by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Barack Obama has a habit of identifying a supposed crisis in collective morality, damning the straw men “them” who engage in such ethical lapses, soaring with rhetorical bromides — and then, to national quiet, doing more or less the exact things he once swore were ruining the country. Washington will always be a city of hypocrisies, as one would expect when astronomical amounts of money and political power collide. What is striking about the recent disclosures about Obama’s tenure is not that his embarrassments are all that different from embarrassments of other administrations, but that they are at odds entirely with almost everything Obama has professed. And that realization is starting to damage his presidency as much as its actual shortcomings.
Take the recent drone memo and the context in which it was leaked. When Harold Koh was dean of the Yale Law School, he used to berate the Bush administration for its supposedly criminal anti-terrorism policy. He went so far as to call President Bush “torturer in chief.” But as State Department legal counsel in the Obama administration, a metamorphosed Koh and others gave President Obama the go-ahead to up the Predator-drone kill tally tenfold over the Bush administration’s, and insisted that it was legal to kill American citizens suspected of al-Qaeda affiliations.
The centerpiece of Obama’s 2008 campaign was the simultaneous unlawfulness and superfluity of the Bush anti-terrorism protocols. But Obama embraced most of them while failing to implement any of his supposed correctives — such as trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City courtroom, transferring Guantanamo inmates to prisons within the United States, and subjecting CIA agents to scrutiny for their enhanced interrogations. So what are we now left with? Historians will see American anti-terrorism policy post 9/11 as a Bush-Obama continuum — albeit with a vast expansion of targeted assassinations by the civil libertarian and Nobel laureate Obama. Oddly, there has never been any acknowledgment by the administration that Obama adopted the policies of his predecessor that he had once damned, much less that in the case of drone assassinations he far exceeded them, while most of his own innovations were quietly dropped.