Obama employs same old methods
After three months of professedly exhaustive strategizing with top advisors, on December 1, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would send an additional 30,000 soldiers to fight members of al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The additional forces will be deployed over the next six months, the president stated in his address, and the U.S. will begin to reduce levels of U.S. military personnel in July 2011. Within a week, however, top White House officials started to shy away from any suggestion of a troop withdrawal deadline. It has become increasingly apparent that, rather than devising any sort of new war strategy, the president has decided to stay the course set by his notorious predecessor, former President George W. Bush. This essentially grants, in full, the requests of the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and asks the American people to support a plan remarkably similar to the Iraq troop surge, something Obama criticized so relentlessly last year. While the open-ended nature of Operation Enduring Freedom has been clear since the campaign began in the fall of 2001, the strategy Obama endorsed last week marks a striking departure from his campaign promise to end the conflicts of indefinite duration and expense initiated the previous administration and championed by the neoconservative movement.
In order to discern the true nature of the war policies of the Obama administration, we need only observe Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's comments of last week: "In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces […] But the pace […] of bringing [U.S. troops] home, and where we will bring them home from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments will be made by our commanders in the field." If we ignore the first three words, this sound bite is virtually indistinguishable from any other I have heard from the U.S. Department of Defense for the past decade. I am willing to bet that 18 months from now, our commanders in the field will again be calling for yet more billions of tax dollars and yet more thousands of young soldiers in order to augment their virtually unbounded campaign and continue their pursuit of al-Qaida in Pakistan and other nations. Indeed, Obama himself stated plainly, in his speech last week, that the "struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan." At this rate, I would not be surprised if Obama starts calling for the invasion of Iran before the end of his first year in office.
Beyond his decidedly "W"-esque strategy in the so-called global war on terror, Obama also seems to have taken numerous other pages from the 43rd president's playbook. As Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor has observed, the current administration "has embraced Mr. Bush's law of war philosophy justifying the potential indefinite detention of terror suspects deemed by Obama to be too difficult to put on trial, but also too dangerous to release. Administration officials are hinting that Obama may fail to fulfill his pledge to close the Guantánamo prison camp by January. A new version of the controversial military commission process is expected to emerge soon from Congress. And construction continues for a new, expanded terror prison camp at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan." Hope Metcalf, director of Director of the National Litigation Project of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School has suggested that the Bagram prison camp "is becoming Obama's Guantánamo," adding that the "situation at Bagram is, if anything, far worse than Guantánamo … at Bagram, there are no lawyers, no courts, and essentially no hope."
Perhaps most egregiously of all, Obama has also seen fit to renew three key provisions of the USA Patriot Act which were set to expire at the end of this year. "The president's reversal on [the] Patriot Act reform is a major travesty," said Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Overall, the Obama administration has made marginal improvements but is largely a continuation of the Bush administration with respect to civil liberties," she continued. Four years ago, while at the time a member of the U.S. Senate, Obama derided the act, claiming it granted too much power with too little oversight. He now sees fit to allow the government to collect private information about individuals through warrantless wiretaps of telephone and e-mail accounts, to seize citizens records from banks, libraries and Internet service providers, and to expand the conditions under which one may be accused of providing terrorists with "material support." It would seem that those who have contended since his inauguration that Obama is shepherding our country in the wrong direction are indeed correct. I would only add that the president's moral and political failures owe his similarities to — rather than his differences from — Bush.