“The commander in chief as covert operator”
On this day of national celebration for assassinating an American citizen without a trial, I was reminded of this David Ignatius column in the Washington Post from a couple of weeks ago:
It’s an interesting anomaly of Barack Obama’s presidency that this liberal Democrat, known before the 2008 election for his antiwar views, has been so comfortable running America’s secret wars.
Obama’s leadership style — and the continuity of his national security policies with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush — has left friends and foes scratching their heads. What has become of the “change we can believe in” style he showed as a candidate? The answer may be that he has disappeared into the secret world of the post-Sept. 11 presidency.
Obama is the commander in chief as covert operator. The flag-waving “mission accomplished” speeches of his predecessor aren’t Obama’s thing; even his public reaction to the death of bin Laden was relatively subdued. Watching Obama, the reticent, elusive man whose dual identity is chronicled in “Dreams From My Father,” you can’t help wondering if he has an affinity for the secret world. He is opaque, sometimes maddeningly so, in the way of an intelligence agent.
Intelligence is certainly an area where the president appears confident and bold. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence who has been running spy agencies for more than 20 years, regards Obama as “a phenomenal user and understander of intelligence.” When Clapper briefs the president each morning, he brings along extra material to feed the president’s hunger for information.
This is a president, too, who prizes his authority to conduct covert action. Clapper’s predecessor, Adm. Dennis Blair, lost favor in part because he sought to interpose himself in the chain of covert action. That encroached on Obama, who aides say sees it as a unique partnership with the CIA...
Perhaps Obama’s comfort level with his intelligence role helps explain why he has done other parts of the job less well. He likes making decisions in private, where he has the undiluted authority of the commander in chief. He likes information, as raw and pertinent as possible, and he gets impatient listening to windy political debates. He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints.
He did stoutly assert in his campaign that he wasn't a "70's love in" anti military type, and he was always pretty firmly in the "whatever works" school of foreign policy, but I think people can be forgiven for seeing this as a serious departure for a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was seen (perhaps too idealistically) as someone who valued the soft power of diplomacy far more than this spooky, high tech "world of action." Perhaps he should have been content to become Director of the CIA instead of president which requires an entirely different set of skills --- and ideally, principles.
If that portrait is correct (and I obviously have no idea if it is) we are dealing with a hard core security state president. As hard core as Dick Cheney in most respects and right up there with Reagan and Nixon. Assassinating suspected terrorists who happen to be US citizens would hardly be seen as beyond the pale. Indeed, I'm guessing that if this is true there's a whole lot of black ops stuff that we don't know about.
Aside from finding of this deeply and inherently undemocratic, on a purely practical level, I have to wonder if the president has developed better judgment in finding the right advisors in this realm than he has in the economic sector. Since most of it is clandestine, I suppose we'll never know. At least not until the inevitable blow back sometime down the road.