Early on in the Obama administration, I had a series of blog posts labeled “Bush’s Third Term.”  I meant it in a nice way.  Here’s a snippet from February 2009, five weeks after the inauguration:

After winning in November, Obama co-opted Hillary and her one-time support for the war by naming her Secretary of State. But the clearest indication that the grown-ups would be in charge of the war came when Obama announced that he was retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq. I feel much better about the Obama Presidency now than I did on Election Day.

More than three years have passed since then, and Obama surrogates have taken to crowing that “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.” The Obama campaign engaged in an unseemly end-zone dance for the first anniversary of the Osama takedown.  As so often happens, it falls to Charles Krauthammer to pull all the pieces together into a sardonic mosaic.  In his column yesterday, Dr. K wrote:

The Osama-slayer card having been vastly overplayed, what to do? A new card: Obama, drone warrior, steely and solitary, delivering death with cool dispatch to the rest of the al-Qaeda depth chart.

So the peacemaker, Nobel laureate, nuclear disarmer, apologizer to the world for America having lost its moral way when it harshly interrogated the very people Obama now kills, has become — just in time for the 2012 campaign — Zeus the Avenger, smiting by lightning strike.

A rather strange ethics. You go around the world preening about how America has turned a new moral page by electing a president profoundly offended by George W. Bush’s belligerence and prisoner maltreatment, and now you’re ostentatiously telling the world that you personally play judge, jury and executioner to unseen combatants of your choosing and whatever innocents happen to be in their company.

This is not to argue against drone attacks. In principle, they are fully justified. No quarter need be given to terrorists who wear civilian clothes, hide among civilians and target civilians indiscriminately. But it is to question the moral amnesia of those whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the Bush methods that kept America safe for a decade — and who now embrace Obama’s campaign of assassination by remote control.

Moreover, there is an acute military problem. Dead terrorists can’t talk.

It’s always hard to decide what to leave out of a Krauthammer cut-and-paste.  Read the whole thing.

Props to the Prez for Getting bin Laden

Got it done.

I’ve been highly critical of President Obama in the past, and I have no doubt that I will be again.  I’m opposed to essentially his entire domestic agenda, and I hope to help vote him out of office 18 months from now.

However.

On the foreign affairs and national security front, Obama’s performance has been a mixed bag — which is to say, much better than on domestic matters.  After the newly elected President retained Bush’s defense secretary, I started tagging some of my posts with Bush’s Third Term.  Obama went on to allow the Iraq war to stay won, and properly escalated in Afghanistan.  (I’m puzzled by Libya, but hoping for the best.)

For at least the next 20 months, Obama is my president, and on some level I wish him well — particularly in his role as commander-in-chief.  I have nothing but contempt for Rush Limbaugh’s pre-election “I hope he fails” rhetoric, or for his sarcasm in the wake of Obama’s success this week.

The 1980 debacle at Desert One

The SEALS did the most dangerous part of the mission, of course, but don’t underestimate the danger Obama stared down in giving the green light. The mission went off flawlessly — but there was no guarantee of that.  The compound could have been more heavily defended, multiple helicopters could have been lost.  It’s not hard to imagine an outcome like Desert One in 1980, which cost eight American lives and contributed to Jimmy Carter’s defeat.

The safer route would have been to have a Predator launch a missile into the compound — zero chance of American casualties, and presumably 100% casualties in the compound.  But that would have meant the death of multiple women and children, and no guarantee that bin Laden would subsequently be identified.

Despite the risks, despite not being certain that bin Laden was even in the compound, Obama signed off on the mission.  It could have ended badly, but it did not, and Obama deserves enormous credit for a landmark victory in the war against Islamic fascism.  Congratulations, Mr. President, and thank you.

Now about that healthcare bill…

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An Xtranormal animation of two co-workers arguing in the break room highlights the differing standards by which Presidents Obama and Bush have been judged regarding their interventions in Libya and Iraq. The deadpan delivery of the computer-generated voices adds a humorous edge.

An excerpt of the dialogue:

He: “So Obama is killing civilians in a pre-emptive, unfunded war for oil, promoted by the dictators of the Arab League along with the UN, in support of some unidentified rebels who he’s never met with, and you are fine with all that?”

She: “He is a man of peace.  Did you know he even got the Nobel Peace Prize?  Just like Morgan Freeman.”

