Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama on National Security: I Am Doing the Right Things; I Have Not Broken Campaign Promises

[Update: Even the mainstream media have begun to make similar arguments that I make in this essay regarding the Supreme Court and Obama's national security decisions. Also, thanks to TalkLeft for initiating a thread on the issue (and graciously linking to this post).]

Obama made an interesting speech today. To summarize, Obama basically said he is doing the right things regarding national security, despite the difficulties, and that he has not abandoned any of his campaign promises. Nuance is key to understanding these promises, I suppose. For those of you who do not trust my sarcastic summary, here is the long version of the President's speech: Obama Speech Transcript.

More of the Same?
Throughout the Democratic primaries, the progressive wing of the party said that Obama was extraordinarily liberal, while Hillary Clinton offered "more of the same" (as Bush). But when Obama embraces "preventive detention," this sounds the same as Bush's maligned practice of "indefinite detention." Obama wants to detain dangerous individuals consistent with the "rule of law," but Bush did the same thing, although he called detainees "enemy combatants." "Enemy combatants" sound "dangerous" to me.

Obama has opted to utilize "kinder, gentler" military tribunals, but, like the Bush version, they will operate under a watered-down version of due process in order to secure easier convictions. As a compromise, Obama could have chosen to follow the stricter procedures contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- which govern the prosecution of military personnel for crimes ranging from sodomy to treason. Instead, he has chosen to "stay the course" with slight modifications.

Obama reports that he will reform Bush's tribunals by giving defendants greater freedom to pick their own lawyers and by requiring the government to demonstrate the reliability of hearsay evidence. These reforms, however, will unlikely represent a substantial departure from practices during the Bush administration. Military courts receive so much criticism in part because one entity serves as police, prosecutor, judge, and jury. So, even if Obama changes the hearsay rule, the military (as judge) will still decide whether the military (as prosecutor) can introduce hearsay evidence collected by the military or the CIA (as police officer) for use in a military proceeding (a criminal prosecution). Focusing only on the promise to reform the hearsay rule and not the process for evaluating its reliability is a mere distraction.

Supreme Court Implications
Civil liberties organizations have already promised to file lawsuits challenging the military courts. In two different rulings, the Supreme Court invalidated the procedures used in Bush's military tribunals. Potentially, the Court could rule against Obama's courts, especially if he chooses a "true" liberal to replace Justice Souter.

I suspect that for this and other reasons, Obama will aim for the middle and for familiarity. This standard works against Judge Sonia Sotomayor (whom people have labeled as a leftist without reading her opinions) and Professor Pam Karlan (who is a bona fide leftist).

Elena Kagan, however, is probably the presumptive front runner. She is the most moderate of the individuals on the reported short list. More importantly, Kagan has already embraced the expansive notion of indefinite (sorry: "preventive") detention that Obama says he will utilize. Furthermore, she is a known quantity to President Obama, and he undoubtedly asked her many questions about law and national security before selecting her to become the Solicitor General. Also, after Souter announced his retirement, several leading Democrats floated a script that discouraged the selection of a sitting judge. Kagan is the the most popular front runner who is not a judge. Although this analysis sounds logical, I will decline to make a formal prediction. There are clearly many factors at stake.

Final Thoughts
Ironically, Obama, who ran as the antiwar candidate, is now the "war" president. He is the commander-in-chief in two ongoing offenses, including one in which he has authorized a "surge." As proof that his antiwar rhetoric is a distant memory, Obama has delivered a speech to justify his Bush-esque national security policy against liberal (and Cheney's) criticism in a building that houses the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, which rank among the most enduring of American symbols. This is a long road from the flag pin controversy.

Finally, I will leave readers with some "oldies but goodies" from Dissenting Justice. These articles argue that the Left set itself up for disappointment with its irrational exuberance surrounding Obama. He is, as Reverend Wright accurately stated during the campaign, a politician. All presidents before him were politicians as well. I was stunned that liberals refused to see this. So, to the formerly effusive and uncritical Left: I told you so. To everyone else, enjoy the articles.

