So unlike Hume, I don't think it's "stop me before I kill again," so much as, "I trust myself with this power more than anyone. You won't always be so lucky as to have me, but don't worry, I'm leaving instructions."
Will anyone follow them? That's what I don't understand. Why does Obama seem to think his successors will constrain themselves within whatever limits he sets? Won't they just set their own limits? Won't those limits be very different? What would Chris Christie do in the White House? I have no idea, but I'm guessing that preserving the decisionmaking framework Obama established isn't what he'd do.
Does anyone think Hilary Clinton would preserve it?
Obama doesn't seem to realize that his legacy won't be shaped by any perspicacious limits he places on the executive branch, if he ever gets around to placing any on it. The next president can just undo those "self-imposed" limits with the same wave of a hand that Obama uses to create them. His influence in the realm of executive power will be to expand it. By 2016 we'll be four terms deep in major policy decisions being driven by secret memos from the Office of Legal Counsel. The White House will have a kill list, and if the next president wants to add names to it using standards twice as lax as Obama's, he or she can do it, in secret, per his precedent.
Some new John Brennan-like figure, with different values and a different personality, will serve as Moral Rectitude Czar.
Even ending torture was done by executive order. The folks guilty of perpetrating it weren't punished. Congress wasn't asked to act. (There was an ambitious domestic agenda to focus on!) So who knows what we'll get next, save for a new president who witnessed all the previously unthinkable things post-9/11 presidents got away with so long as they invoked fighting "terror."
The fact that every new president is likely to be a power-seeking egomaniac seems like too obvious a flaw in Obama's plan for a smart guy like him not to see it. So what gives? Is all the talk of limiting the executive branch just talk? But why even talk at this point, if so? He isn't running again. Yet if he really does think his office wields too much power, why is he putting in place safeguards the next president can and probably will undo instead of zealously trying to get Congress to act? Yet he does seem to be concerned. Here's Peter Baker reporting in The New York Times:
For nearly four years, the president had waged a relentless war from the skies against Al Qaeda
and its allies, and he trusted that he had found what he considered a
reasonable balance even if his critics did not see it that way. But now,
he told his aides, he wanted to institutionalize what in effect had
been an ad hoc war, effectively shaping the parameters for years to come
"whether he was re-elected or somebody else became president," as one
Ultimately, he would decide to write a new playbook that would scale
back the use of drones, target only those who really threatened the
United States, eventually get the C.I.A.
out of the targeted killing business and, more generally, begin moving
the United States past the "perpetual war" it had waged since Sept. 11,
2001. Whether the policy shifts will actually accomplish that remains to
be seen, given vague language and compromises forced by internal
debate, but they represent an effort to set the rules even after he
"We've got this technology, and we're not going to be the only ones to
use it," said a senior White House official who, like others involved,
declined to be identified talking about internal deliberations. "We have
to set standards so it doesn't get abused in the future."
There's that same obvious flaw, but everyone seems oblivious to it. The standards you're setting? The next president can just change them. In secret, even! That's the problem with extreme executive power: It is capricious, prone to abuse, and difficult to meaningfully check. Does Obama think the next man or woman will just behold the wisdom of his approach and embrace it? That error, unthinkable as it seems, would not be without precedent for this president.