Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: It was a “season of fear”, he said. Government trimming facts and evidence “to fit ideological predispositions”; making decisions based on fear rather than foresight; setting aside principles “as luxuries that we could no longer afford”. “We went off course,” he concluded.
It was a fine speech: thoughtful, bold and idealistic. The US president, Barack Obama, delivered it at the National Archives in Washington on May 21, 2009.
Last Thursday, when Mr Obama addressed the question of national security again during his National Defense University speech, he sounded equally high-minded. But where in his first speech he addressed the excesses of his predecessor, this time he had his own to consider. The most serious of these were born of Mr Obama’s inability to deliver fully on promises he made in his earlier address.
At the National Archives, Mr Obama vowed to end torture, shut CIA black sites and close Guantanamo. It was the clean break he had promised. But faced with a Republican backlash, Mr Obama caved. Torture and black sites were abolished but Guantanamo remained. Torture memos were released but torturers roamed free. To shield himself against charges of weakness, Mr Obama escalated the covert war.
The war since its inception was governed as much by security considerations as by its political logic. By eschewing large-scale military deployment in favour of drones and special forces, and through aggressive prosecution of journalists and whistle-blowers, Mr Obama has kept his actions secret, releasing himself from domestic political constraints, claiming successes where they have occurred, disowning failures. [Continue reading…]