Latest analysis on Dissenting Justice:

Cutting Through the Rhetoric Regarding Hate Crimes Legislation

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

* 2008 Is Not 1964: Why Liberal Mania and Conservative Panic Are Nothing But Melodrama

* Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State

* Head Explosion at The Nation: Left "Duped" by Its "Own Wishful Thinking"

* From the "Duh" Files: Effusive Political Adoration Does Not Lead to Social Change

* Warning to Progressives: NYT Proclaims Obama Will Govern From Center-Right

* Leftists Finally Realize Obama Is a Moderate; Huffington Post Suddenly Embraces Clinton and Political Center

* The "Left" Responds to Obama's "Centrist" Foreign Policy Team

* Reality Check: Obama's Election Victory Does Not Mean That Era of Race-Based Identity Politics Has Died

* Back Down Memory Lane: A Review of Anti-Clinton Rhetoric by "Progressives" on Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and AlterNet

* Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath


James H said...

I must say I am torn. I am actually well pleased that the Predsident is taking these steps and on the other I found the speech the most infuriating thing I have heard in a while

I guess as a Bush/McCain supporter I find this all so unfair. But that is politics

I wish President Obama would do one thing. That is "Man Up". Just do it

Here are my observations.

(1) I thought the Speech was sadly a tad too partisan. I realize that Presidents must do at time but I prefer they don't do it at the National Archives. I suppose givng this type of Speech at Washington's grave might have been a tad more obscene

(2) The ongoing campaign against Bush is getting old. For a person that wants to move "forward" it seems he is having a hard time doing so. The President at times seems to want to have a "Ford" moment and then goes off in another direction. He is against a truth commission but acts like he can be a disinterested observor as to what Congress and the Justice Department does as to investigations. Is anyone buying that? Just "Man Up" take a position. I think we know where Obama wants to go but he just will not do it.

(3) Don't get me started on the Military Tribunals (which I support). It looks to me a lot like the Bush plan. I am fine with that but if you are going to do that try not to make your predecessor sound like Stalin

Again, and I know I am a biased conservative, but it is like a lot of the speeches the PResident has given. Once you read it you realize there is nothing much there.

The thing is this will work. I really enjoyed your post on if the young folks are getting more progressive.

It struck me as to the recent Notre Dame Controversy what protestors where not there. That is the folks if it had been a President Mccain had been there.

It appears the Obama policy on Iraq is in the end like the McCain or even Bush viewpoint. Where were the anti War protesters at Notre Dame? Were were the protestors out there talking about the reving of a war in Pakistan?

It appears that as to enhanced interrogation and the WOT the Obama policy is looking very much like the Bush policy. Obama might get rid of water boarding but will anything else will really change .And that will work!! In fact everything is waterboarding waterboarrding. But as I suspect you have far more concerns in those memos than that.

We are currently using rendition to the other countries for example. Where were the anti torture protesters at Notre Dame?

Bush and McCain as well as a good number of Republicans supported immigration reform. It appears that Obama is in no hurry to move on that. Where were the consistent ethic of life protesters on that at Notre Dame?

The fact is those Catholic College graduates (progressive with a Catholic Social Justice trappings) are like much of the public. Just give us National Health care and we don't care what you do with prisoner x being sent to undisclosed secret palce y in undisclosed country Z. All that is so 2008 elections.

So it will work!! As a person that actually supports where Obama on these issues I guess it is going to be my my poltical purgatory to just have to swallow the double standard

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Good morning, James. You sound, um, cynical! That's ok. It is a common (and helpful) trait around this blog.

Anyway, on one of your points -- I think that Obama condemned Bush for two reasons: 1. Cheney's un-Vice Presidential critiques, and 2. The left's argument that he is "just like" Bush. I agree -and have argued many times - that he (and the Left) need to come clean. If they like Bush's policies -- admit it! If not, then there is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the land. I voting for the hypocrisy explanation - but then again, I'm a cynic.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: James - while you were posting a comment, I was editing the entry. I added some new things....

