Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2009 retrospective: Obama disappointment.
"Dumb wars" and security fears make for a law-free executive.

Displays like this are still common in San Francisco.

Like most progressives, I hoped for a lot from the new administration. And we evidently aren't going to get it, especially in the realm of our country's continued efforts to control rather than live in the world.

As everyone knows, the President who once opposed "dumb wars" has endorsed the dumb Afghan adventure where he cannot convincingly assert he has allies (Europeans? -- they want out), or a local partner (Karzai? -- who couldn't survive election without fraud and can't get his cabinet through his own Afghan parliament?) to go after al Qaida, a formless collection of angry religious nuts who aren't even located in Afghanistan. The inertia of empire is a strong force indeed. Confronted with it, the best the new prez can do is is try to limit over-reach while feeding the beast.

I never really thought the guy was going to be able to turn empire around on a dime. Eventually this country will bankrupt itself in these idiot adventures and may be able to take back the blank check from the bloated military and its contractors.

But I did hope that an Obama presidency would restore some confidence that we have a government of laws, not men. This was not to be. Utilizing the same rationale as his predecessor -- the demands of a non-existent perfect "security" -- this president has continued to govern from the fiction that the threat of terrorist outrages means we are "at war" and consequently the executive should exercise unconstrained powers.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate offers a recent rundown of the slippery slope we're embarked upon. Current powers the president claims, especially continuing to hold Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release, amount to a repudiation of both rule of law and common sense. She concludes that

We have come so far from taking and holding prisoners, based on their own alleged bad acts, that we are justifying holding them forever based on imagined connections to the bad acts of others. ...

...If one accepts the claim that Guantanamo itself, in the words of the president on Tuesday, "has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda," every last prisoner at the camp becomes a walking argument against his own release. Not just because of what he may someday do to harm the United States, but because of what he may say to someone else who may in turn someday do something to harm the United States.

Go read this entire article -- it is clear and devastating.

Sadly, the excellent talking dog who has done a magnificent job since 2002 of chronicling the legal ins and out of the emerging dictatorial system has concluded about his former college classmate that

... the Obama approach to counter-terrorism is the same as George W. Bush's. Period.

Okay, so why should we care? This law-free regime has largely been used on poor and dopey foreign Muslim men. Abuse of the poor, the black and the brown by law enforcement is hardly a new feature of the U.S. system.

The current form of executive over-reach matters desperately because it undercuts the myth of an ever-improving, more free, more inclusive, more equal democracy that is Obama's own necessary mytho-history. The story goes: progress toward freedom is steady; the United States never goes backward. Oh sure, there are obvious hiccups along this blissful route -- Southern reconstruction and segregation beginning in the 1870s, Japanese internment during World War II -- but the basic trajectory is always upward toward freedom.

The Bush-Obama security program says no -- we can't afford to maintain the rule of law when confronted with a threat of terrorism. That's the horror of Obama's backsliding on the rule of law; it is a deep affront to the very essence of the hope he claims to represent.

Most everyone else in the blogosphere who indulged in 2009 retrospectives got them done between Christmas and New Years -- I went to Patagonia. So I'm going to allow myself a few such items over the first few weeks of this year.

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