because Obama (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by zaladonis on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 02:52:22 PM EST
    does it, any and every other Democratic President would as well.

    Many of us tried to point out during the Primaries and General campaign that Obama is not a progressive, and further that he cannot be trusted to do as he says.  There was plenty of proof of that.  But his saying one thing and doing another does not prove everybody is as smarmy and untrustworthy as he is.

    If we do have a single permanent government, it's voter's fault for electing people like Obama when doing our homework showed exactly how he'd govern.


    American Idol (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by norris morris on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 09:13:37 PM EST

    No one listened. There was a flock mentality and lotsa hero worship, but Obama's PR driven oratory juiced up young voters who still think he's great.
    Or they feel they cannot give up this dream.

    Obviously they don't think. They gave him qualities that didn't exist, and listen he DID promise to change DC, bring transparency, fight vs lobbyists, and bringing healthcare to all. He certainly spoke for the public option, climate...the whole schmear.

    Remember Obama promised the HC debates would be open and on C-Span so we could watch the whole process?  And faulted Hillary as a war monger?

    What have we got? Bush policies still enforced, and some, as the mandate to enrich private insurance or be taxed/fined is a horror Obama & cronies devised to screw us.

    Just think what the Democrats have done to undermine women as they permitted an end run on Roe v Wade by amending both bills with repressive abortion limitations that aren't even constitutional?  Obama said nada.

    He has been evasive,defensive, and he's caved.


    you're right (none / 0) (#16)
    by Socraticsilence on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 11:00:41 PM EST
    any and all viable Democratic Presidents on the other hand-- well that's a bit harder to argue against- Clinton started rendition, JFK and LBJ pushed assasinations, Truman continued internment of the Japanese that FDR Began- basically of the last 7 Democratic Presidents I can think of exactly one- Carter who may have prosectued the War on Terror differently (though he started the training of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan), as for possible 2008 nominee's I can only see Gravel and Kucinich as handling it differntly and lets be honest neither of them were realistic canidates.

    Yes, (none / 0) (#11)
    by esmense on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 10:40:41 AM EST
    When Greg Craig left, it confirmed for me (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Anne on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 11:04:38 AM EST
    why Dawn Johnsen's nomination to be head of OLC was allowed to languish in the Senate, without Obama ever lifting a finger to push it through - I think she might be too much like Craig, which might hamper Obama's ability to do what he wants.

    Credit to Romero for speaking so honestly with Obama; it must have been devastating to get the response he did from the same man who spoke out against indefinite detention before he was elected.

    I hate to beat a dead horse, but this is part of the reason I thought the Dems should have dealt with Bush/Cheney after they took the majority in Congress in 2006 - to draw the line in the sand and categorically reject the abuses and violations.  Instead, we couldn't have that on the table - too distracting (Congress-speak for "what's wrong with you, woman - we have a presidential election coming up!") - so, now, as we know, all that power and all those abhorrent policies got wrapped up in a nice little Welcome-to-the-White-House package and placed on the Oval Office desk for Obama.  As house-warming gifts go, it was a doozy, wasn't it?

    I always had a feeling it would be bad, but I never imagined it would be this bad; what worries me is how much worse it could get.

    Your Choice: Obama! (none / 0) (#1)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 04:13:41 AM EST
    Jeralyn,  you seem to be having a hard time digesting the man you really, really wanted to win the election if not the primary.

    Myself, I always was suspicious of him.  He really has never done anything substantive.  He is just that personality that you see on big University Campuses.  Seemingly a thinker, certainly a talker, a mixer, and a person most everyone knows or has heard of and probably likes but who really never, never does anything!

    But on the other hand, I am not sorry McCain lost.  Since I was in the Navy though at a later date than the former Captain, I know far more of him from men I served under who did know him personally.  Putting aside his time as a POW, he was and is a showboat, and a loose cannon for sure. And I personally believe that he is now slipping mentally and emotionally.

    Really there weren't any good choices for President as I viewed it.

    Still I must say that Obama is much more like McCain in his actions than I expected, though much more subdued and hesitant than McCain would have been.

    of all people (none / 0) (#4)
    by The Last Whimzy on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 09:20:04 AM EST
    people like Jeralyn were suspicious at first, but still wary and hesitant to attack Obama the same way others attacked Hillary.  always hesitant, restrained for fear of...   appealing to decorum, perhaps, but of course where was the decorum re: Palin.

    So always restrained, always hesitant, for fear of... but remaining "suspicious."

    now you get it.

    Of course, when the choice becomes PUMA or supporting Obama, then you really had no choice.

    that was probably when people started disappearing because they refused to be coerced into supporting Obama.


    I found this part interesting (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 08:06:29 AM EST
    The candidate who denounced the "color-coded politics of fear" and rejected policies that "compromised our most precious values" was now a commander in chief wrestling with how to protect those values and the country at the same time. He told us that many of the worst practices he had objected to had already been corrected by the end of Bush's presidency.

    "I would distinguish between some of the steps that were taken immediately after 9/11 and where we were by the time I took office," he told us. "I think the C.I.A., for example, and some of the controversial programs that have been a focus of a lot of attention, took steps to correct certain policies and procedures after those first couple of years."

