The Bush-Obama Continuation

by Jonah Shepp

Dan Froomkin returns to the blogosphere with a provocative post in which he asserts that by institutionalizing many of the bad ideas of the Bush administration, Obama has done even more damage than his predecessor to civil liberties in America:

There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human Obama Bushdignity and civil rights. Thanks to Obama, it’s going to be a hard, long fight. … To his credit, Obama is not driven, like Bush and Dick Cheney were, to involve us in massive land wars. And he inherited a mess full of no-win scenarios. But he chose to extend a dead-end war in Afghanistan for two years — and 1,300 American lives — based on political optics rather than military strategy. And he is blind to reality in the Middle East; cleaving to the belief that airstrikes and fealty to Israel are viable long-term strategies, and ignoring the fact that his counter-terrorism policies actually create more terrorists than they destroy. In retrospect, what the country needed was a radical break from the Bush/Cheney national security policies: A reestablishment of American moral integrity; a rejection of decision-making based on fear (of terrorism, or of political blowback); a reassertion of the international laws of war; and a national reckoning. Instead, the hopes for any change are slim.

My question is this: would another president have done differently? After all, this is what many on the left predicted would happen way back in the early Bush years: once an executive claimed the kinds of powers Bush did, it was laughable to think his successor would relinquish those powers, especially when he had the eternal, existential, international, and all-encompassing War on Terror to justify keeping them. I’m as disappointed in Obama as Froomkin is, but I’m not sure how much of this was really up to the man himself. For years, media and policy elites have beaten the drum of permanent war and attempted to inculcate the public with the belief that this war required a strong executive branch, a massive surveillance state, a concomitant downsizing of civil liberties, and periodic military interventions abroad. In such a paranoid zeitgeist, how harshly can Obama be judged for reflecting it? Just imagine what would happen if he decided to rein in the CIA and NSA, shut down the drone program, and forswear his power to order warrantless assassinations. Impeachment proceedings would begin that same day.