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Hutchinson: You continue to protest that the objector's to Sonia Sotomayor aren't reading her opinions> Stuart Taylor has read some of her utterances. What do you think of Sotomayor's vote in the New Haven case? Or the dismaying notion that "wise Latina women" i.e. Sotomayor, are going to reach better conclusions than all us white guys. Nor have you responded to Judge Sotomayor's worst deficiency: she is a long serving appellate judge. I think it fair to say that you would endorse the notion that a more diverse Supreme Court would be a better one. Move over white guys, let some other identity groups have a chance. OK, why not include serving federal judges to that list of overrepresented groups> Ever since Sam Alito was chosen, the Supreme Court has been nine alumni of the federal appellate benches. Is this group of masterminds the ne minus ultra of the Court? Easy enough to say that those bawling for "outside federal judicial experience" are just shilling for Elena Kagan. By now you must realize that I wouldn't have Kagan at any price, short of The One and His 60 Senators Express shoving her in. So why not address the notion that serving somewhere besides the appellate bench might have good results on the Supreme Court? Better yet, put Janice Rogers Brown on the Court. She is a) black b) a woman and c) on the federal appellate bench. The perfect identity candidate! Trouble is, she will vote Right, instead of "right." Every Ivy League law school would need a supertanker full of absinthe to cushion such a shock as Brown's appointment would be.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

Mark G said...

He is, as Reverend Wright accurately stated during the campaign, a politician. All presidents before him were politicians as well.

A corollary observation -- becuase he is first and foremost a politician (and a good one) President Obama will seldom take any action that taht will leave him stranded outside the mainstream of popular opinion.

That's where Bush went wrong on Iraq -- popular opinion supported going to war, but only if it could be brought to a tidy conclusion in 3 years or less. President Obama solved this problem by declaring that we are getting out of Iraq, then quietly pursuing a plan that is hard to distinguis from Bush's "come home after success" plan. But I digress.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...


The Taylor article you cite is NOT a discussion of Sotomayor's body of judicial opinions. And I have referenced discussions of them -- primarily at the SCOTUS blog. The blog has published a 4-part series on her judicial opinions. The thought she is a judicial leftist is baseless. She has ruled against many discrimination plaintiffs, and she even ruled against the Center for Reproductive Rights. Rosen's Reviewers Suddenly Get Names! The Rici case does not change this. The Second Circuit panel AND the full Second Circuit were split on the ruling, and I suspect that the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 on the matter. Perhaps you believe the 4 liberals are raging lefties, but that is a distortion.

Second, on the particular point that Taylor makes, I wrote an essay on that one too. Before rushing to judge Sotomayor on race and gender politics, you should include Scalia, Ginsburg, O'Connor, and Kennedy in that analysis too: Strikingly Similar: Comparing Sotomayor's Views on Sex and Race With Statements By O'Connor, Ginsburg, Scalia and Kennedy.

Finally, with respect to your rhetorical question about Janice Rogers, asking Obama to pick her is about as ridiculous as someone having asked Bush I to appoint Thelton Henderson rather than Clarence Thomas. Clearly ideology matters in judicial appointments. People who deny this are either ignorant of history or simply playing politics. Earth to Obama: Your Supreme Court Choice Is SUPPOSED to Galvanize Republicans

Aeneas said...

I didn't listen much to the pundits re: O's speech. Actually, the only one I read was TOTUS and rolled on the floor laughing. Yeah... THAT echo was amazing. Nothing like your own words coming back at you a second later. Very bracing, I am sure.

Anyway, as I said, I didn't listen to the pundits and didn't listen to the two speeches (O vs. C) in their entirety. Soar throat, couldn't yell at the screen; as for actually reading the speech--not with my butterfly attention span.

So... my conclusion (besides the awesome echo that reflected really the effect of the speech; I'll say no more): from where I sat on the couch, working on a Ricola honey and herb drop, Mr.O sounded to me like he was playing defense against the very aggressive Mr. C, who had no echo and didn't play pinpong with his head. AS you said--Mr. O attacked Bush (yes, it's getting very, very old. Soon we'll see it on SNL) then defended what he was doing which was (gasp!) the same stuff as Bush. I opt for hypocrisy also.

Bottom line--for Heaven's sake, Mr. President, chose ONE path that you believe--YOU, not the ACLU, or the pundits, or your old buddies, or Cheney, or Reid, or whoever, but one that YOU have confidence in--will CONTINUE (note the word continue; I am of the opinion, that whatever we want to call the Bush Administration, there were no terrorists attacks)to keep us secure and confident in our government that it can keep us secure. Right now, I have no confidence whatsoever. Confidence is half the battle.

The speech was a study in... well... cynical politics. Period.

I am a bit digusted.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aeneas: i learned a long time ago to read thre transcripts the video later (if necessary).


