As I said yesterday, President Barack Obama's big War on Terror speech will be praised by those "who like words." Sure enough here comes The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, who knows all about "the dark side" of the WoT, with an almost perfect encapsulation of the mindset that perpetuates the very conservative warmaking liberals spend so much energy claiming to loathe:
One first impression left by President Obama's much-anticipated speech re-casting U.S. counter-terrorism policy is that of the contrast between Bush's swagger and Obama's anguish over the difficult trade-offs that perpetual war poses to a free society. It could scarcely be starker. While Bush frequently seemed to take action without considering the underlying questions, Obama appears somewhat unsure of exactly what actions to take.
War, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention and extrajudicial assassination are just so much better when the president is conflicted about it all!
George W. Bush never droned innocent Americans to death, least as far as we know. Yet marvel here in a passage about drone assassinations as Mayer miraculously absolves the current president while slamming his predecessor:
[H]ere, too, Obama's evident pain over the program, whose civilian deaths he said would "haunt" him and his command "as long as we live," seemed a telling change from the secrecy and winking smugness of the past.
In case the superficial contrast between "swagger" (BAD!) and "anguish" (GOOD!) isn't clear enough, watch Mayer extend Obama all sorts of moral cover while waving aside the little matter of his actual actions as commander in chief:
Obama embraced both constitutional and international legal limits, at least in principle, even as he struggled to define them in practice. In fact, his speech was a paean to the theory of "just war," which requires a balance between means and ends, demanding proportionality whenever the state resorts to the use of force. It's a sophisticated and nuanced moral theory, on which the law of conflict rests. Obama has openly grappled with the most difficult questions posed by the most serious thinkers in this area.
Back when it was Republicans in charge of the warmaking apparatus, I was fond of saying that neo-conservatism is just Wilsonianism with a "Fuck France" T-shirt. I think it's time to assert the corollary: "Just war"ism is just Dick Cheneyism with more crocodile tears.
Mayer, in her conclusion, does finally get to the non-trivial question of bridging the wide chasm between the president's words and deeds. By, of course, blaming Republicans:
Much of the burden of moving forward, however, is not in Obama's hands. Within minutes of his speech, conservatives on Capitol Hill had already begun jumping on him for having a "pre-9/11 mindset"—as if, somehow, the 9/11 mindset should last forever.
Always remember this point, next time we have a Republican president. Democrats are, at best, temporary doves.