It’s been fun for the left in Australia to fixate on the Republican candidates for the American presidency. It’s been fun to joke about their policy quirks and eccentricities. Fun to pronounce that nothing is scarier than the prospect of a Santorum or Romney administration. Yes, the Republican race has been a convenient distraction.
Because it would not do to dwell on an uncomfortable, undeniable reality – Barack Obama, the left’s man in the White House, who was supposed to restore America’s standing in the world and end George Bush’s assault on civil liberties, has been much worse than his Republican predecessor.
Obama has undermined more individual rights, and hoarded more presidential power, than Bush ever did. It’s not that he has simply failed to roll back Bush’s anti-terror excesses. Although that is true, as well. It’s that Obama has trumped them. More than 10 years after the September 11 attacks, the White House is still amassing extra security powers. On December 31, Obama signed the National Defence Authorisation Act.
This act allows the military, without judicial authorisation, to arrest and indefinitely detain anybody within American borders.
This power is quite an increase. Under the Bush administration, the military could legally arrest and detain people only in other countries.
American citizens were protected by an 1878 act banning domestic military deployment. Obama no longer observes this legal nicety.
And Obama has claimed the right to assassinate any American citizen he deems a terrorist threat, at any time, according to nothing but his judgment, anywhere in the world. As a former CIA chief recently pointed out, while the President needs a court order to eavesdrop on Americans abroad, he does not need a court order to kill them.
There’s more. George Bush’s once-controversial covert surveillance program has dramatically expanded under Obama. The President’s emergency powers have been boosted. An executive order Obama signed in March (number 13603) grants more to the president in an emergency than any order yet, allowing the government to take over all food, transport, water, energy and health resources and, if the President wants it, to reintroduce conscription.
Executive orders are used to bypass the usual checks and balances in Congress and the courts. As the Cato Institute’s Jim Powell pointed out last month, there is nothing in order 13603 about protecting constitutional rights.
No wonder the director of the American Civil Liberties Union is “disgusted” by the Obama administration’s record. Sure, Obama has withdrawn troops from Iraq. Mission accomplished, as they say. But, on the other hand, he has also personally pioneered an entirely new, more enduring form of global warfare. Drone attacks will remain long after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have faded into historical memory.
Because drone war is permanent war. It is limited by nothing more than the whims of the president. It is the first war run entirely by the CIA. It is conducted on the territory of countries to which America is not formally hostile. And it took until February for the administration to even admit the drone war existed.
George Bush’s wars of liberation, right or wrong, had their precedents. Barack Obama’s never-ending global bombing campaign by remote control is his innovation.
It’s a fair bet that no administration will ever shut down the drone program. A competent intelligence agency can always find new threats for a bombing into the Stone Age. So if we simply apply the criteria the left used to condemn Bush as one of the worst presidents in history, there is no ambiguity. Obama is far worse again. Not that you would know about it.
Partisanship has a habit of excusing anything, with 77 per cent of those who describe themselves as left-wing Democrats wholeheartedly approving of Obama’s drone program. Imagine if a Republican did the same thing. There would be anti-drone marches in Washington and candlelight vigils in Paris and Berlin. Now the left is more interested in complaining that Republicans are sceptical about climate change. They ignore, excuse, even – according to the polls – defend their President’s abominable record on war and individual rights. Because he isn’t a Republican.