The Bush-Obama convergence
Source Louis Proyect
Date 11/05/09/07:31

NY Times Op-Ed May 8, 2011
Whose Foreign Policy Is It?

For those with eyes to see, the daylight between the foreign
policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama has been shrinking
ever since the current president took the oath of office. But last
week made it official: When the story of America’s post-9/11 wars
is written, historians will be obliged to assess the two
administrations together, and pass judgment on the Bush-Obama era.

The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid that operationalized
Bush’s famous “dead or alive” dictum, offered the most visible
proof of this continuity. But the more important evidence of the
Bush-Obama convergence lay elsewhere, in developments from last
week that didn’t merit screaming headlines, because they seemed
routine rather than remarkable.

One was NATO’s ongoing bombing campaign in Libya, which now barely
even pretends to be confined to humanitarian objectives, or to be
bound by the letter of the United Nations resolution. Another was
Friday’s Predator strike inside Pakistan’s tribal regions, which
killed a group of suspected militants while the world’s attention
was still fixed on Bin Laden’s final hours. Another was the
American missile that just missed killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an
American-born cleric who has emerged as a key recruiter for Al
Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate.

Imagine, for a moment, that these were George W. Bush’s policies
at work. A quest for regime change in Libya, conducted without
even a pro forma request for Congressional approval. A campaign of
remote-controlled airstrikes, in which collateral damage is
inevitable, carried out inside a country where we are not
officially at war. A policy of targeted assassination against an
American citizen who has been neither charged nor convicted in any
U.S. court.

Imagine the outrage, the protests, the furious op-eds about
right-wing tyranny and neoconservative overreach. Imagine all
that, and then look at the reality. For most Democrats, what was
considered creeping fascism under Bush is just good old-fashioned
common sense when the president has a “D” beside his name.

There is good news for the country in this turnabout. Having one
of their own in the White House has forced Democrats to walk in
the Bush administration’s shoes, and appreciate its dilemmas and
decisions. To some extent, the Bush-Obama convergence is a sign
that the Democratic Party is growing up, putting away certain fond
illusions, and accepting its share of responsibility for the messy
realities of the post-9/11 world.

It’s a good thing, for instance, that President Obama has
slow-walked the American withdrawal from Iraq, and it’s a sign of
political maturity that his base hasn’t punished him for doing so.
It’s a good thing that this White House didn’t just send every
Guantánamo prisoner to a civilian court (or back home without a
trial). It’s a very good thing that many Democrats seem willing to
opt for frontier justice over procedural justice when the
circumstances call for it — as they did in Abbottabad last week.

But there are dangers in this turnabout as well. Now that
Democrats have learned to stop worrying and embrace the imperial
presidency, the United States lacks a strong institutional check
on the tendency toward executive hubris and wartime overreach. The
speed with which many once-dovish liberals rallied behind the
Libyan war — at best a gamble, at worst a folly — was revealing
and depressing. The absence of any sustained outcry over the White
House’s willingness to assassinate American citizens without trial
should be equally disquieting.

As Barack Obama has discovered, an open-ended, borderless conflict
requires a certain comfort with moral gray areas. But it requires
vigilance as well, and a skepticism about giving the executive
branch a free hand in a forever war. During the Bush era, such
vigilance was supplied (albeit sometimes cynically, and often in
excess) by one of the country’s two major political parties. But
in the Obama era, it’s mainly confined to the far left and the
libertarian right.

This vigilance needs to be mathematical as well as moral. The most
dangerous continuity between the Bush and Obama presidencies,
perhaps, is their shared unwillingness to level with the country
about what our current foreign policy posture costs, and how it
fits into our broader fiscal liabilities.

Instead, big government conservatism has given way to big
government liberalism, America’s overseas footprint keeps
expanding, and nobody has been willing to explain to the public
that the global war on terror isn’t a free lunch.

The next president won’t have that luxury. In one form or another,
the war on terror is likely to continue long after Osama bin
Laden’s bones have turned to coral. But we’ll know that the
Bush-Obama era is officially over when somebody presents us with
the bill.

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