I may be stretching the “holiday” a bit, but since Congress is still on vacation, I will use the term to talk about my tally of his most recent almost 10 days.
First, the pluses. The recess appointments, the cuts to the defense budget and his continuing feisty attitude. The negative is the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The negative first. Alexander Cockburn’s analysis in the Nation is the best I’ve seen. He explains
The change came with the whisper of Barack Obama’s pen, as he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual ratification of military Keynesianism—$662 billion this time—which has been our national policy since World War II bailed out the New Deal.
Sacrificial offerings to the Pentagon aren’t news. But this time, snugly ensconced in the NDAA came ratification by legal statute of the exposure of US citizens to arbitrary arrest without subsequent benefit of counsel, and to possible torture and imprisonment sine die. Goodbye, habeas corpus.
We’re talking here about citizens within the borders of the United States, not sitting in a hotel or out driving in some foreign land. In the latter case, as the late Anwar al-Awlaki’s incineration in Yemen bore witness a few months ago, the well-being or summary demise of a US citizen is contingent upon a secret determination of the president as to whether the aforementioned citizen is waging a war of terror on the United States. If the answer is in the affirmative, the citizen can be killed on the president’s say-so without further ado.
This is the latest disappointment on civil liberties. I had such high hopes for a reversal of the Bush II trend after we elected a Constitutional expert. In the sum, Obama has been almost worse. ratifying decisions made by W and going further.
The President at Shaker Height HS
On the positive side, the New York Times says
On Wednesday, after waiting until the dust in Iowa had settled, clearing out space in newspapers and on television, Mr. Obama delivered another jab, announcing four recess appointments, including that of Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection agency, despite Republican opposition. On Thursday, the president went to the Pentagon and outlined a new military strategy that embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to what is a Republican sacred cow, and made it clear that American ground forces would no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The cuts in the defense budget are a welcome change. I have thought since the days when I demonstrated at the Pentagon against the War in Vietnam. Let’s face it, the last 3 groundwars we have engaged in have been disasters. Maybe the Bush I war to repel Iraq from the invasion os Kuwait can be counted as a success. But Bush 1 knew when to stop.
In an unusual appearance at the Pentagon briefing room on Thursday, Mr. Obama outlined a new national defense strategy driven by three realities: the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran.
A fourth reality, not mentioned in the briefing room, was Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign and the chorus of Republican presidential candidates who have sought to portray him as decimating the Pentagon budget and being weak in his response to Iran.
Mr. Obama, who spoke surrounded by a tableau of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in dress uniforms and with chests full of medals, underscored the national security successes of his administration — the ending of the Iraq war, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya — before declaring that the United States would downsize to a smaller ground force, get rid of “outdated cold war-era systems” and step up investments in intelligence-gathering and cyberwarfare.
The new strategy document finally defines away the Defense Department’s historic requirement to have the ability to fight and win two wars at once — a measure that one official said “has been on life-support for years.”
The strategy released under Mr. Obama in 2010 said the military was responsible for “maintaining the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors.”
In contrast, the strategy released Thursday said the military must be able to fight one war, but is responsible only for “denying the objectives of — or imposing unacceptable costs on — an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”
Senior Pentagon officials said that viewing military requirements through something as static as the two-war model had become outdated, and that the true measurement was whether the Pentagon could field a force capable of carrying out a wide range of military actions to protect the nation’s interests.
Pentagon officials made it clear that the department’s priorities in coming years would be financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
I have never agreed with 100% of what any politician does, but this scorecard isn’t bad. It will be interesting to see what the impact of all this is on the President’s re-election.