Is Barack Obama just a nicer version of Bush? Commentators are starting to express alarm at the speed in which the administration is pulling back from its anti-Bush campaign positions:
“The attention we’re giving Middle East peace is a change,” one senior administration official told me yesterday, recalling Bush’s 2001 decision to put the entire issue on ice. “Holding both sides equally to account is a change,” he adds. Above all, Obama rightly believes that true backing for Israel does not consist in repeated declarations of support. “Part of helping Israel is solving this goddamn problem,” says that official, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All that is encouragingly un-Bush. But some in Israel suggest these actions are mere variations in the mood music, confident that the underlying US position will not shift. They draw comfort from that. The rest of us should be alarmed.
This conflict will not be solved by simply implementing the old Bush approach with more skill. Obama mustn’t be Obama on the outside and Bush on the inside. The approach itself has to change and change radically.
I think of how the US is the only developed country – and one of only a handful of undeveloped countries – that still tells the world that people with HIV are dangerous pariahs, who need policing at borders and deporting if discovered. And yet this is the current policy of the Obama administration on global HIV and AIDS.
Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level.
Granted, a bunch of Generals and Colonels would undoubtedly be embarrassed by the disclosure of abuse that happened on their watch (above all–as Nell suggests–Stanley McChrystal, newly tapped to take over in Afghanistan). Granted, some of those Generals and Colonels (the aforementioned McChrystal) would probably lose their next promotion if these pictures became public. Granted, pundits speculate, abstractly, that the release of another round of torture pictures will inflame the already volatile Iraq and Afghanistan.
But those are all invald excuses, according to President Obama’s own FOIA guidelines. If you’re going to set a rule, follow it yourself.
We were told in 1996/7 that Blair’s promises would amount to nothing, and despite some impressive constitutional reform (albeit unfinished) and gay rights successes (almost all imposed by the European Court of Human Rights), most of them did amount to nothing. Is Obama the new Blair rather than the new Bush? We know he has form for playing some very long games, which both Wheeler and Sullivan allude to, and choosing to lose short-term battles in order to win progressive, long-term gains. But the HIV travel ban and DODT policy could be ended overnight, particularly by a president with so much political capital, and the question of the torture photos is a vexing one. Sullivan suggests another long game is in play there, however Obama’s now reviving military tribunals to deal with Guantanamo inmates:
Barack Obama will revive the heavily criticised George Bush-era military tribunals for detainees at Guantánamo Bay but will make them fairer, according to US officials.
Obama suspended the tribunals within hours of taking office in January, ordering a review of the military commission system. But he stopped short of abandoning the process altogether.
The military trials will remain frozen for another four months as the administration adjusts the legal system – expected to try fewer than 20 of the 241 detainees at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
Officials say the amended system would limit the use of hearsay and ban evidence gained from cruel treatment, including the use of “waterboarding”, a form of simulated drowning.
Defendants will be given the opportunity to pick their own lawyers and be provided with more protection if they do not testify. The decision to persist with the tribunals was immediately attacked by critics.
I don’t like this at all, and it suggests his response to the torture memos wasn’t a first step in a long game.