By Joe Campbell
July 21st, 2009
I’m sick of all this naivete about Obama.
And no, I’m not talking about those who moon over him and who believe he can do no wrong. I’m talking about those who now are on their high horse acting betrayed because Obama isn’t doing what they want.
The problem as I see it is simple: under Bush, many critics of the power grab that was Bush’s War on Terror rallied together against him – and in 2008, many of them rallied around Obama. In working for a common cause they seemed to forget that between them they had some pretty serious disagreements.
For example, on one hand, there were those who I’m going to label progressives and/or libertarians who believed that the proper response to terrorism was law enforcement and believed the term “war” was inappropriate and who opposed:
- the illegal war for oil against Iraq;
- the warrantless wiretapping that violated the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment;
- any form of indefinite detention;
- the practice of rendition (from Bill Clinton to its expansion under Bush);
- the state secrets privilege.
Also, progressives opposed:
- the practice of targeted killing;
- the flouting of international law.
And then there were the liberals who believed that “war” was the correct term for the nation’s struggle against terrorism, but who opposed:
- the “dumb war” against Iraq – on the basis of the fact that it would hurt our interests;
- the defiance of the FISA statute that limited the power of the executive branch;
- indefinite detention at the sole discretion of the executive;
- the expanded rendition program under George W. Bush;
- the overuse of the state secrets privilege.
Also, liberals opposed:
- the use of signing statements to eviscerate laws passed by Congress;
- the defiance (even denial) of the checks and balances between the branches of government.
The liberals and progressives/libertarians agreed that they needed to oppose Bush’s power grab. They disagreed though on the proper response to terrorism.
Obama, being a politician, did not seek to emphasize these differences among those who supported him. He finessed the issues by stating the liberal positions strongly – but at the same time, he made no secret of the fact that he was a liberal instead of a progressive.
Obama has made his positions clear. As he said in the campaign:
Just because the President misrepresents our enemies does not mean we do not have them. The terrorists are at war with us…When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.
He has since maintained that he believes we are “at war” with Al Qaeda:
Now let me be clear: we are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.
I don’t oppose all wars… What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.
When Obama voted for the FISA compromise, he did so on the grounds that the program was needed. He explained that he had opposed it because Bush had enacted it in defiance of the Congress and established law:
The exclusivity provision makes it clear to any President or telecommunications company that no law supersedes the authority of the FISA court. In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited.
Obama has repeatedly stated that he opposed indefinite detention at the whim of the executive – but did not say he was opposed to it in every form.
In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.
On rendition and torture, Obama has kept his word. On state secrets, he has not so far.
This isn’t to say that progressives and libertarians shouldn’t criticize Obama – but on most of these issues Obama has been clear and consistent. And given the reasonable alternatives, it’s hard to see who was a better candidate. (Though I can already see the comments about Ron Paul being written.)
The fact is: Obama is a significant improvement over Bush – and the changes he has made and is making are significant. It matters whether or not there is a check on the executive branch; it matters whether or not we have a president who does not flagrantly disregard the law. That’s not a reason to give up what you believe – to keep pushing the civil libertarian case against Obama.
But at least be honest about it.