Obama's War Record Should Appall Progressives

The president is following in George W. Bush's disastrous footsteps.


"Why are liberals so desperately unhappy with the Obama presidency?" asks New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, a self-proclaimed "Obama apologist."

He answers his own question: "Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president."

See? It isn't Obama's fault. It's something in the so-called liberal, or progressive, psyche. ("Liberalism" originally meant a philosophy of maximum individual freedom, free markets, and minimum government, not today's support for intrusive, comprehensive bureaucratic management.)

One wades through the 5,000-word essay hoping to witness Chait at least acknowledge that Obama has let his supporters down with his "war on terror" policies. But all we get is this:

Obama … has enjoyed a string of foreign-policy successes'"expanding targeted strikes against Al Qaeda (including one that killed Osama bin Laden), ending the war in Iraq, and helping to orchestrate an apparently successful international campaign to rescue Libyan dissidents and then topple a brutal kleptocratic regime.

Excuse me? Progressives'"who properly savaged George W. Bush for his autocratic presidency, civil-liberties flouting PATRIOT Act, undeclared war on Iraq, use of detention and torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, and warrantless surveillance'"are supposed to be happy with Barack Obama, who has essentially carried on most Bush policies, even kicking them up a few notches?

If we listen to Chait, there is nothing at all disappointing about Obama's expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan and Somalia, with their routine "collateral damage" to innocents; his flagrant violation of the War Powers Resolution (not to mention the Constitution and his campaign promise) with his intervention in Libya; his intensification of the war in Afghanistan; his sanctions (an act of war) against Iran; his broken pledge to close Guantanamo; his support of indefinite detention without charge; his policy of assassinating even American citizens abroad without due process; his renewal of the PATRIOT Act; his placement of Marines in Australia with the words, "The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay"; his failed attempt to lift the UN ban on cluster bombs; or his invocation of state secrets to keep torture victims out of court.

Chait thinks Obama should get credit for "ending the war in Iraq"'"but hold on. The December 31, 2011, withdrawal date is set in the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration. Obama tried '" but failed '" to persuade Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to let U.S. troops stay longer.

As it is, they will simply be moved down the road to Kuwait, and a large contract mercenary force will likely be left behind at the humongous embassy in Baghdad.

For Chait and his ilk, these all must count as "foreign policy successes."

And what about torture? Nothing upset progressives more during the Bush years. Toward the end of the administration, the criminal policy was abandoned and was forsworn by Obama. Yet the detention center at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan has been called "worse than Guantanamo" by Daphne Eviatar, an attorney for Human Rights First. Adds John Glaser of Antiwar.com:

There are now 3,000 detainees in Bagram, up from 1,700 since June (!) and five times the amount there when Barack Obama took office. Many of them have not been charged, have seen no evidence against them and do not have the right to be represented by a lawyer, aren't given fair trials, and the U.S. claims it is not even obligated to explain why these people are caged.

A U.S. special operations "black site" at Bagram features "sleep deprivation, holding detainees in cold cells, forced nudity, physical abuse, detaining individuals in isolation cells for longer than 30 days, and restricting the access of the International Committee of the Red Cross," according to Jonathan Horowitz's investigation for the Open Society Institute.

Finally, in a move that bodes ill for the future, Obama refuses to criminally or civilly investigate Bush administration officials for illegal torture of prisoners. He won't even empanel a "truth commission" to bring the facts before the American people. Future administrations will thus have little to fear when they break the law.

Most progressives are silent about Obama's shameful record. But it may explain the disappointment Chait can't understand.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine. This article originally appeared at The Future of Freedom Foundation.