Michael Hayden, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director under President George W. Bush, delivered a speech yesterday where he outlined the ways that President Barack Obama has managed a “practical consensus,” which has fostered “powerful continuity between two vastly different presidents”—himself and his predecessor, Bush.
At the University of Michigan last Friday, according to Wired, Hayden said, “Obama came to embrace Bush’s positions. Both Bush and Obama said the country was at war. The enemy was al-Qaida. The war was global in nature. And the United States would have to take the fight to the enemy, wherever it may be.”
Hayden noted “targeted killings” had “increased under Obama.” They had gone up because he closed CIA “black site” prisons and ended torture of detainees. Capturing terror suspects for imprisonment became “politically dangerous,” so Obama took another route: he just decided to kill them all. (Of which, Hayden said: “I don’t morally oppose that.”)
The former CIA director highlighted Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo, the administration’s invoking of the state secrets privilege in “war on terror” cases and supporting the continued legalization of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program through the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act. He personally thanked Obama for invoking state secrets because in some of the cases he had been named as a defendant.
This is not the first time that Hayden has spoken about the continuity between Bush and Obama. It is not the first time that conservatives or neoconservatives have highlighted the Obama administration’s expansion and normalization of the “targeted killing” program or other “war on terror” policies Bush became notorious for either. Throughout Obama’s first term, former Bush officials have sought to vindicate themselves over policies for which they were criticized by going to the media or public to make these kinds of statements.
Former vice president Dick Cheney said in an NBC interview in January 2011, “In terms of a lot of the terrorism policies — the early talk, for example, about prosecuting people in the CIA who’ve been carrying out our policies — all of that’s fallen by the wayside. I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate.” Former Bush Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyer wrote in 2009, “The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit.” Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who authorized torture at Abu Ghraib, said in September 2011 Obama had accepted much of the Bush doctrine out of necessity.
In some instances, they’ve also displayed jealousy at the fact that Obama has been able to expand the “targeted killing” program in ways the Bush administration could never have done.
Supporters of unrestrained executive power, like former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and torture advocate Jose Rodriguez, have said,” “How can it be more ethical to kill people than to capture them?” Torture memo author Steven Bradbury has said, “If the president says we can kill an American citizen in Yemen through the Executive Branch decision you’re an enemy combatant—I support that—why in the world couldn’t we hold them for intelligence gathering [indefinitely or for a number of days without Mirandizing them]?” It is why the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial that the victims of drone attacks were “missing detainees” because they can’t be dragged to Guantanamo, Bagram or some CIA black site to be waterboarded. And it is why John Yoo, also a torture memo author, wrote recently, “Candidate Obama campaigned on narrowing presidential wartime power, closing Guantanamo Bay, trying terrorists in civilian courts, ending enhanced interrogation, and moving away from a wartime approach to terrorism toward a criminal-justice approach. Mr. Obama has avoided these vexing detention issues simply by depriving terrorists of all of their rights—by killing them.”
The “terror war” accomplishments of the Obama administration were front and center during the week of the Democratic National Convention. This prompted the Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes to highlight how it was unusual that these accomplishments were “talking points” because typically the Republicans have been the party of national security.
Barnes called Obama’s use of drones as a “principal weapon in the war on terrorism” a “signature” policy. As further example of how the parties have switched, with Democrats promoting jingoism while Republicans offer cautious pragmatism on a few of the policies, the fact that “missile strikes have targeted not just top-level militant leaders but also their foot soldiers” was noted:
“‘Mowing the grass’—that is, cutting down targets guilty of nothing more than being men of military age—is dangerously counterproductive,” said [Jonah] Blank, now at the Rand Corporation think tank. “Yes, it keeps al Qaeda somewhat off balance, but is that a good trade-off for the hatred of 185 million people in Pakistan and many more throughout the Muslim world?”
Mr. [Stephen] Biddle at George Washington says the campaign has reduced the threat of a spectacular attack against the U.S. but risks getting America stuck in a war without a clear end. “The problem with the drone campaigns is they tend to reduce the threat to a low simmer, but it never ends the problem,” he said. “We don’t want to end up in a situation like the Israelis, where we are locked in an endless conflict with implacable foes.”
Despite the normalization of the use of drones to kill terror suspects, the Obama administration and Democratic Party have been reluctant to take credit. The party line during the week of the convention must have been do not take questions on drones because Michael Tracey of The American Conservative was thrown out of the media section for asking Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett about drone strikes and John Cook put together a video for Gawker showing how painful it was for Democrats to answer one question, “Is Mitt Romney ready for the kill list?”
A local news reporter from Ohio broke standard operating procedure at these kind of conventions and chose to ask Obama a tough and meaningful question about drones. Ben Swann asked:
…The so-called presidential kill list that’s gotten a lot of attention and this list of folks who have been targeted for assassination. And on that list have been US citizens who have not been afforded trial, including Anwar Al-Awlaki. How do you as president or any president any matter regardless of party or person utilize that power to assassinate US citizens?
First of all, you’re basing this on reports in the news that have never been confirmed by me and I don’t talk about our national security decisions in that way…More broadly, our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those that would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America and that’s why it’s not just Bin Laden but a whole tier of al Qaeda leadership has been taken off of the field. That’s part of what has allowed us to now begin to transition out of Afghanistan, to begin to bring our troops home.
