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The refusal of the Iranian regime to react positively to Obama’s overtures has forced him to reconsider his approach. In his second Persian New Year greeting, Obama had a less pleasant tone and included four paragraphs listing the regime’s human rights abuses and expressing American solidarity with the Iranian people. He reacted in the same way to Ahmadinejad’s latest speech at the U.N. where he accused elements of the U.S. government of carrying out the 9/11 attacks.
Secretary Clinton has even hinted at the Obama Administration’s hope for internally-driven regime change (though she denies calling for it). She said on September 19, “And I can only hope that there will be some effort inside Iran, by responsible civil and religious leaders, to take hold of the apparatus of the state.” She also insinuated that the regime’s oppression could spark a popular uprising. This is language that even President Bush did not use towards Iran. It is the closest the U.S. has come to explicitly calling for regime change.
The Obama Administration has actually been much more aggressive in fighting the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan than its predecessor. President Obama opposed the “surge” in Iraq, yet seems to have recognized that he was wrong (without admitting it) and has embraced the same model for his strategy in Afghanistan. He is even using the same personnel to carry it out—General David Petraeus and Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Obama sent in 10,000 less soldiers than requested by the military and gave a date for when troops must begin coming home (which means he can withdraw a miniscule amount and meet his pledge). Though he wisely embraced a counter-insurgency strategy, he repeatedly demanded that his military leaders use fewer soldiers and accept a timeline, expressing that he “can’t lose the entire Democratic Party.”
In Pakistan, Obama has been launching three times as many drone strikes as Bush did. During the campaign, he openly talked about how he’d attack terrorists there without the Pakistani government’s permission if necessary. The debate over Pakistan cannot be fully equated to the debate over the Iraq War, but these are attacks on a sovereign country without U.N. authorization that are causing outrage in the Muslim world—repercussions that the anti-war left would have moaned over had Bush been as aggressive. By any standard, these strikes are something to be expected of the stereotypical “neocon” and not of a President that boasted of his anti-war credentials.
President Obama’s stances on the domestic end of national security policy also have striking similarities that are especially outraging for the left. “All that power you didn’t like when someone else had it, you kept it. Oh my God, you’re Frodo,” exclaimed Jon Stewart, the left-wing host of The Daily Show who voted for Obama in 2008. As journalist Eli Lake wrote, “When it comes to the legal framework for confronting terrorism, President Obama is acting in no meaningful sense any different than President Bush after 2006, when the Supreme Court overturned the view that the president’s war times were effectively unlimited.”
One of the first actions President Obama took after taking the oath of office was to issue an executive order that was supposed to close Guantanamo Bay within one year. Today, and for the foreseeable future, the prison remains open. Nearly 50 detainees are still being held there indefinitely and others are being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in order to deny them habeas corpus. The Obama Administration, apparently awoken to the complexity of the problem, has decided to only prosecute the terrorists in civilian courts when they are certain it will result in a guilty verdict.
Like President Bush before him, President Obama is now unwilling to try suspected terrorists like those held at Guantanamo Bay if a reasonable chance for their release exists. And even when the Obama Administration tried to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial, they ultimately had to back down because, in the words of one official, it had become “politically untenable.” The Administration has now reversed course and is looking at possibly trying him in a military tribunal, another practice President Obama has continued that has been called “Bush lite.” It should also be mentioned that President Bush had previously voiced his support for closing Guantanamo Bay, and so there is no substantive difference between the two positions.
Various other Bush-era counter-terrorism measures have been continued. Although President Obama is banning the use of secret overseas prisons to hold terrorists seized from other countries, he is allowing the use of temporary prisons to hold the captives before they are transferred to their destination. The practice called “rendition” remains in effect. President Obama also irked some of the left-wing base by authorizing the CIA to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen in Yemen who is also a high-level Al-Qaeda terrorist tied to several plots against the homeland. Keith Olbermann harshly criticized the move because it effectively gives the death penalty to an American citizen without due process or even the presentation of evidence. Olbermann describes it as “a power not even claimed by the Bush-Cheney Administration.”
Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald expressed similar outrage, writing that “More critically still, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — defines the “battlefield” as the entire world. So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks.” [emphasis original]
The Obama Justice Department has also taken the side of its predecessor in several controversial cases. It has used the argument of “state secrets” to prevent lawsuits against the government, specifically over wiretaps. It has also served best-selling author James Risen with a subpoena in an investigation to find out who leaked classified information to him about CIA attempts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. The executive-director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reacted by saying, “as far as I can tell there is absolutely no difference [between Obama and Bush].”
President Obama is acting like a hawk in dove’s clothing, slickly continuing much of his predecessor’s national security policy while wrapping it in the articulate left-wing rhetoric that has propelled him into office. From Iraq to Guantanamo Bay, President Obama is under fire from left-wing icons like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. Whether it is due to crude political calculation or recognition of reality once in office or both, President Obama is a different leader than the one Senator Obama campaigned to be.
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