On National Security, Is Obama Just Like Bush?

Assassination programs, drone strikes, and Gitmo

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In 2007 and 2009, Senator Barack Obama campaigned hard on rolling back the national security policies of the Bush administration: He wanted to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, put more emphasis on civil liberties, and in general bring a liberal Democrat tinge to the conservative Republican "Global War on Terror." Now that he's president, we don't use the phrase "Global War on Terror" anymore, but has anything else of substance changed? A growing contingent of liberal and conservative writer are arguing that, when it comes to national security, President Obama is a lot like President Bush.

  • The 9/14 President  The Washington Times' Eli Lake argues in Reason Magazine that Obama is still governing with the powers granted Bush on Sept. 14, 2001.
Obama, like Bush, is committed to a long war against an amorphous network of terrorists. In at least the constitutional sense, he is no harder or softer than his predecessor. And like his predecessor, he has not come up with a plan for relinquishing these extraordinary powers once the long war ends, if it ever does. If change is going to come to U.S. policy on terrorism, it will have to come from a bipartisan recognition that Americans cannot trust their government to tell them when they are safe again.
  • Obama's Hard-Right Shift  Salon's Glenn Greenwald gasps, "So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges.  Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges.  Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face?"
  • Bush Speechwriter: 'You're Welcome'  David Frum writes, "some conservative criticism of the president has, ironically, given him undeserved political cover, by enabling him to pretend that he has radically changed Bush administration policies. The true point is that in office, Obama has discovered that those policies were necessary and reasonable. You’re welcome. Apology accepted."
  • Shows That 'Cheney v. Obama' Is Theater  The Washington Post's David Weigel says the media loves to play up Obama-Cheney spats, but in fact there's little difference. "We like to wring our hands and hit our keyboards whenever some veteran of the Bush administration -- some named Cheney, some with other surnames -- issue a 'smackdown' against Obama's national security policy. It's good copy, but it's immaterial to how the administration is actually conducting this."
  • Good For Obama  Owner of The New Republic Marty Peretz is glad. "I take it is a relief that, aside from its rhetorical pandering to the civil libertarian absolutists who can’t seem to grasp that Muslim terror networks are in a worldwide war with the United States and its remaining allies, the Obama administration is actually extending the life of the Bush presidency in its defense against jihad," he writes. "This is about fine distinctions ... as it ought to be."
  • National Review: Obama Too Conservative For Us  The conservative magazine's Kevin Williamson worries about Obama's assassination program. "Surely there has to be some operational constraint on the executive when it comes to the killing of U.S. citizens," he writes. "This seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent."
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