Swann put this into context by adding Obama had been killing people without judicial process away from the battlefield in countries like Yemen. He informed viewers of statements made on the kill list by senior officials to the New York Times. And appropriately summed up the answer Obama gave him:
…The way the president played this issue with us is really quite telling. When questioned about the constitutionality of a president, any president, having the power to order the deaths of US citizens, he claims that he has never said he has a kill list and can’t discuss it further—a constitutional lawyer-turned-president using a power that violates the most basic principle in the Bill of Rights leaking his use of it when it is politically expedient then claiming it can’t be discussed when it’s not…
What was remarkable about Obama’s comment was not that he claimed to have not officially acknowledged it so it was not for discussion. The administration has been consistently abusing secrecy powers to not talk about the worst aspects of the targeted killing program. What was remarkable was how he said he does not talk about national security decisions that way, meaning he does not view the executions of terror suspects as a civil liberties issue.
It is a civil liberties issue. The American Civil Liberties Unions’s Hina Shamsi of the National Security Project has said, “The president claims the authority to unilaterally declare people enemies of the state including US citizens and order their killing based on secret legal criteria, secret process and secret evidence. There is no national security policy that poses a graver threat to human rights law and civil liberties than this policy today.” The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has filed a lawsuit against CIA and military officials for assassinating three American citizens and violating the US Constitution and international law. But, like his predecessor, Obama has worked to ensure the continuation and expansion of “war on terror” policies is shielded from scrutiny by civil liberties organizations and not discussed as issues of liberty.
In maintaining a culture of secrecy, he has not only fostered bipartisan consensus from the top-down but has also conditioned grassroots supporters of his administration to be silent or lash out at people who criticize the drone program. For example, Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill, who has traveled to Yemen to cover the not-so-secret drone war in the country, has appeared on the MSNBC show, “Up with Chris Hayes,” only to be hit with a barrage of attacks on Twitter from Obama supporters and liberals right after his appearance. He has been condemned for calling the killings “murder” and Hayes, himself, has faced attacks for covering this issue instead of other identity-based issues that could be trotted out to whip up more opposition among the Democratic Party base against the Romney/Ryan campaign. (Despite ad hominem attacks, the show continues to rightfully give the issue attention.)
A key question in the election should be whether Mitt Romney could be trusted to handle a kill list if he were president. However, liberals wish to wait until after the election, when the program has become more entrenched into bipartisan consensus, to criticize drone use. Liberals may not want Romney launching drone attacks on military-age males or “terror suspects” like Obama, but they do not think drones should be an issue in the 2012 election. However, if liberals and Democrats think Romney should not have this power, then one should conclude it is not a power that any president should have because the White House will not always be occupied by someone liberals view as a smooth operator.
This all leads to the inescapable conclusion, which the Black Agenda Report (BAR) has boldly and righteously advanced among the Black Left: that Obama is the “more effective evil.” He is because he has been able to advance policies of preventive detention, redefine war, wage war without borders and, in terms of the economy, merge banks and the state.
Glen Ford, BAR executive editor, recently wrote on September 5:
…Obama’s drone war policies, greatly expanded from that inherited from Bush, have vastly undermined accepted standards of international law. This president reserves the right to strike against non-state targets anywhere in the world, with whatever technical means at his disposal, without regard to the imminence of threat to the United States. The doctrine constitutes an ongoing war against peace – the highest of all crimes, now an everyday practice of the U.S…
BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley also wrote on September 5:
…The activists who opposed war during the Bush administration can’t seem to find their voices now. Instead they criticize Mitt Romney because he didn’t “mention” wars in his convention speech. It isn’t clear what these critics wanted to hear. Were they once again anti-war or had they already dropped those convictions once a Democrat became president? In any case, Romney has no room to criticize Obama because Obama is now the warmonger in chief, with the body count to prove it…
Heading into November, President Barack Obama has America on a path to further entrenching the perpetual war on “terrorism.” No longer packaged and pushed as the “war on terror,” he has cosmetically retooled how some of the worst Bush administration policies are presented to the public. In many cases, these policies are not publicly described to US citizens at all.
It has special operations forces in at least 75 countries and at least six countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, The Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen—have seen the US launch covert drone strikes within their borders.
Though a violation of sovereignty, John Kerry and other Democrats have bragged and boasted about being willing to carry out operations in Pakistan. They have no problem with the fact that 344 US strikes, 292 of them launched under Obama, have killed 2,500-3,300 people including 400 to 800 civilians. They express no concerns over the reality that over 1200 have been injured by the strikes and that Pakistan greatly opposes US drone strikes.
The neoconservative war doctrine has been modernized and fine-tuned. Unilateral preemptive war is no longer conducted with a large number of forces. Instead, the government under Obama covertly launches operations with forces spread out around the globe. At any time, a small operations squad can be sent in to target and kill or a drone can be launched to extrajudicially assassinate a person.
The imperial dominance of the world by America has been strengthened under Obama. Hayden, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other Bush officials are pleased, because what he has done dissuades future presidential candidates from promoting policies when they campaign that aim to address unchecked executive power. It shows the national security state will envelop anyone elected, forcing them to dial back their idealism. And, in the arc of history, it vindicates the Bush administration, which was accused of war crimes and other massive abuses of power but, now, thanks to Obama, they are free to write books, give speeches, pen op-eds and go on television to celebrate what they did and tell the world it was not they who were wrong but Obama, who just did not know what it took to be the leader of the so-called free world.