Patterico's Pontifications

11/17/2008

Obama’s Policy Evolution Continues

Filed under: Obama — DRJ @ 6:50 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

I noted last week that Obama’s national security positions seem to be evolving closer to President Bush’s policies. The trend continues this week as two of his advisers confirmed Obama may not support war crime charges against those involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogation techniques like waterboarding:

“Two Obama advisers said there’s little – if any – chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.

The advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are still tentative. A spokesman for Obama’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Additionally, the question of whether to prosecute may never become an issue if Bush issues pre-emptive pardons to protect those involved.”

Compare that with what Obama said last April when reporter Will Bunch asked him where he stood on investigating the Bush Administration for war crimes:

“I mentioned the [waterboarding] report in my question, and said “I know you’ve talked about reconciliation and moving on, but there’s also the issue of justice, and a lot of people — certainly around the world and certainly within this country — feel that crimes were possibly committed” regarding torture, rendition, and illegal wiretapping. I wanted to know how whether his Justice Department “would aggressively go after and investigate whether crimes have been committed.”

Here’s his [Obama’s] answer, in its entirety:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can’t prejudge that because we don’t have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You’re also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment — I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General — having pursued, having looked at what’s out there right now — are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it’s important– one of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween [sic] really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law — and I think that’s roughly how I would look at it.”

The bottom line is that: Obama sent a clear signal that — unlike impeachment, which he’s ruled out and which now seems a practical impossibility — he is at the least open to the possibility of investigating potential high crimes in the Bush White House. To many, the information that waterboarding — which the United States has considered torture and a violation of law in the past — was openly planned out in the seat of American government is evidence enough to at least start asking some tough questions in January 2009.”

It sounds as if there may not be an investigation by the Attorney General regarding interrogation techniques if the statements by Obama’s advisers are accurate. Of course, this isn’t a final or definitive statement but it’s easy to engage in partisan attacks when your party is out of power. I suspect Obama and his advisers are having second thoughts about the downside of talking tough when the buck stops with them.

— DRJ

31 Responses to “Obama’s Policy Evolution Continues”

  1. I noted last week that Obama’s national security positions seem to be evolving closer to President Bush’s policies. The trend continues this week . . .

    Well, good.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  2. He won’t stop the nutballs in Congress who have already begun. Maybe he has influence and maybe not. John Conyers is not easily influenced. He hears other voices.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  3. I would like to think that Obama was aware that Will Bunch is one of the lamest, one-dimensional hack “journalists” on the block and was just giving him a “nice doggie” pat on the head with his answer. There really are few journalists as pathetically predictable and sniveling as Bunch.

    Jack Klompus (b0e238)

  4. P –

    I agree it could be a good development for conservatives but surely you aren’t suggesting campaign statements and promises don’t matter? Obama is constantly remaking himself and his policies. At this point, I think Jim Geraghty is right: Everything Obama says comes with an expiration date.

    DRJ (a50047)

  5. The cynic in me says: If our incoming leadership says this now, then maybe President Bush won’t issue pre-emptive pardons, and then we can get ’em!

    Elaine's favorite Dana (556f76)

  6. The cynic in me says that he would like to get Alberto Gonzalez but that might mean he would also need to get the lower-level stooges whom he needs to do his dirty work.

    nk (2e727e)

  7. Remember: the acceptance of a pardon is considered an admission of guilt.

    The cynical Dana (556f76)

  8. As long as he doesn’t bring back Albright, I’m ok with most of these choices. Not liking any of them, but it could be so much worse – and yes, Hillary doesn’t scare me as Sec. of State.

    Dmac (e30284)

  9. Obama promised his kids a dog too, but nothing’s definite on that either.

    Obama…. going more Bush. The possibilities are delightful. Must have folks shaking from their yachts to their cubicles. I think the ‘bots will continue to protect him. Obama is Kamelot.

    Vermont Neighbor (5ea336)

  10. “John Conyers is not easily influenced. He hears other voices.”

    Mike K. – So does his wife.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  11. Dick Morris’ triangulation strategery, as adapted by Rahm Emmanuel, with the only problem being there’s nobody on the Republican side in power in Washington as of Jan. 20 to keep the netroots and those in Congress sympathetic to them in check, the way Gingrich and the GOP Congress after 1994 were an effective enough boogey man to keep the left from going nuts on Clinton over things like welfare reform. It’s hard to triangulate when there’s nothing on your right to scare liberals with but Mitch McConnell and John Bohener.

    Obama may understand that going to the center is the only way to govern effectively, or he may just think it’s the only way to co-opt Republicans in preparation for 2010 or 2012. But that’s not how he sold himself to his most fervent voters, who are only going to keep hope alive for so long (my guess: 10-12 months) before they start screaming about being sold out by Obama to Hillary and the other Clintonistas (with a few shots at greedy special interests thrown in for good measure).

