The Establishment War Values (Thus Far) of President Barack Obama

–Richard E. Vatz

THE WASHINGTON POST on May 16, 2009 sports a cartoon from my hometown newspaper, THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, in which President Obama says, while reading from a teleprompter, “Warrantless Wiretaps are needed to fight terror…I’ve ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan …releasing the torture photos would hurt the troops….”

At the bottom right of the picture is former President George W. Bush who is saying “Sorry…I forgot my teleprompter!”

The obvious implication is that President Obama is taking pages from the rhetoric and policy of the overwhelmingly unpopular ex-president, a president whose administration: a. effectively used such wiretaps to its strategic advantage; b. conducted a successful surge policy in Iraq, a policy which was opposed by the current President and Vice-President; and c. opposed releasing photos which would, President Bush argued, put our troops in unacceptable additional jeopardy.

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Just as it used to be said that “there are no atheists in foxholes,” you may say that there are no cockeyed presidential optimists superintending wars against terrorism, the outlawing of “coercive interrogations” notwithstanding.

To his credit, when President Obama runs a war, he does not find it wise to be foolishly consistent with his candidate-era criticisms of President Bush’s running of the Iraq war and Afghanistan war and, generally, the war against terrorism, even if the Obama Administration thinks it is consequential to insist on the “distinction without a difference” of calling the “Global War on Terror” the “Overseas Contingency Operation.”

On a Baltimore talk show on May 14 I said that there are “people who criticize policy when they’re not making policy, and then when they make policy they understand that there are all kinds of considerations that you’ve got to make in order to effectively wield that policy.” It’s easy to be glib when you have no operational power.

The Democratic far-left, including the ACLU and, want ideological purity, but presidents have to be – at least should have to be – concerned about the practical outcomes of their policies.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson was widely derided in the late 1960’s when he said he didn’t want to be the “first American president to lose a war.” President Obama is too smooth to use such clumsy rhetoric, but he doesn’t want to lose wars either. Let’s see how long and how rigidly the ban on enhanced interrogations lasts.

There is no more apt application of this perspective of the more mature Obama presidency than Francois de La Rochefoucauld’s famous quote from his “Maximes:” Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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