Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 7:29 AM
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama established most of his foreign-policy bona fides by criticizing the tactics President Bush was using to fight the war on terrorism. This is why, almost from day one of his presidency, Republicans have accused him of hypocrisy, while Democrats have accused him of betrayal, for not only adopting but greatly expanding those same tactics.
Guantanamo, warrantless wiretaps, and the black hole of no-fly lists figure prominently is this respect. But these accusations are most acute when it comes to Obama’s use of drones to strike al-Qaeda terrorists where they live; namely, in the purportedly unreachable mountains in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.
No president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.
(Washington Post, December 27, 2011)
No doubt Obama opened himself up to these accusations. Never mind that he can do no right where Republicans are concerned. But, far from criticisms, I think Obama deserves commendations for his use of every one of these tactics. What’s more, though, when it comes to his use of drones, accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal are specious at best.
Even though I am probably among the most liberal of Obama’s supporters, I agree wholeheartedly with all of his flip-flops in this respect. Indeed, I even admonished fellow liberals [aka Democrats] that it is politically naïve and hypocritical to ridicule former VP Dick Cheney’s dire warnings about canceling Bush’s war-on-terrorism tactics.
(“Obama Angers Liberals by Governing Just Like Bush,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 14, 2009)
Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and retreat ASAP; to let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and to rely on Special Forces and aerial drones to get al-Qaeda terrorists.
(“Without [or Even With] More Forces, Failure in Afghanistan is Likely, The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2009)
Therefore, even at the risk taking too much credit, it is noteworthy that since I offered this unsolicited advice, Obama has announced his intent to cut America’s losses and retreat ASAP; he has relied on Special Forces to kill bin Laden; and he has ordered over four times as many drone strikes (220) than Bush ordered during his entire presidency (50).
Yet I have been constrained to criticize him as follows:
It is clear that other supporters are becoming increasingly disillusioned not just by his flip-flopping on foreign-policy issues like closing Gitmo, but also on domestic issues like extending the Bush tax cuts. I, on the other hand, am just becoming increasingly disgusted by his posturing as if all of the Bush tactics he once condemned are now commendable just because he’s deploying them. That’s the kind of self-righteousness that ended up hoisting Nixon by his own petard.
(“Obama Flip-flops on Guantanamo Too,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 13, 2011)
That said, I’m sure Obama the law professor is acutely mindful of the legal questions (with respect to the U.S. Constitution and Pakistan’s sovereignty) the droning of terrorists – no matter how targeted or selective - raises; to say nothing of the moral questions.
But he can take heart (or cover as the case might be) in the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Eric Holder, providing this fulsome support for his use of drones even to kill American citizens, like Anwar al-Awlaki, who have joined the ranks of al-Qaeda:
Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack. In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.
(The Telegraph, March 6, 2012)
This is about our sovereignty as well.
(Associated Press, June 6, 2012)
Which brings me to perhaps the most important, yet most overlooked, words in this debate about Obama’s use of drones. And it just so happens that they were pronounced by none other than Obama himself:
What I have said is we’re going encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our non-military aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.
And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out.
(CNN Presidential Debate, October 7, 2008)
So promise made, promise kept.
My only wish now is that the media will stop hyping the killing of every al-Qaeda No. 2 man (like they did after this week’s drone strike on Abu Yahya al-Libi) as if he were bin Laden himself. After all, these purported No. 2 men keep popping up like Russian Matryoshka (nesting) doll.
Yesterday, news anchors across America stumbled over the name of Abu Hamza Rabia as they reported, triumphantly, a ‘successful hit’ on yet another al-Qaeda chief of operations. Although why this still rates as ‘BREAKING NEWS’ escapes me.
Because it seems that every other week we hear reports about the assassination or capture of some obscure Muslim who was allegedly a top al-Qaeda terrorist or the No. 1 assistant to Osama bin Laden’s No. 3 lieutenant. And I doubt Americans feel any more secure today knowing that the name of Abu Hamza Rabia or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Abu Faraj Farj al-Liby (et.al.) has been eliminated from the most wanted list of al-Qaeda terrorists.
(“Please Spare Us the al-Qaeda Obituaries,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 5, 2005)
Finally, there’s this:
Nobody could have imagined that America’s reputation in the Muslim world would be worse under President Barack Obama than it was under President George W. Bush? Or for that matter that the breeding ground for this insurgent anti-Americanism would be in Pakistan not Palestine?
Yet this is so in both cases because Muslims see little difference between Obama ordering drone strikes into Pakistan (and Yemen) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordering Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territories. What’s more, Obama inspired unprecedented hope about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, that he has not only failed to do so but is emulating Bush with his drone attacks has only compounded disappointment and disillusionment among Muslims.
Of course, it might be helpful to recall that Bush inspired similar hope as a candidate with his rhetoric about avoiding foreign entanglements and changing America’s reputation as an arrogant nation on the world stage.
If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.
(PBS Presidential Debate, October 12, 2000)
That was Bush during a presidential debate in 2000. But one could be forgiven for attributing it to Obama during a presidential debate in 2008. Which just affirms the axiom that the first casualties of any presidency are campaign promises.