    The battle with terrorists evolved significantly over the course of the Bush presidency, and when Obama took office, the course he set was more about accelerating that evolution than about restarting it. Under pressure from Supreme Court rulings, Congressional legislation and disclosures in the news media, Bush in his second term trimmed back some of his most expansive programs and claims to executive power. Two years before leaving office, he told advisers he wanted to use his remaining time to institutionalize what was left so that his successor, even a Democrat, would not feel compelled to reverse direction.

    By the time Obama was inaugurated, waterboarding had been halted for years, Bush had ordered that the secret C.I.A. black site prisons be emptied and the warrantless surveillance program and the military commission system had been restructured and approved by Congress. Bush had even declared that he wanted to close the Guantánamo prison, and although he never managed to do so, his team released or transferred about 500 detainees as a first step.

    Obama built on those actions. While setting a one-year deadline to close Guantánamo and formally banning the interrogation methods that had already fallen out of favor, he left the surveillance program intact, embraced the Patriot Act, retained the authority to use renditions and embraced some of Bush's claims to state secrets. He preserved the military commissions and national security letters he criticized during the campaign, albeit with more due-process safeguards. He plans to hold dozens of suspected terrorists without charges indefinitely. And he expanded Bush's campaign of unmanned drone strikes against Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Troop levels in Afghanistan are set to triple on his watch.

    A half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism told me before the Christmas Day incident that for the most part, they were comfortable with Obama's policies, although they were reluctant to say so on the record. Some worried they would draw the ire of Cheney's circle if they did, while others calculated that calling attention to the similarities to Bush would only make it harder for Obama to stay the course. And they generally resent Obama's anti-Bush rhetoric and are unwilling to give him political cover by defending him.

    The Democrats murmer more about diplomacy, (none / 0) (#8)
    by esmense on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 10:18:23 AM EST
    rights, and preparedness, the Republicans snarl more about appeasement and weakness -- although sometimes, like Bush's promise of a "more humble" less "interventionist" policy in 2000 and Kennedy's "missle gap" in 1960, they switch approaches. But, no matter which party is in power, the military/security consensus remains the same and the military/security establishment remains in charge. The murmering and snarling is politics, mostly fear-mongering (to generate fear of the other party), mostly dishonest.

    No one gets taken seriously as a candidate (by financial backers & the press), much less nominated, who challenges that consensus.


    For Me, This Is Key (none / 0) (#3)
    by The Maven on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 09:04:31 AM EST
    Romero said he suspected Obama suffers from the "hubris" of wanting to preserve much of the power he inherited in the belief that he will use it more wisely. "He believes he can do it better and smarter and more in keeping with constitutional principles than his predecessor did."

    This essentially endorses my opinion all along that Obama does not really believe in a government of laws, but rather one of men.  And hubris is what it is, indeed.  If the Bush Administration was guilty of "imperial hubris," thinking that American exceptionalism would exempt us from the fates suffered by other unilateral actors, Obama seems consigned to the sort of individualism that fails to recognize that his "wisdom" or restraint may not be shared by his successors, and without clear laws to bind them, new and even worse abuses of those powers almost certainly will occur.

    Obama wishes to be lauded for steps he affirmatively takes of his own volition (as meager as those might turn out to be), not for mere compliance with stronger laws enacted by Congress, and so he hasn't asked for any.  Once again, it seems to come down to the marketing strategy of building the Obama brand.  Sigh.

    Yes, and again the base was (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Pacific John on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 10:35:53 AM EST
    right, when working class dems concluded that concrete policy was superior to personality-worship.

    Even casual examination shows that the amorality of Alinsky campaign tactics resembles the disregard for law we see here.

    Remember, Alinsky advocated any effective action short of a jailable offense, so no one here should be surprised now.

    This would have been more apparent to more people had the press actually reported '08, rather than provide a torrent of marketing.

    Media bias is never the friend of real Democrats.


    2 things (none / 0) (#17)
    by Socraticsilence on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 11:04:44 PM EST
    1. Obama had much of the base- I realize that you may not view the most loyal of democratic voters (African-Americans) as members of the base but most people do.

    2. Whine about Alinsky-influenced campaign tactics all you want but Obama was the first nominee we had since 1996 who hit back on the trail and the airwaves and guess what he won.

    2 things: (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Pacific John on Wed Jan 06, 2010 at 04:48:42 PM EST
    African Americans did not support BHO on policy, they justifiably supported because they identified with him personally. As such, they did not pretend that his policies were superior, and in fact, most African American intellectuals and leaders (Like Cornell West and every member of the CBC I can think of) said that they expected to hold Obama's feet to the fire for his entire presidency, because they knew he was a compromiser.

    The Alinsky effect only mattered in the primary, and robbed a higher quality Dem of the nomination. As we know, the general election was handed to our team when the economy crashed. The question BHO apologists should ask themselves is why their $1 billion and rock star campaign was behind until then, and why they lost the popular vote to a candidate they virtually drown in campaign spending.

    But you know as well as I do what I mean: the primary campaign exposed BHO's character, and none of what we see now is a surprise to any experienced honest observer.

