Obama the Dictator

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If Obama had
stated that preventive detention would not apply to anyone apprehended
going forward, he would have offered a decisive – not to mention,
for people like me, more acceptable – policy directive. The fact
that he did not make this distinction cannot help but make one wonder
whether the remedies created to address the unfortunate and unacceptable
baggage of the Bush years may carry over into his own era. If that
is the case, we might well ask ourselves, what other good intentions
might choose to hide behind a legacy that begs for closure?

~ via The
major missing piece in Obama’s new Gitmo policy

I had an interesting
discussion with a close friend of mine yesterday, a former journalist
who quit the business years ago to get a real job. We were talking
about our early impressions of Obama, and while I kept harping on
the bailouts and Obama’s bizarre decision to hand the Treasury
over to Goldman, Sachs, my friend kept coming back to Gitmo. He
said he could understand how Obama, a young president with no background
in economics continually blasted for his lack of experience, could
be bullied into handing over his economic policy to worn-out Wall
Street gorgons like Larry Summers and Bob Rubin. Politically, you
can see how that could happen. It’s not as if, my friend pointed
out, Obama could just hand over the Treasury to Paul Krugman and
Simon Johnson and expect the Democratic Party honchos to go for
it without complaint. The Rubin/Summers axis was always going to
be the default policy setting for a Democratic president, and it
would require spending a lot of political capital to switch to a
new paradigm.

Of course there’s
the other notion, which is that these pro-Evremonde economic policies
are actually an accurate reflection of who Obama is. Everywhere
I go I keep hearing people say, “How come Obama is letting
X happen or Y happen, how come he’s letting his underlings
do Z? It seems so unlike him!” It reminds me of the
way people view leaders in Russia. Going back centuries, Russian
peasants wrote impassioned letters to the Tsar, sure he was completely
unaware that his Grand Dukes were all thieves and his okhranka
agents were rapists and torturers. Now that Obama’s on the
scene a lot of Americans are demonstrating a similar public desire
to believe in the good king. Obama seems so decent and intelligent,
it’s hard to imagine that his act is just a big sales job,
that he’s really just a smooth-talking shill for a bunch of
Wall Street bankers and Pentagon generals. So people tend to scramble
for the exculpatory explanation: he’s being tricked, he’s
unaware, his hands are tied, and so on.

You can sort
of see that, maybe, with the economic policies. If you were bent
on clinging to the good-king fantasy, you could hold your nose and
imagine that Summers/Rubin cast a spell on poor Barack. But this
Gitmo thing is different. It’s not like Barack Obama doesn’t
know what habeas corpus is. The guy was a freaking constitutional
law professor (or “senior lecturer,” if that controversy
over his academic title still rankles you). And yet Obama seems
to be determined to preserve the whole concept of preventive detention,
which is every bit as jarring and upsetting as the preemptive invasion
concept Bush introduced. In fact this whole Gitmo episode should
serve as a reminder that the upper crust of the current Democratic
leadership has not, for the most part, even publicly renounced preemption.

While John
Edwards a couple of years ago said that preemption was “wrong
on the merits, wrong on the morals, wrong for America,” both
Hillary and Obama have carefully avoided taking any public stance
against it. True, back during the original war vote, Hillary did
say that her “yea” vote should not be taken as a “vote
for any new doctrine of preemption” – except that that’s
exactly what that vote was, an endorsement of the preemption policy
outlined in Bush’s notorious “National Security Strategy
of the United States” paper. Moreover Hillary’s top foreign
policy staffer at the time, Lee Feinstein, wrote soon after that
“the biggest problem with the Bush preemption strategy may
be that it does not go far enough.” When Kerry ran for president
he specifically endorsed pre-emption, only parsing it with one of
his classic waffle jobs, saying that any decision for a pre-emptive
strike would have to pass some kind of unspecified “global
test.” And Obama has never really gone near the topic: he did
talk about the U.S. having the right to respond to “imminent”
threats, but he’d always seemed to mean a genuinely imminent
threat, not the “They might have some kind of unnamed weapon
with or without a delivery system in thirteen or fourteen years,
we better invade now” standard that Bush went by.

the rest of the article

4, 2009

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