5 Ways President Obama Has Doubled Down on Bush's Most Tragic Mistakes
Photo Credit: AFP
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On President Barack Obama's second full day in the Oval Office in 2009, he signed important executive orders that signaled a clear break with the excesses of George W. Bush's “war on terror.” Obama decreed that the Guantanamo Bay prison camp would be closed in a year and that the United States would no longer perpetrate torture. No longer would men, some of them innocent, languish without charges in what has been described as an American gulag by Amnesty International. No longer would men be subjected to brutal interrogation tactics that clearly amounted to torture, like water boarding.
The orders would “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism,” said Obama.
Fast-forward to today. Guantanamo remains open, warrantless wiretapping continues, and drone strikes have accelerated, leading to the deaths of innocent civilians and a burst in support for anti-American forces in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Instead of breaking with the Bush era, Obama has codified and permanently institutionalized the “war on terror” framework that has characterized American foreign policy since the September 11, 2001 attacks. And they have done all of this largely in secret, refusing to open up about how drone strikes are decided on. So while torture has been thrown out of the American playbook, other black marks remain. Obama has done everything but restore “core constitutional values” to how the U.S. conducts itself around the world.
Perhaps the most potent symbol of Obama's willingness to institutionalize Bush-era frameworks for dealing with terrorism is his January 2013 appointment of John Brennan as new Central Intelligence Agency director. Brennan was a key supporter of many Bush-favored tactics used by the CIA, including torture and extraordinary rendition. When Obama first contemplated appointing Brennan in his first term to the post he's been appointed to now, the outcry was swift and Brennan pulled out from consideration. Now, the reaction has been meek—a symbol of how Bush-era military and intelligence tactics have become normalized to the extent that nobody bats an eye when a man with a sordid record at the CIA is appointed to head up the entire agency.
Obama has kept the U.S. on a permanent war footing with no end in sight through a variety of methods. Here are five ways the Obama administration has institutionalized the never-ending war on terror.
The image of the gray, pilotless aircraft flying through the sky to eventually rain hellfire down will be indelibly tied to Obama. His administration has made drone strikes in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan the weapon of choice when it comes to dealing with suspected militants. You have to look at the numbers of drone strikes under the Bush and Obama administrations to truly appreciate how Obama has taken this Bush tool and increased its use exponentially.
The first drone strike in U.S. history occurred in 2002, when a CIA-operated drone fired on three men in Afghanistan. The drone strikes have since migrated over to battlefields away from U.S.-declared wars. In Pakistan, the Bush administration carried out a total of 52 strikes, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which closely tracks drone strikes. That led to the deaths of an estimated 438 people, including 182 civilians and 112 children. But the Obama administration has ordered at least 300 drone strikes in Pakistan—and Obama's second term has yet to begun. Those strikes have killed about 2,152 people, including 290 civilians, of whom 64 were children.
The drone strikes also have a devastating impact beyond the deaths reported. As a New York University/Stanford University study on drone strikes stated, the constant buzzing of drones in the sky “terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”