Obama’s War on Terror

The New York Times recently ran a story on BHO’s conduct of the terror war.  He was never committed to his liberal rhetoric* on the subject, the piece argues, and granted himself flexibility.  Among other things, his administration uses a fraudulent method of counting civilian deaths.  The article emphasizes Obama’s personal role- he decides who to kill, and he and his team deliberate in secret on what is and is not legal and moral, setting their own limits.

The piece relied heavily on leaks, leading naturally to speculation that the administration planted the story to portray Obama as solid anti-terror fighter.  Charles Krauthammer:

The piece relied heavily on leaks, naturally, which has led to speculation that the piece was a plant to paint Obama as tough on national security.  Great detail on how Obama personally runs the assassination campaign. On-the-record quotes from the highest officials. This was no leak. This was a White House press release.

He’s right so far, but he goes on to claim that this approach is necessary because “in crisis after recent crisis, Obama has looked particularly weak,” and goes on to list a series of right-wing grievances that almost nobody cares about.  For Krauthammer, any Democratic foreign policy message must necessarily be defensive, because everybody knows they are perceived as weak in that area.  The Iraq War and the bin Laden strike have had no impact on Krauthammer’s assumptions in this regard.**
I think the leaks are really designed to emphasize the role of Barack Obama, personally, in keeping us safe, as opposed to the role of an impersonal, permanent bureaucracy.
Recall how pro-Bush propaganda emphasized that he, personally, kept us safe from another terrorist attack, through personal qualities such as toughness and moral clarity.  Obama is now leaking that he has done so through his legendary cool resolve, and his deliberative mind which he deploys in the service of concocting moral and legal justifications less transparent than those of Bush/Cheney/John Yoo.
* One interesting feature of Obama’s rhetoric is that it sometimes seemed designed to shock professionally outraged conservatives- “see, this isn’t 2003 anymore; I can get away with this.”  He pointedly refused to wear an American flag lapel pin, calling this a “substitute for true patriotism.”  He declared he was uncomfortable using the word “victory” to talk about our military goals, particularly in Afghanistan.  Fox News has devoted tens of thousands of hours to his administration’s decision to stop using the phrase “War on Terror.”  Yet he continues to fight the War on Terror.

Obama was really pursuing flexibility, declaring independence from the Bush/Cheney rhetoric rather than tying himself down to a liberal position.  If you say we are committed to victory, you have to fight until you win a victory.  If you beat the drums of a Long, Global War on Terror, you are asking the public for an emotional commitment, and you leave your government little room for steps that seem to signal less than all-out commitment, in service of lesser goals such as international opinion; plus, you’re in trouble once that commitment starts to die down, as it had by the time of his election.

** Krauthammer notes that Obama got criticized for his ads exploiting the bin Laden killing, but Republicans and other critics appealed to the very same idea (don’t politicize foreign policy) that Democrats appealed to in the Bush years, which is why the sides traded hypocrisy charges.  This criticism doesn’t mean the ad was ineffective, any more than criticism of Bush’s “politicizing” of foreign policy meant it was ineffective.


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