Aeneas said...

TOTUS--Teleprompter Of The United States.

It has a blog and reports the behind the scenes scene as it travels with the President. It's a hoot. Really. TOTUS even twitters. Ha!

I guess it appeals to my sense of the absurd.

KaJo said...

Absurdity is failing to acknowledge (or point out, if you actually KNOW these things) that 99% of politicians and electronic media anchorpersons use a Teleprompter.

Ronald Reagan used a Teleprompter extensively ( -- -- )

Bush Senior used a Teleprompter ( ).

McCain used a Teleprompter AND a TV screen ( ).

Sarah Palin's rabble-rousing was delivered courtesy of a Teleprompter ( ).

Bill O'Reilly on "Inside Edition" had a hissy fit when his Teleprompter didn't say what he thought it was supposed to ( -- funny!).

Dennis Miller, when he had that unfunny late night show, used a Teleprompter. He probably still does.

What I find most absurd is the supposition that seems to be most prevalent on right-leaning blogs that the current President has the alternative option of just snapping his fingers and 1) Gitmo, 2) the war in Afghanistan, 3) the war in Iraq and 4) Dick Cheney will just "poof", go away. "Magic Negro" hasn't gone underground in right-wing circles, evidently.

It's going to take all 4 years of Obama's current term to resolve the differences between what Bush & Co. were doing (illegal or immoral) and what Obama himself is trying to do, politically tiptoe through Bush's remaining minefields of foreign diplomacy and satisfactorily resolve all 3 issues.

For a guy whose ticker is on the verge of not ticking any more, it's amazing to me that Dick Cheney has the verbal bile and facial sneer working so well for him.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Prof. Hutchinson's citing the Rev. Wright famous comment that "Barack is just another typical politician...he'll say and do anything to get elected". How prophetic from a man who knew TOTUS' limitations and his flip-flopping affliction. Surely, Obama has already proven that his is the Third Bush Dynasty Term. Dubya himself would be envious of the "democratic" progress under this new Trojan horse version of the Bushy presidency. Obama's lacking gravitas, his inexperience and his manipulable narcissistic personality (witness Wall Street/Gay-Lesbian issues/Gitmo/FISA) have made a mockery of his "Change and Hope" mantra. It would take a punch-drunk "democratic" party to believe that the new prez is anything but a xeroxed copy of the Dubya Presidency. Wonder how many democrats will be giggling when Barack snatches the War Monger of the Decade Award from his predecessor's sad legacy.

And TOTUS, ye Zeus!, is still being hidden and protected from his blatant policy blunders and lack of gravitas by the same biased, misogynist leg-thriller media that pushed an incompetent, anorexic resume and an aggressively fraudulent campaign to the top job in the world.

KaJo said...

Anonymous @ 4:44 PM, your diatribe is a typical example of "projection".

I recall reading the exact words, the ENTIRE PHRASE you use to describe Obama in a Huffington Post "Obama vs. Cheney" piece just yesterday.

That's plagarism when you lift the comment without quoting the author, except when it's in an e-mail from Sean HIS case it's probably plagarism twice over.

(ha, ha)

thedeanpeople said...

We Should Call It What It Really Is: Paranoid Detention

The other labels concede the lie that this is "about them" (and their "threat"), rather than the truth that it is about us (and our fear).

Obama has adopted the core bushcheney/beltway paranoia -- about how to treat "evildoers" on both sides of the permanent "war on terra."

What Obama and the rest of the DC/Euphemedia Analstocracy needs is a large dose of psychological and historical reality.

We'd dealt fairly successfully with global terrorism long before cheney scurried into his bunker to obsess over every 1% threat he could imagine. One and a half successes by terrorists in multiple decades is hardly cause for permanent national alarm.

What Obama's paranoid detention plan (and all his other waronterra actions) betrays is that it was too audacious a hope to think that he was not the creature of the beltway that he has appeared to be all along -- that somehow taking the oath would transform him into a voice of reason, as opposed to a voice of continued fear-based rationalization.

The notion that our founding principles, our Constitution, and the treaty promises our greater generations made have suddenly become "quaint" and have now failed us -- that we must create "special purpose entities" (like Enron and the Banksters), rather than abide by their collective wisdom and experience -- is the core "non-reality" that will continue to eat like an acid through our social fabric.


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