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Obama’s War Record Should Appall Progressives


Why are liberals so desperately unhappy with the Obama presidency? asks New York Magazines Jonathan Chait, a self-proclaimed Obama apologist.

He answers his own question: Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president.

See? It isn’t Obama’s fault. Its something in the so-called liberal, or progressive, psyche. (Liberalism originally meant a philosophy of maximum individual freedom, free markets, and minimum government, not today’s support for intrusive, comprehensive bureaucratic management.)

One wades through the 5,000-word essay hoping to witness Chait at least acknowledge that Obama has let his supporters down with his war on terror policies. But all we get is this:

Obama has enjoyed a string of foreign-policy successes expanding targeted strikes against Al Qaeda (including one that killed Osama bin Laden), ending the war in Iraq, and helping to orchestrate an apparently successful international campaign to rescue Libyan dissidents and then topple a brutal kleptocratic regime.

Excuse me? Progressives who properly savaged George W. Bush for his autocratic presidency, civil-liberties flouting PATRIOT Act, undeclared war on Iraq, use of detention and torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, and warrantless surveillance are supposed to be happy with Barack Obama, who has essentially carried on most Bush policies, even kicking them up a few notches?

If we listen to Chait, there is nothing at all disappointing about Obama’s expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan and Somalia, with their routine collateral damage to innocents; his flagrant violation of the War Powers Resolution (not to mention the Constitution and his campaign promise) with his intervention in Libya; his intensification of the war in Afghanistan; his sanctions (an act of war) against Iran; his broken pledge to close Guantanamo; his support of indefinite detention without charge; his policy of assassinating even American citizens abroad without due process; his renewal of the PATRIOT Act; his placement of Marines in Australia with the words, The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay; his failed attempt to lift the UN ban on cluster bombs; or his invocation of state secrets to keep torture victims out of court.

Chait thinks Obama should get credit for ending the war in Iraq but hold on. The December 31, 2011, withdrawal date is set in the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration. Obama tried but failed to persuade Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to let U.S. troops stay longer. As it is, they will simply be moved down the road to Kuwait, and a large contract mercenary force will likely be left behind at the humongous embassy in Baghdad.

For Chait and his ilk, these all must count as foreign policy successes.

And what about torture? Nothing upset Progressives more during the Bush years. Toward the end of the administration, the criminal policy was abandoned and was forsworn by Obama. Yet the detention center at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan has been called worse than Guantanamo by Daphne Eviatar, an attorney for Human Rights First. Adds John Glaser of Antiwar.com,

There are now 3,000 detainees in Bagram, up from 1,700 since June (!) and five times the amount there when Barack Obama took office. Many of them have not been charged, have seen no evidence against them and do not have the right to be represented by a lawyer, aren’t given fair trials, and the U.S. claims it is not even obligated to explain why these people are caged.

A U.S. special operations black site at Bagram features sleep deprivation, holding detainees in cold cells, forced nudity, physical abuse, detaining individuals in isolation cells for longer than 30 days, and restricting the access of the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to Jonathan Horowitz’s investigation for the Open Society Institute.

Finally, in a move that bodes ill for the future, Obama refuses to criminally or civilly investigate Bush administration officials for illegal torture of prisoners. He wont even empanel a truth commission to bring the facts before the American people. Future administrations will thus have little to fear when they break the law.

Most progressives are silent about Obama’s shameful record. But it may explain the disappointment Chait can’t understand.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.