Obama the Idealist vs. Obama the Terrorist Killer
Our laws constrain the power of the President, even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States,” President Obama said in a speech Thursday at the National Defense University. Obama’s role as defender of the Constitution has been subject to justified criticism recently, with the rise of the secretive drone war in Pakistan and elsewhere. Obama took belated steps to address those concerns. And he did more: He committed himself to a legal path to ending the current “war” with the Taliban, and vowed not to allow Congress to expand it.
There seem to be two Obamas: the public idealist who seeks to harness and fulfill American ideals, and the tight-lipped commander in chief who asks the nation to trust him. The two dueled uneasily in the speech, but the advantage goes to the idealist.
In his discussion of the “drone war,” the speech rates a B. Because the administration has stonewalled on the law and the policy behind the use of drones, the president found himself forced to make the following disavowal: “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone, or a shotgun — without due process.”
If Obama really has committed himself to ending the war on the Taliban, he has taken a course few presidents can be expected to choose.
This issue was always a red herring. The NDU speech identified the real problem with drones: “The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions, can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites,” he acknowledged. But there was no commitment that I can see to opening the drone war to public scrutiny. Instead, Obama offered the standard defense of the policy — it is effective, aimed against only those terrorist targets who cannot be captured, and conducted to minimize civilian casualties — in even more truncated form than that given months ago by figures like former State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and Attorney General Eric Holder.