The War on Terror–Bush Without the Stetson

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

There is much to criticize about President Obama on foreign policy, but increasingly, despite all the “reset button” rhetoric and the obligatory nods to the Left, his anti-terrorism policies are becoming near identical extensions (if in cynical fashion) of George Bush’s. 

I can’t think of a present-day anti-terrorism methodology that Team Obama (a) did not at one time blast as anti-constitutional and (b) does not now accept in its near entirety. Apparently, Obama has figured (perhaps rightly) that intercepts, the Patriot Act, Predator air attacks, renditions, tribunals, wiretaps, etc., are necessary, and that their earlier damnation by Obama et al. was simply political demagoguery of the sort necessary to galvanize the left-wing base that, now, forgivingly, accepts these measures as needed.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are essentially extensions of the 2006–8 Bush-Petraeus counter-insurgency strategies so savagely ridiculed during congressional testimony by Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Once again, the Left, fortunately for the country, sees the current flip-flopping — remember Obama’s promise to be out of Iraq by March 2008, or the Biden folly of trisecting Iraq, or Hillary’s “suspension of disbelief”? — as necessary expediency. Indeed, soon, Iraq is promised to be Obama’s “greatest achievement.”

Then there is the mandatory sop to those on the left who by this time are getting restless, which might best be called a virtual war against the war against terror. Yes, we have renamed the war with politically-correct euphemisms like “overseas contingency operations” aimed at “man-made disasters” — but nobody uses those terms privately. I am sure in both the White House and the Pentagon those who count still talk of terrorists and a war against them. So in this case, I use the adjective “virtual” literally.

We virtually shut down Guatanamo Bay — and suddenly both the Left and the European moralists went silent. We virtually tried KSM in a civilian court in New York, and that issue disappeared as well. We virtually hounded former CIA interrogators and White House lawyers, and, despite the futility of such loudly announced inquisitions, the very thought of them tantalized their critics.

So here we are back at the beginning — the Nobel Laureate is a continuance of George Bush on the war against terror; he has sized up both his domestic and foreign supporters and understood that their former outrage was not principled but largely emotional, driven by short-term political considerations, and thus centered on the caricature of a white, male, Christian, Texan cowboy, conjuring up all the easy tropes of anti-Americanism. Obama, to his credit, figured out that the Western world wanted to be kept safe, and that Bush had figured out how to do that, and that his own messianic presence could square that circle by being the un-Bush Bush. And so far such dissimulation has worked — even on the Right, which is in a quandary over whether to thank Obama for continuing a successful policy or be furious at him both for the prior damage his opportunistic and insincere jeremiads did to Bush and for his present inability to give any credit to his predecessor for protocols that he inherited and embraced. All that is weighed against the far more important fact we are safer because, despite the PC rhetoric, Obama became Bush in matters of anti-terrorism.

So here we are at full circle. Biden and Hillary have evolved from their 2006 fiery anti-Iraq rhetoric into regents of a magnificent “accomplishment” in Iraq. Obama, who once curtly drowned out General Petraeus in open hearing, is now his greatest supporter. We have Ivy League sanction now for blowing up men, women, and anything that breathes in the general vicinity of suspected terrorists targeted by Predator drones — even as we can still offer soapbox sermons on the waterboarding of three mass murderers and beheaders. Quite simply, intercepting, renditioning wiretapping, and tribunalizing Nobel Laureates with the name Barrack Obama don’t like doing that sort of stuff, so it really, sort of, does not happen. And if it keeps us safe, let the charade continue by all means — at least as long as anything can when it is based on a contradiction.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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