Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Obama following the George W Bush foreign policy?

While I have been extremely disappointed in Obama's economic policies, I have, so far, been pleased by much of his management of foreign affairs. Candidate Obama never presented himself as the most pacifist and isolationist of the Democratic field of candidates. He was much more centrist than Dennis Kucinich or Bill Richardson, yet he was very critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy and promised a change. We have seen some real change and some superficial change and much of the same.

Some Republicans have criticized Obama’s recent making nice with Hugo Chavez. I don't. Reagan made nice with Gorbachev. Nixon made nice with Mao. FDR made nice with Joseph Stalin. There is nothing wrong with being diplomatic and friendly with your enemies. It may be beneficial to be on a first name basis with the bastards. Sometimes if is even necessary to ally ourselves with the most ruthless and despicable of people, as was the case in World War II. I am not so sure that Hitler was a lot worse than Joseph Stalin, but Germany was a threat and Russia was our ally and FDR had to make nice with Joseph Stalin. While Chavez may be irritating tin-horn dictator, he is hardly a Mao or Stalin.

Obama has also been criticized for changing our policy toward Cuba. Again, I think he is pursuing the correct policy and that our isolation of Cuba has been a mistake. I am glad to see us move toward normalization with that nation.

I am pleased that we are escalating the war in Afghanistan. I think Bush made a big mistake in going to go to war in Iraq and failing to pursue victory in Afghanistan. We cannot allow the Taliban to reestablish their rule in that country. I am pleased that we are pressuring and prevailing in persuading Pakistan to take a more aggressive role in suppressing the Taliban in that country. I am pleased that Obama has only tweaked the timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and seems committed to exiting that conflict in an orderly fashion that will preserve the peace and stability and leave behind a sizable American presence. .

In the war on terror, which we no long call the “War on Terror,” Obama is essentially continuing the Bush policies. While Obama uses less bellicose language and does not have the cowboy swagger that irritated so many, there is very little to distinguish Obama from Bush. He sounds more moderate but his policies are the same. It was Teddy Roosevelt who said “talk softly and carry a big stick.” I am not displeased with the more moderate tone. I have mixed feelings about the continuation of some of Bush policies.

When Bush was president and prominent national conservatives formed the American Freedom Agenda, I cheered. I was concerned that the Federal Government was amassing unchecked power. I did not approve of the government claiming the authority for warrantless searches of Internet communications. I do not approve of torture. I did not approve of special rendition. I thought George W. Bush was exceeding his constitutional authority.

Many of the same policies that were continued or initiated by Bush are being continued under Obama. Special rendition is a policy that started in peace time under Bill Clinton. It is the practice of kidnapping suspected enemies and turning them over to other countries where they can be tortured. We are speaking of real torture not a gray area that may or may not constitute torture. By letting a third country do the dirty work we can claim to have clean hands and not have engaged in torture ourselves. George Bush expanded the rendition policy and Obama has not ended the practice.
One Obama proposal that should concern all civil libertarians is the Cyber-security Act of 2009, which is essentially the same as Bush’s Total Information Awareness but under a new name. It would grant the government authority to monitor and mine Internet traffic for patterns that indicate links to terrorist activity. My concern is that such authority will be misused. This seems to violate the constitutions prohibition against an unreasonalble search. The same people that were outraged about Total Awareness are very quite about Cyber Security.

Obama was very critical of the bush administration policy regarding prisoners held at Guantanamo. I do not think the issue of what to do with irregular forces captured on the field of battle is an easy riddle to solve, however I do not think that we should hold indefinitely people who may be innocent. Recently, when the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that non-Afghan detainees at the US Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, captured outside Afghanistan, had the same due process rights that the Supreme Court last year gave to prisoners at Guantánamo, the Obama administration argued they did not. Bagram is a less high profile prison than Guantanamo but the issue regarding Bagram is exactly the same as Guantanamo and the position of the Obama administration is exactly the same as the position of the Bush administration.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, columnist Charles Krathamer pointed out that on policy after policy the Obama administration is continuing the policy of the Bush administration. “The latest flip-flop,” writes Krathamer. “is the restoration of military tribunals. During the 2008 campaign, Obama denounced them repeatedly, calling them an ‘enormous failure.’ Obama suspended them upon his swearing in. Now they're back.”

I admit I am conflicted. On the one hand, Obama’s policies seem to vindicate the policies of George W. Bush. I could conclude that George W. Bush was right all along and when faced with the enormous responsibility of keeping this country safe, that Obama came to a realization that the only prudent course to follow was that that was set by his predecessor. When one does not have the responsibility for our country’s security it is easy to snipe from the sidelines. Obama put aside partisanship and campaign promises and did the right thing.

On the other hand, I could conclude that Obama is an opportunist who did a complete flip-flop. He would say anything to get elected but he is a power hungry opportunist who cannot turn down the occasion to amass more power. I don’t know which view is correct.

What I cannot understand is how civil libertarians and pacifist of the left, who loathed George W. Bush, are letting Obama get by with continuing the same policies they professed to hate. If these policies were wrong when enacted by George W. Bush, are they still not wrong?

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1 comment:

  1. Regan actually walked out on old Gorby during a summit because he wouldn't make empty concessions. Comparing the USSR with Chavez is a joke.

    People on the left are letting Obama get by because they are biased hypocrites.