    John (692c5c)

  12. John: It’s possible that our incoming president remembers what happened to Bill Clinton, who campaigned as a centrist, and took a big left turn in his first couple of years. That gave the Republicans the opening they needed, and he got slapped down hard in the 1994 elections. President Clinton essentially governed from the center thereafter.

    Mr Obama might not be as bad a president as we feared

    The hopeful Dana (556f76)

  13. The left had a major head-rush
    A prez who wasn’t like Bush
    But they might just find
    He ain’t quite their kind
    ‘Cause his brains aren’t made out of mush!

    The Limerick Avenger (556f76)

  14. The left can’t be having much fun;
    Why it’s almost like Hillary won!
    They hoped in Barack,
    Got stabbed in the back,
    And our friends on the left are all glum!

    The Limerick Avenger (556f76)

  15. Limerick, you’re kickin’ it!

    Yep, almost like Hillary won. Strange days..

    Vermont Neighbor (5ea336)

  16. I would imagine that much of this has to do with his recent access to the threat briefings and intelligence that is limited to the very highest levels.
    I’m way down the totem pole in the government hierarchy and see only bits and pieces of the big picture. That alone is enough to cause me to worry a lot. I can only imagine what the bigger picture looks like but I have no doubt it is not pretty.

    This is only a hypothetical but imagine what Obama must be thinking if (and I emphasize the if) he is seeing the code word intelligence that was available pre-Iraq and it stood his preconceptions on their head. And there is not a darn thing that he could say due to the sensitivity.
    These guys don’t leave office looking much older because of too many state dinners….

    voiceofreason2 (560c42)

  17. I can’t get over why Sec of State, when she could potentially get offed in a year or two. Is that her path to 2012/16?

    Vermont Neighbor (5ea336)

  18. VOR2,

    Granted Obama and his advisers may have seen more intelligence and changed their opinions based on what they’ve seen in recent briefings. Of course, the cynic in me thinks it’s also possible Obama knew this all along but he realized it wasn’t a winning strategy.

    Either way, don’t you think Obama the Senator had access to at least as much — and probably far more — intelligence than even you have seen? I bet so, which makes it hard for me to believe he’s learned something that dramatically changed his opinions. But even if that’s true, would it really change his opinion on the legality of waterboarding and whether officials should be sanctioned for authorizing or doing it?

    DRJ (a50047)

  19. Comment by voiceofreason2 — 11/17/2008 @ 8:14 pm

    When not giving in to cynicism, its easy to see that this must play a significant part in his his seeming policy evolution. I don’t imagine all the campaign rhetoric and the best laid plans based and made upon limited knowledge compare in any way to the stark, cold reality of full disclosure and knowledge of facts unlimited. How can seeing the big picture not cause one to readjust and reassess their positions? I’d be relieved if he realized he really didn’t have a clue.

    OTH, he’s never been one to pin down on anyting…

    Dana (79a78b)

  20. I agree it could be a good development for conservatives but surely you aren’t suggesting campaign statements and promises don’t matter?

    I like my Republicans principled and my Democrats unprincipled. I’m happy to see him break any campaign promise to do something stupid.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  21. Dana: Even though it would make his re-election more likely, I’d much rather have a realist Obama who angers the Bill Ayers types as president by moving to the center, much in the same way Clinton pissed of Robert B. Reich with his turn towards the center after the ’94 debacle.

    The only caveat as I said was Clinton could do it and still point to Gingrich to get the left’s blood pressure up to levels that would make them accept Clinton’s actions as being the lesser of two evils (and the fact that seeing Clinton succeed drove many Republicans nuts also helped Bill keep the far left loons both on his side and mostly silent until the ’99 WTO riots in Seattle). If Obama moves to the center, other than his supporters’ love of the mere idea of electing the first African-American president and seeing him succeed, who or what does he have on the right to scare those on the far left into not acting out their most impassioned Bush Derangement Syndrome desires next year? McCain wants to be loved by the media again so he’s not going to be the one standing in the path of history and yelling “stop”, while the only new politician who drives the left crazy is Palin, and she’s going to be 4,000 miles away in Alaska. Hard to see Obama using her as the straw woman to keep the left in line.

    In that scenario, the only thing that will protect an Obama-Emmanuel triangulation strategy is the Blue Dog Democrats Rahm helped recruit to run in Red States over the past two years. Those Congressmen know a Democratic Party that careens to the left in 2009 will be as good for their re-election hopes in 2010 as Clinton’s move left was to Red State Democrats in 1994. But it will be funny to watch Obama using people like Heath Shuler as his front-line defense in trying to maintain his own political viability while not enraging the left for being a sell-out to the Clintons’ way of governing.