    Until BHO, no real Democrat would, or has ever to my knowledge, sent an assault team into Hispanic caucus state neighborhoods with the express purpose of suppressing their vote.

    You could call such a complaint whining, but I doubt you'd mean it.


    Maybe that's why (none / 0) (#20)
    by jondee on Wed Jan 06, 2010 at 05:36:58 PM EST
    Hillary wrote that paper attacking Allinsky when she was in college. It wasnt due to any lingering Goldwaterite sentiments or aspiring Walmart board ambitions, it was because she foresaw the danger to the democratic process they represented.

    You're really hung up (none / 0) (#22)
    by jbindc on Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 01:32:17 PM EST
    On the Walmart Board thing, aren't you?

    It's old news  - but not as old as Michelle Obama's tenure of TreeHouse Foods - a company that shut down a pickle plant full of unionized workers and also did lots of business with Wal-Mart.

    The New York Sun had this to say about it:

    Of all the attacks that have been leveled against Senator Clinton, one of the cheapest shots has to be that leveled at her by Senator Obama in the debate on Monday night. "While I was working on those streets, watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart," Mr. Obama said.

    Mr. Obama has had some inspiring moments in this campaign, but Mrs. Clinton, she did more for the poor by serving on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992 than Mr. Obama did as a community organizer in Chicago. Wal-Mart's "Every Day Low Prices," achieved by negotiations with suppliers, economies of scale, and low corporate overhead, let the chain's low-income customers feed and clothe their families for less money.

    Wal-Mart has grown from a little-known Arkansas phenomenon to an international retail powerhouse with 1.4 million employees right here in America. If Mr. Obama is going to get elected president, he is going to find a way to attract voters who work and shop at Wal-Mart, not just left-wing elitists and union activists who scorn the company. Mr. Obama may have missed it, but in his home state of Illinois, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce named Wal-Mart its 2007 corporation of the year. Mr. Obama may have missed it, but Wal-Mart was last year named one of the top 50 companies for African American MBAs by Black MBAs magazine. Mrs. Clinton's association with the company is something for which our senator should be not attacked but praised.

    Move on - she's not in control.  Why bring up old tired news of someone not in charge?  Is it because there is no defense of the tinfoil president?


    What's "elite" about scorning (none / 0) (#23)
    by jondee on Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 03:06:34 PM EST
    an American company that's been at the forefront of suppressing workers rights, outsourcing, gouging wages, using it's bloated lobbying clout to heavy-handedly intimidate organizing workers, while at the same time exploiting the desperation of those same workers whose condition companies like Walmart helped create?

    The only "elitist" in the immediate vicinity, is the transparent shill/corporate-c*ck rider who wrote that intelligence insulting article.

    But, somehow, I shouldnt get hung up about it because Walmart's bought off everybody, including Obama AND the Clintons.

    Ipso facto, the Clintons "care about people". Or something. Sorry, no sale.


    Im suprised that Sun writer (none / 0) (#24)
    by jondee on Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 03:14:42 PM EST
    didnt find a way to get in a plug for Walmarts Back-To-School sale somewhere in that toadying homage to America's store.

    They should change the name of the paper to The New York Scab.


    If you aren't going to move off the WalMart story (none / 0) (#25)
    by jbindc on Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 08:23:48 PM EST
    Then you need to care about Obama's associations (Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn?  Tony Rezko anyone?)  You know - convicted felons (Dohrn and Rezko) that were the Obamas' close personal friends?

    Move on from the Walmart stuff - no one here cares.


    Obama is about consolidating and rationalizing... (none / 0) (#6)
    by lambert on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 09:32:11 AM EST
    ... the gains that Bush made (authoritarian, and otherwise) on behalf of the people who own him, who are, if you follow the money, the banksters.

    The money went to alot (none / 0) (#19)
    by jondee on Wed Jan 06, 2010 at 05:31:55 PM EST
    more places than just Obama's warchest.

    No sale on this ONE bought-and-paid-for-candidate vs "the peoples candidate" spiel.

    Would that it were so cut-and-dried.


    Huh? (none / 0) (#21)
    by lambert on Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 10:53:17 AM EST
    Who said anything about a "people's candidate"? Not me. What's your point?

    I think the most interesting part (none / 0) (#7)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 09:32:22 AM EST
    of that was the statement that they liked some of the things that he was doing but would not say so publicly because it might help him or something.

    this is supposed to be the patriot party right?

    And the moral is . . . (none / 0) (#10)
    by allys gift on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 10:37:10 AM EST
    as between the evil you know and the evil you don't, never ever elect the one you don't.

    Sure there wasn't much of a policy difference between HRC and BHO or much of a difference in who they surround themselves with, but I always felt like I knew where HRC was coming from and what her line in the sand was.  On foreign policy, it was much further to the right than mine.  On domestic policy, it was pretty close. But I always felt like she had a stopping point at which she would draw the line. I never felt like I could tell where BHO would draw the line.  It's all shifting sands with him.

    In the Primary, I voted for the guy I knew (none / 0) (#14)
    by Ben Masel on Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 03:21:56 PM EST
    supported privacy rights. Mike Gravel.