War in the Age of Terrorism

War in the Age of Terrorism

This is change: we’ve gone from change we can believe in, to a change in the mood music.

If Dick Cheney was the éminence grise behind George Bush, one could now be forgiven for thinking that George Bush himself has quietly taken on the same role for Barack Obama. And if this administration — like the one before — can be accused of losing touch with reality, there is no more compelling piece of evidence than this: Obama regards his speech in Cairo last summer as one of the most important things he’s done in the fight against terrorism.

The New York Times — reporting as always from “inside” the administration, reveals in, “Inside Obama’s War on Terrorism”:

perhaps the biggest change Obama has made is what one former adviser calls the “mood music” — choice of language, outreach to Muslims, rhetorical fidelity to the rule of law and a shift in tone from the all-or-nothing days of the Bush administration. He is committed to taking aggressive actions to disrupt terrorist cells, aides said, but he also considers his speech in Cairo to the Islamic world in June central to his efforts to combat terrorism. “If you asked him what are the most important things he’s done to fight terrorism in his first year, he would put Cairo in the top three,” Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, told me.

Really? There might have been good reason for Obama to have thought that at the time and for a few weeks afterwards, but by the time Washington caved under Israeli pressure by supporting a bogus settlement freeze, it became clear that the Cairo speech would be remembered across the Middle East as a bitter harbinger of disappointment.

As for Obama’s campaign promise that he would not only end the war in Iraq but end the mindset that took the US to war, it now turns out that as president he is quite content to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor:

A half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism told me before the Christmas Day incident that for the most part, they were comfortable with Obama’s policies, although they were reluctant to say so on the record. Some worried they would draw the ire of Cheney’s circle if they did, while others calculated that calling attention to the similarities to Bush would only make it harder for Obama to stay the course. And they generally resent Obama’s anti-Bush rhetoric and are unwilling to give him political cover by defending him.

Michael Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under Bush, was willing to say publicly what others would not. “There is a continuum from the Bush administration, particularly as it changed in the second administration as circumstances changed, and the Obama administration,” Hayden told me. James Jay Carafano, a homeland-security expert at the Heritage Foundation, was blunter. “I don’t think it’s even fair to call it Bush Lite,” he said. “It’s Bush. It’s really, really hard to find a difference that’s meaningful and not atmospheric. You see a lot of straining on things trying to make things look repackaged, but they’re really not that different.”

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