While the office of the presidency carries with it immense difficulties, it appears the Obama administration has identified at least one useful loophole. On an array of issues, ranging from national security to economic policy, the administration has been able to escape defending its positions by merely uttering “Bush-Cheney.” Such a standard poignant response is obviously intended to evade valid policy concerns by shifting attention to the unpopular previous administration. “This is Bush’s economy,” or “Iraq is Bush’s War” are just a few we have heard.
This week’s revelation that the post-9/11 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) planned to develop anti-terrorist assassination teams is only the latest installment of the Obama vs. Bush presidency. Congressional Democrats feigned disbelief that they were kept in the dark on such a significant program. Plans were sporadically devised to train assassins to take down Al-Qaeda operatives in friendly and not-so-friendly nations. The Obama-Panetta CIA reportedly discovered the Bush-era program and reported it to Congressional representatives hoping to avoid another Pelosi-CIA showdown.
Many Americans logically responded: isn’t that the mission of the CIA, don’t we want our nation’s national security agencies killing our enemies? Others wondered: why the fuss over a program that was never actually implemented? It has been argued that by blowing the whistle on the CIA program, Obama strengthens his hand by steering clear of a Congressional quarrel and placating the international community, while once again reminding Americans that he is not George Bush or Dick Cheney.
This assumption is misguided for several reasons.
Obama’s overtures to the U.S. Congress or foreign leaders has yet to pay dividends. Obama’s congressionally-deferred health-care, energy, and stimulus bills have all been politically loaded at the expense of functional legislation. This is frequently the case when the executive branch cedes too much authority to legislative interests.
On national security matters, the executive branch is the indisputable leader. Pre-constitution scholars such as Locke and Hamilton recognized the need for strong executive government in state security. The constitution, therefore, primarily vested powers with the executive branch. Over the past two-plus centuries, the president’s role in national security has swelled (I will gladly defer the constitutional arguments to my more legally-seasoned blog colleagues). Excluding Congressional Democrats from intelligence and security decisions seems even more prescient when considering the regularity with which the nation’s secrets have since appeared on the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.
Obama has consistently stated that he intends to pursue a less abrasive and more inclusive foreign policy than the maligned Bush administration. And while many of our allies around the world are undoubtedly relieved to discover they will not have American hitmen operating on their soil, here too the costs to our national security greatly exceed any benefits. International terrorism is just that, international. Terror networks extend to friendly and belligerent nations alike. It is doubtful that had the program become operational, American assassins would be operating on the streets of London. It is assumed (because the program was top secret…and because the New York Times has not yet published its details) that the program was meant to supplement previously-existing policies whereby we relied on cooperation with allies to disrupt terror cells in their territory. But what of quasi-allies like Pakistan or non-aligned, wannabe states like Sudan or Somalia, where diplomatic deference rarely delivers security payoffs.
On national security issues, the “blame Bush-Cheney” card is proving less effective for the Obama administration. Cheney’s favorability ratings jumped after he engaged Obama on terrorism policies such as interrogation. Regardless of its final approval ratings, the Bush administration can credibly boast of protecting the country from terror attacks for the duration of its tenure. Even critics acknowledge the Bush administration’s primary concentration was preventing terror attacks. Critiques of the administration centered upon it doing too much to avert attacks (warrantless wiretaps, interrogation, Guantanamo/military tribunals).
However, much of this liberal condemnation never resonated with the American public. Surprisingly – almost eight years removed from 9/11, after electing a President vowing to reverse many of Bush’s policies, during a recession where an increased focus has been paid to the economy – Americans still err on the side of overprotecting against terrorism. The latest Rasmussen poll showed Republicans leading Democrats 49-40 percent on national security. I would venture a guess that should Democrats or the Obama administration dwell on the CIA assassination team issue, that gap will only widen. Americans believe in a strong executive that is willing to do whatever it takes to protect our homeland.
StairwaytoKevin can be found tapping your phone wires, or reading your emails. However, it saves him a lot of time and effort if you comment on this blog.