Second verse, same as the first

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2013

George W. Bush will go down in history as one of America’s worst presidents. His record of overspending and military overreach, combined with a blasé attitude towards civil liberties and torture, are what historians will remember about him in 50 years.

Barack Obama was supposed to undo some of Bush’s mess. But, in his first 4.5 years in office, he’s instead done his best to one-up W in all of the areas I mention above. He has ratcheted up spending and ran $1 trillion plus deficits every year he has been in office. He has been hawkish on the international stage, broken many of the promises he made about Guantanamo, continued Bush’s legacy of further clamping down on personal liberties, and authorized thousands of drone attacks on alleged combatants and even Americans overseas.

The list of children and innocents killed in these attacks is way too high, and the media gives the Obama Administration a free pass when, in fact, they’d be outraged if W were the person engaging in Obama’s tactics the past four years.

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It’s Obama’s horrible record in the area of foreign policy that makes any partisan attack of Bush’s foreign policy record laughable. Yes, Bush should be protested for his horrible human rights record and for engaging us in two prolonged and poorly thought out wars. But, the Obama administration, thanks to their highly efficient killing machine doesn’t have the moral high ground.

The sad thing for us all is that President Obama promised to be better when it came to doing what was right and moral for America. We shouldn’t be surprised that he has broken our hearts–my own included–by breaking his promise and turning out to be another presidential hawk. Since World War II, presidents have had a difficult time getting much done on the domestic front; they, therefore, focus more and more on the international scene and, in so doing, ratchet up the scale and scope of our warfare state. Here’s how a recent Atlantic story by James Fallows explains Obama :

In the realm of foreign policy, Barack Obama has learned what every modern president eventually does: despite the dangers, the emergencies, the intractable disagreements, and the life-and-death risks, international affairs naturally claim an ever-growing share of a president’s attention and enthusiasm. On the world stage, he represents an entire mighty country, not one perhaps-embattled party. International figures may be frustrating to deal with–Karzai, Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu in their different ways–but usually they can’t totally thwart or undermine him the way a Mitch McConnell or a Roger Ailes can. He can think big thoughts and announce big plans without seeing them immediately picked apart or ridiculed. And he can dare to devise a long-term strategy, like Obama’s with China, knowing that the tools for carrying it out–in the military, the diplomatic corps, the intelligence agencies, and the rest of the national-security apparatus–are within his line of command.

It is no wonder that the “national-security state” in all its aspects has continued to grow throughout the decades since the beginning of World War II. Defense budgets, intelligence and surveillance networks, private military contractors, irregular forms of war: these and other executive-branch tools of international power work like a ratchet. Some presidents rapidly increase them in times of emergency, as George W. Bush did after the 9/11 attacks. No president scales them back. Thus the imbalance continues to grow between international efforts, where a president has an ever greater array of tools and weapons, and the frustrating domestic arena. Despite having run on his opposition to the Iraq War and overseen the formal U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Barack Obama has, if anything, expanded the range of executive military power, from his unilateral (and mainly successful) decision to intervene in Libya to his expansion of drone attacks.

If we’re honest with ourselves, instead of putting our partisan blinders on, Obama’s first term was no cause for celebration amongst those of us who believe in civil rights or the sanctity of human life. If we take our cue from history, we know that there’s worse to come in the next four years.


Scott Beaulier is Director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.