It’s 5:04 minutes well worth watching.

 

War is different from crime-fighting.  Prisoners of war logically should be treated differently from people accused of crimes.  No battlefield reading of Miranda rights while the gunfire continues.  No presumption of innocence, no standard of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

President Obama, to his credit, recognized this reality again yesterday in signing an executive order providing for the resumption of military tribunals and a system of indefinite detention for some of the prisoners housed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The executive order recognizes the reality that some Guantanamo Bay detainees will remain in U.S. custody for many years, if not for life. The new system allows them the prospect of successfully arguing in the future that they should be released because they do not pose a threat.

No mention in the order or in Obama’s statement about the ill-fated promise to close Gitmo within a year of becoming president.  I’m opposed to just about everything the Obama is doing domestically, but on national security matters, he tends to end up in the right place, despite some initial missteps.

I just finished reading Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars on my Kindle.  The downside of the Kindle is that I now do not have a hardbound copy of the book to display next to my copies of Woodward’s four books on the Bush administration.  But as with the Bush books, or three of them anyway, I came out of the book feeling better about the President than I did when I started reading.

I criticized the President for announcing a drawdown date at the same time he announced the much-needed escalation of the war in Afghanistan.  But the book makes it clear that although electoral politics certainly played a role, the primary purpose was to put pressure on the Karzai government to step up its efforts to take responsibility for the country’s security.  And the administration immediately began to make clear that July 2011 would be an inflection point, not a withdrawal date.

I’m opposed to pretty much everything Obama is doing domestically, but on national security issues he tends to eventually get it right, despite some initial missteps.

(Note: I’ve added Obama’s Wars to my Amazon widget in the right-hand column. If you order that or any book after clicking into Amazon through my widget, I supposedly get a tiny cut of the action.  I’m just sayin’.)

Operational discipline limited the display of the American flag while serving in Iraq — but these soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade have just crossed the border into Kuwait. Photo: Washington Post

Just over a month into the new Administration, I wrote:

President Obama today announced an Iraq withdrawal plan that George Bush would be proud to call his own. Actually, it IS Bush’s own.

Don’t be fooled by the lawyerly language in his pledge to complete “the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq” by August 2010. He’s leaving up to 50,000 troops in place until the end of 2011, and I guarantee that they’ll have weapons and the capability of responding with more than battalion strength. I’m not sure how he’s defining “combat brigades,” but he must be dancing close to an outright lie — a brigade is only 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, it looks to me like he’s leaving three divisions in place.

Thank God.

Today the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division left Iraq, marking the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Now begins Operation New Dawn, under which

… the United States will have six brigades in Iraq, by far its smallest footprint since the 2003 invasion. Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded “advise and assist brigades.” The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops. Under a bilateral agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

Even though the war isn’t over, this is a milestone worth celebrating.  As a testament to the effectiveness of Bush’s “surge” — which succeeded quickly enough to prevent Obama from surrendering — the 4th Stryker Brigade did not suffer a single combat casualty during the one-year tour that just ended.  On the brigade’s previous tour in 2007-2008, 37 brave soldiers paid the ultimate price.

In their honor, and in honor of all the troops who remain in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is from the Book of Common Prayer:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek International and CNN is a bright man and an insightful commentator.  In this 2:26 video, he does as good a job as I’ve seen of describing the ridiculous spectacle that the gulf oil disaster has become — from President Obama’s demeaning efforts to appear sufficiently angry, to the temporary neglect  of other pressing issues where the president’s personal involvement might actually be helpful.  (Hat tip: Glen Gill)

But Zakaria blames this on the news media, and I think that gets it backwards.  Yes, the media has been milking the drama for everything it’s worth (Day 60!) — but that’s what the media does.  It’s up to Obama to keep the media tail from wagging the presidential dog.  I would much rather see Obama leave the oil crisis in the hands of the experts and stick to his scheduled visit with Asian allies — instead of blowing them off for the second time.

Sometimes a president has to rise above public opinion and do what’s right.  George Bush showed how to do that by insisting on the surge in Iraq in the face of intense public pressure — and it worked so well that his successor, who campaigned on a platform of surrender at all costs, had little choice but to stay the course.

I guess you could argue that Obama showed similar fortitude by sticking with the immensely unpopular health care “reform” legislation.  But I’d call that rising above public opinion to do what’s wrong.

