Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama, Bush, and moral consistency

With the stroke of a pen...

The Obama administration is a mere three days old and, as someone inclined to support it, I find that I'm struggling to maintain my moral footing.

The two developments that I attribute to my quandary?
  • Missiles from an unmanned drone (suspected to belong to the CIA) slammed into several villages in Pakistan, killing 15 people;
  • There is a seeming reluctance on the part of Obama to investigate the constitutional transgressions of the Bush administration.
Obama flexes, Pakistanis die

In geopolitics, muscle-flexing means killing people.

In a move that is surely intended to warn off any temptation toward military adventurism by rival nations during the early days of his administration, President Obama apparently authorized the missile attack on the Pakistani village. Fifteen people were killed and initial reports say that at least three children were among the dead. (Thanks to Ridwan Laher for the link).

Pawns in the Big Game
The target of some of the attacks was the residence of an unnamed person described as a "pro-Taliban tribesman," whatever that means. But it doesn't take too much imagination to surmise that the reason this attack took place today is not because there was some unique and inviting grouping of al Qaeda members, but because the Obama administration needed to send a message.

In the '80s and '90s, Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton used Iraq as a convenient bombing site whenever they needed to do a little military muscle-flexing. But Junior killed that golden goose with his illegal invasion. Obama now seems to have determined that the mountainous region of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border will be the new sounding board for his geopolitical commentary.

And now I'm forced to confront a reality about my new president. At least in the realm of geopolitics, "change" might just be skin deep.

If not Lincoln or FDR, why Bush?

In yesterday's post, A return to the rule of law, I wrote that, in light of the fact that the United States had endured attacks more dire than 911 in the past without abandoning her ideals, the Bush administration's subsequent disregard of the Constitution demanded investigation, indictment, and prosecution. But then, Dan Binmore pointed out that in the two cases I cited, the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and the Empire of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, each of the presidents had responded with their own constitutional abuses. And he's right, of course.

"If you're gonna make an omelet, ya gotta break some eggs."
President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus at least three times over the course of the Civil War. And President Roosevelt issued the infamous Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans in "relocation centers." Yet both of these presidents are hailed as heroes and are named among our greatest presidents.

So, why should Bush be subjected to investigation? As conservative blogger, Ken, put it: "Certainly both actions by Lincoln and FDR were unconstitutional, but then the question begs: Do you do what you have to in a time of war to protect American lives, and then make the apologies later? Or do we try to get it right as we go, and cost the lives of God knows how many people? It would seem that in the case of two American icons, Lincoln and FDR, it was the [former], yet they are both viewed as saviors of our nation, and rightly so."

Well, the only argument I can make in response is this: I cannot right the wrongs committed before I was born. But I must do what I can to see that justice is served in my own time.

The clamor for investigation and prosecution of potential crimes committed by the Bush administration continues to grow. The disregard and abuse of the Constitution by team Bush is well-documented. No less a figure than Big Dick himself has admitted to authorizing interrogation techniques for which the United States convicted officers of the Imperial Japanese Army post-WWII.

But President Obama hasn't shown a lot of enthusiasm for following the trail of torture, illegal wire-tapping, and falsified intelligence wherever it leads. Although he has done an admirable job of undoing the most egregious of Bush's excesses regarding the treatment of prisoners, that's only half the job.

Another reality I am forced to confront: Obama may be more interested in preserving his political capital than in seeing justice served.

Alas, alas, America

Such is the price of being on the winning side, I suppose. It's not a position in which I have found myself often. In fact, this last election is only the second presidential election since I started voting in 1980, in which I have voted for the winning candidate. (If you're wondering, the other was in 1992.)

I pride myself on my integrity and my moral consistency. But I also know that all of us must operate from positions we can't completely defend.

Maybe that's the truth I must apply to Obama. Maybe being president means one's compromises and transgressions have greater magnitude. And, that means that Obama, like Bush, will operate outside what is conceived as "justice."

Maybe it's just a matter of degree...


Anonymous said...

This just means that Bush knew what he was doing all along and Obama is nothing more than his apprentice as is made evident by the numerous Bush policies left in place.

Anonymous said...

I have no illusions that I will disagree with many things that Obama does. I am also of the mind that -- while investigating the Bush administration should be done, in terms of putting in safeguards for the future -- it's not the most pertinent immediate matter.

As far as the missile issue goes, I hope that the Obama administration is working to change its strategy in dealing with the Taliban matter altogether. However, I don't think such a strategic change can happen overnight. Of course, I'm also not going to be surprised if Obama does act with missiles at times. We've seen other Dems do the same.

Heather Ann said...

Dade, you mirror my sentiments exactly. The Predator drones are among the creepiest things ever invented. I am still hoping this policy will change...but Obama has been quick to make other changes, I had wished this would be one of them.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dade, I probably should have posted my reply here as well as on Blatherings!

Anyway, I like your blog!

It's going to be interesting to see which of the Bush procedures that Obama leaves in place. He's gotten rid of some very unpopular ones, but he's probably going to have to keep some in regards to interrogation, etc.

We shall see!!

micky said...

This just means that Bush knew what he was doing all along and Obama is nothing more than his apprentice as is made evident by the numerous Bush policies left in place.