Our Perplexing President

Emerson once said “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He would love the sitting President who has shown himself to be anything but foolishly consistent in his various political stands. Take the following story for example:

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all of his liberal positions on the environment, taxes and health care, President Barack Obama is a hawk when it comes to the war on terror.

From deadly drones to secret interrogations to withholding evidence in terror lawsuits, Obama’s Democratic White House has followed the path of his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open, despite Obama’s pledge to close it, and his administration has pursued leaks of classified information to reporters even more aggressively than Bush’s. . .

To be fair, the President did make an effort to move the prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, but the Congress would not hear of it. It remains an unfulfilled election promise, however, and, as a supporter and even an admirer of Barack Obama, this particular inconsistency disturbs me as I have tried from time to time to get my mind around it. I recall Dwight Eisenhower’s wise remark years ago “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” I keep going back to that comment because I find it provocative and very insightful –especially in light of such things as Obama’s hawkishness. Why would such a liberal thinker be so hawkish when it comes to international affairs? It’s almost as though he is trying to one-up his military advisers. I worry that he is cowed by the impressive uniforms laden with medals clothing the commanding presence of the military leaders who surround him when he sits down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not being “judgmental” about the President, as people love to say. It’s not my place to judge the man since in his shoes I would probably be just as cowed by the presence of those uniforms and medals. But I am reminded of the remarks made by Colonel Andrew Bacevich I quoted last month when he pointed out that “we have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers….” This man knows whereof he speaks as he comes to the problem from the perspective of a military man with combat experience who exhibits the same caution about the military that Eisenhower exhibited after he left the fold. These are words we need to take to heart.

It is just possible that Barack Obama, like anyone else who has never worn a uniform or fought in a battle would be awed by those who wear the uniform proudly and is told relentlessly (as we all are) that these men and women are all heroes to whom we owe our freedoms. As the article cited above goes on to point out, many of the Democrats in Congress share Obama’s hawkishness:

This past week’s confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA showed just how much Washington — Democrats especially — has come to accept the same counterterrorism policies that drew such furor in the first years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Is it possible, I ask, that we are giving up our freedoms to the very people who are pledged to defend those freedoms with their lives? Is this the way we really want to go? I don’t think we should see President Obama’s hawkishness as a sign of weakness on the part of a man adept at the political game and otherwise liberal in his thinking. Rather, I see him as a microcosm of the rest of this society which seems ready to hand over the reins of power to those who wear uniforms — especially since those same men and women have the backing of the wealthy in this country who are also doubtless in awe of the uniform and transfixed by the military mystique.


15 thoughts on “Our Perplexing President

  1. “Is it possible, I ask, that we are giving up our freedoms to the very people who are pledged to defend those freedoms with their lives?”

    I think this also helps explain why so many are guarded about giving up any freedom concerning guns and ammunition. we’re second guessing those we have elected to do their roles, and many times that second guessing is based on sound observation skills.

  2. Good post. My computer hiccuped, so I lost my earlier comment. I feel better about Obama, as imperfect as he is, than his predecessor as he is at least weighing options. And, you are right, sitting in that chair with information others don’t have with tools that can save lives versus the alternative, is entirely different than looking in as a candidate. Thanks, BTG

  3. During the eighteen months that I was in the Marine Corps, I was sent to Vieques Island in the Carribean on a training exercise. When the exercise was finished, I got assigned to clean up and pack up the tent cabins that were the senior officer’s quarters. These were majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels. When I and the other enlisted men arrived on site, the first thing I noticed were that the trash cans were stuffed with empty hard liquor bottles, mostly gin, vodka and whiskey. The second thing was that every bed and every sheet had been pissed in…and these were the men that we were supposed to obey, admire and emulate. All that brass and all those ribbons immediately lost all respect from me!!

  4. This goes to my concerns of the drone program and the blurring of lines between the military and politicians. Your observation about the military influence over Obama are also valid, because Petraius was against the Iraq withdrawal and convinced Obama to stay another year.

  5. I learned many decades ago that, in 99% of cases, politicians’ promises cannot be kept. That’s because politicians don’t know how to make promises and possibly don’t understand that they are not kings and queens. A proper promise by Obama would have been, “I will recommend closing Guantanamo.” Instead he says something like, “I will close Guantanamo within my first year.” Politics in America doesn’t work like that. There are three equal parts to our government: executive, legislative, and judicial. One of the three might be able to play king for a little while but eventually will be reigned in, usually by the judicial. Since the judicial usually has the final say, I actually think the three are unequal to the tune of executive 33%, legislative 33%, and judicial 34%.

    • This court has become political and can now be regarded as part of the legislative branch, I think. It was something Locke saw happening. In fact, he didn’t even bother to separate the two branches in his scheme. Thanks for the comment.


      • Courts have always been political. Those whose justices are appointed are appointed by politicians. Those whose justices are elected are by the inherent nature of elections, political.

        Fortunately, as we saw with Justice Roberts and his vote on the Affordable Care Act, once justices have an appointment for life, they pretty much say goodbye to politics per sé. At that point, it’s simply whether or not one agrees with their personal viewpoints.

      • True, but past Supreme Courts have had independently-minded judges who went against the wishes of those who appointed them. Not so this group, with one notable exception: Obamacare.


  6. Your take is interesting because I see POTUS as vetoing a military that wanted boots on the ground in Libya and Syria. And I think he’s far more realpolitik than you might expect from a law/prof community organize. He’s see’s the Pentagon as a tool to toast would be terror doers as opposed to the neo-con use of the military as a projection of american will. I think all that fruit salad on those class A’s didn’t seduce POTUS as much to remind him that he was dealing with professionals. And unfortunately asymmetrical war is now a growth industry. And he’s the CEO.

    That said, your point about the nation’s fetish with militarization rings true.

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