Newsweek Declares Victory in Iraq

… and in other news, pigs flew.  From this week’s Newsweek cover story, “Victory at Last“:

“Iraqi democracy will succeed,” President George W. Bush declared in November 2003, “and that success will send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation.” The audience at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington answered with hearty applause. Bush went on: “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

Bush’s rhetoric about democracy came to sound as bitterly ironic as his pumped-up appearance on an aircraft carrier a few months earlier, in front of an enormous banner that declared MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. And yet it has to be said and it should be understood—now, almost seven hellish years later—that something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq. And while it may not be a beacon of inspiration to the region, it most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.

Any recipe for defeating Islamic fascism has to include Islamic democracy as an ingredient.  Iraq could be not just Obama’s greatest accomplishment, but Bush’s as well.

Threat Level? Color Me Annoyed

terror flightThe plane landed safely, a happy Christmas Day ending to an apparent attempt to bring down an aircraft in flight.  It’s a good reminder that wherever we are, we potentially have enemies among us.  I was glad to hear that the nearby passengers apparently helped subdue the would-be terrorist.

So off to bed — but first, a request to the Obama Administration.  I’ve praised you in the past for continuing some of the Bush Administration’s policies regarding national security.  But there’s one Bush-era artifact I would love to see you abandon, and I just heard on the TV news that you may be planning to do exactly that.  Please — please — scrap the silly color-coded alert system.

There are many, many important issues to consider in the wake of this incident, but whether to raise the threat level from orange to red is not one of them.

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US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

I may have been too quick to sneer yesterday at President Obama’s appearance in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

The prize itself is still ridiculous, of course.  (And don’t get me started on the statue.)  But in addition to the obvious point that the honor is unearned, the president has faced critics from his left who believe the recent escalation of Mr. Obama’s War is inconsistent with the prize.

Seeking to answer those critics, Obama used his acceptance speech to issue a ringing declaration of American exceptionalism (although he would not use that term).

In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched one conservative after another find things to praise in the speech.  Neo-neocon (not an Obama fan) called it “the most robust defense of American military action I’ve ever heard him give,” and quoted this passage (my emphasis):

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason…

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.

In a post in The Corner titled “Obama the Neocon,” Michael Ledeen said:

It’s “only a speech,” to be sure.  And there things I wish he hadn’t said, or said differently.  But it’s a very different sort of speech, and it contained many words that are downright neoconnish:

America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements — these movements of hope and history — they have us on their side.

It sure sounds like President Obama just endorsed the Green Movement in Iran.

In a roundup titled “Conservative Praise for Obama Speech,” Politico notes the endorsement of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich:

It’s already being called the “Obama Doctrine” – a notion that foreign policy is a struggle of good and evil, that American exceptionalism has blunted the force of tyranny in the world, and that U.S. military can be a force for good and even harnessed to humanitarian ends.

“I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn’t be able to have a peace prize, without having [the ability to use] force,” Gingrich said. “I thought in some ways it’s a very historic speech.”

The conservative other conservatives love to hate, Kathleen Parker, wrote in the Washington Post:

The speech was a signal moment in the evolution and maturation of Obama from ambivalent aspirant to reluctant leader.

Rising to the occasion, he managed to redeem himself at a low point in his popularity by reminding Americans of what is best about themselves.

At Contentions, Jennifer Rubin (really not an Obama fan):

But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House.

I could go on and on. (I guess I already have.)  I expect in the future I will continue to have more criticism than praise for Mr. Obama. But while I am always proud to be an American, today I am proud of my President.

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Not Quite the Clarion Call I Had in Mind, But…

White House photo of the announcement at West Point

… I like the fact that Obama said he would expedite the deployment of the additional troops to Afghanistan.

I went to bed annoyed about the wishy-washyness of what David Ignatius has labeled the “surge, then leave” strategy — why commit to a July 2011 date to begin drawing down the troops?  The administration can’t even predict how many Americans will accept free money to buy a new car. What makes them think  they can predict that the country will be stable enough to start leaving in 18 months — in a situation where the enemy gets a vote?

But this morning I remembered that with Guantanamo, Obama has already proven his ability to abandon a silly deadline.  Once the troops are deployed, the boots on the ground will be real.  The withdrawal date will be a goal.

It’s Mr. Obama’s war now.

(White House photo of the announcement at West Point)

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