What Continuity?

Andrew Sullivan —  May 9 2011 @ 12:22pm

Ross reacts to the killing of bin Laden with another attempt to conflate the war legacies of Bush and Obama. PM Carpenter enjoys fisking Ross's column. I'd say there are several differences Ross elides.

The first is competence. Think of the fiasco of the Iraq occupation – which remained unfixed for years while tens of thousands died. Now think of the superlative, careful management of the killing of bin Laden, a man Bush had said he'd stopped thinking about.

The second is torture. For the United States to have more success without torture than with it marks a turning point in history's assessment of the war crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.

The third is multilateralism. It is inconceivable that Bush would have ceded the initiative on Libya to Britain, France and the Arab League. That humility – which Bush promised in 2000 – was only realized after he had left office. (Ross acknowledged this not so long ago.)

The fourth is a limited executive branch. There is no longer any claim of total supremacy over the laws of the land and the other branches of government in warfare. Yes, classic executive actions – like the killing of OBL – remain in the president's unique authoritah. But elsewhere, the administration has gone to some lengths in vesting its war powers in all three branches of government.

The fifth is a transformation in the propaganda war.

Bush's unilateralism, false pretenses for the Iraq war and embrace of torture gave us one teetering, blood-stained chaotic and still fragile transition to democracy in Iraq. Obama's multilateralism, outreach to the Muslim world, and distance from indigenous movements have given us democratic revolutions from below in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iran, Bahrain and Libya. Only the first two have succeeded. But the shift in what's possible, while by no means primarily due to Obama, has certainly been marked since the cowboy left the Oval Office.

Yes, Ross is right in urging vigilance of the war machine directed by the president. But he is not right in trying to rescue the failure of the Bush-Cheney years from the historical dustbin they deserve.