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The Shocking Pattern of Obama Repeating Some of the Worst of George W. Bush

Obama forged a continuation of the Bush years, doubling Bush's war in the Arab world, hiring staff from the Bush Administration, and tossing civil liberties aside for "security."

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Indeed, Obama’s understanding of international morality seems to be largely expressed by the proposition that "there's serious evil in the world" -- a truth he confided in 2007 to the New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks, and attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr -- combined with the assertion that he is ready to "face the world as it is." The world we seek is, of course, the better world of high morality. But morality, properly understood, is nothing but a framework for ideals. Once you have discharged your duty, by saying the right words for the right policies, you have to accommodate the world.

This has become the ethic of the Bush-Obama administration in a new phase. It explains, as nothing else does, Obama’s enormous appetite for compromise, the growing conventionality of his choices of policy and person, and the legitimacy he has conferred on many radical innovations of the early Bush years by assenting to their logic and often widening their scope. They are, after all, the world as it is.

Obama’s pragmatism comes down to a series of maxims that can be relied on to ratify the existing order -- any order, however recent its advent and however repulsive its effects. You must stay in power in order to go on “seeking.” Therefore, in “the world as it is,” you must requite evil with lesser evil. You do so to prevent your replacement by fanatics: people, for example, like those who invented the means you began by deploring but ended up adopting. Their difference from you is that they lack the vision of the seeker. Finally, in the world as it is, to retain your hold on power you must keep in place the sort of people who are normally found in places of power.

David Bromwich, the editor of a selection of Edmund Burke's speeches, On Empire, Liberty, and Reform , has written on the Constitution and America's wars for The New York Review of Books and The Huffington Post.