    John (692c5c)

  22. DRJ,
    I am not sure that he saw significantly much more. The senate and house have oversight committees that are cleared for almost all info and report general findings back to the rest of the senate or house. But the number of people who see the full scope of the raw material, sources and methods is very limited. I don’t think that Obama was on the oversight committee.
    I think it is possible he had some idea as you noted and played it to his political advantage in that Bush could not divulge the very information that would blunt/debunk the criticisms of his policy. The buck stops here thought could be on target as well. I think most people who are president would not take it off the table once they are filling the chair. His opinion on the legality may not have changed but the fear of getting one wrong may keep him from pursuing that opinion.

    voiceofreason2 (560c42)

  23. Our esteemed host wrote:

    I like my Republicans principled and my Democrats unprincipled. I’m happy to see him break any campaign promise to do something stupid.

    Obama will break
    Any promise he has made
    Just get used to it

    The Haiku Avenger (556f76)

  24. Comment by Dana — 11/17/2008 @ 8:29 pm

    The scariest one I saw in terms of ignoring it was Carter. According to Novak in his “Prince of Darkness” bio Carter had set up as part of his war plans to cede parts of Europe in the event Russia invaded. Novak had a source who told him this and he printed it (top secret material by the way). Carter ended up changing the plans.
    I hope Obama doesn’t repeat that kind of naive approach.

    voiceofreason2 (560c42)

  25. Let them investigate. Let Gorlick build another wall and get 3,000 Americans killed again and she may as well have shot the 3,000 on 9-11 herself. She wouldn’t be any more guilty. I expect to see the lynch mobs on the street as soon as it happens. Rocks and pitchforks can be very effective and ‘deadly’, rope will never go out of syle.

    Scrapiron (d671ab)

  26. Hard to know if Obama will be more comfortable being his true self — innately and strongly of the left — when it comes to foreign matters intead of domestic ones, or visa versa.

    My suspicion is that because of the lousy shape of the economy (in the US and worldwide), he’ll favor very, very liberal approaches to governance regarding intra-national issues, but because the left in the US won’t be as affected on a day-to-day basis by his disappointing their preferences on national security and the military, he’ll possibly will be less dogmatic regarding international issues. So Obama will cost all of us big bucks, and waste lots of money, by having a religious zeal towards issues like global warming, but he’ll be less foolish when it comes to topics like Israel, the Palestinians, Iraq, etc.

    But in general, I will be very surprised if he makes more than a feeble attempt to tone down his leftism over the next 4 years.

    Mark (411533)

  27. Unprincipled is also unpredictable, and that’s rarely good.

    DRJ (a50047)

  28. Not unprincipled, principles of convenience.

    What we don’t know, we can’t predict. Will Frank Marshall Davis, suddenly disappear from the thought process? “Don’t sell out, son”

    Will the radical professors? Klonsky? The New Party? Ayers & Dohrn? “Tear down the system”

    Will Khalidi? And Said? And Rev. Jackson? “Remove the Zionist influence”.

    Will Wright? Pfleger? Farrakhan? Don Warden? “The white man is evil and he has some payback coming and the Jews are at the front of the list”

    How about the Alinsky model? ACORN? Soros? “Beat them to death with their own rulebook, but don’t follow it yourself”

    It seems to me that people are again watching the magic show with their eyes fixated on the trinkets dangling from the sleeves, calling out what they think is the trick. Who cares who gets the titular appointment?

    The worker bees, the drones placed in the operational beehive who do the “community organizing” behind the scenes and out of sight…where real policies are made and enforced, that’s where the dirt gets under the fingernails.

    (while the plum pickers at the top hold high level meetings on the merit and efficacy of navel lint …with other high level plum pickers… at cross agency show horse exhibitions open to the “scrutiny” of our ever diligent entrenched media)

    Look, shout out what you see…and believe in it, if it helps you sleep at night.

    Me. I have insomnia because I believe half of what I see and none of what I hear from our entrenched media. Who ya gonna believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?

    cfbleachers (1f4df1)

  29. i’ve always been disgusted by the hubris of the general population; the assumption that all of the details islamus horribulus is known by more than a very select few.

    ShyAsrai (f00d76)

  30. As long as someone can rein in never-met-an-investigation-he-wouldn’t-launch-in-order-to-waste-the-public’s-money Waxman, this issue will quietly disappear.

    Icy Truth (aedb2f)

  31. We’re going to continue to see the evolution of Obama’s leftist illuminati campaign promises because most of us knew he was full of pie-in-the-sky dreams in the first place. He’s going to edit the heck out of his campaign platform before too long.

    Jeff (49888f)


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