Commentary Magazine


Stuck on the Same Page

Frank Rich is halfway towards understanding the significance of Obama’s pivot Bushward:

No matter how hard President Obama tries to turn the page on the previous administration, he can’t. Until there is true transparency and true accountability, revelations of that unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip, disrupting the new administration’s high ambitions.

Obama can’t turn the page on the Bush administration because he’s faced with the same challenges and the same limited array of responses.  If Frank Rich thinks that wet towels on the faces of three terrorists constitute an “eight-year nightmare,” try to imagine the tone of his displeasure had Bush let us get hit again. Obama may have entered office with certain “high ambitions,” but after a few classified briefings any president can be made to understand that the highest ambition in the post-9/11 world is keeping the U.S. attack-free, not carbon-neutral. Obama now finds himself locked into responsible policy by the forces of . . . yep, evil. Try telling the recipient of daily classified intelligence that that category doesn’t exist; or that the term is quaint and unhelpful.

For seven years the Left complained about Bush’s national security approach, but they never had alternatives; now they’re in power and they still don’t. Attorney General Eric Holder says we don’t think about race enough. He’s obviously been thinking about it too much, and thinking too little about things like what to do with unlawful enemy combatants. Apparently he’s stumped. On Friday, it was announced that Bush-era military tribunals would be resumed.  There are so many legal reasons why these prisoners can’t be tried in civilian courts it seems frankly eccentric that the idea was ever proposed.

Obama has to stick with Bush policy, but if anyone is unwilling to turn the page it’s people like Frank Rich. The rest of his column reads like a Daily Kos bleat circa 2006:

Take the [intelligence update] dated April 3, 2003, two weeks into the invasion, just as Shock and Awe hit its first potholes. Two days earlier, on April 1, a panicky Pentagon had begun spreading its hyped, fictional account of the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch to distract from troubling news of setbacks. On April 2, Gen. Joseph Hoar, the commander in chief of the United States Central Command from 1991-94, had declared on the Times Op-Ed page that Rumsfeld had sent too few troops to Iraq. And so the Worldwide Intelligence Update for April 3 bullied Bush with Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Including, as it happened, into a quagmire.)

Yeah, Yeah, we know. Bush was on a mission from God, Cheney was on a mission from Halliburton, and Rumsfeld “sold” Saddam weapons. All of which fails to explain why Barack Obama has chosen to keep the U.S. in the same theater under more-or-less the same framework agreed to by the Bush administration. The only quagmire in evidence these days is in columns like Rich’s. He, Maureen Dowd, and other career-conspiricists need an exit strategy, but it’s not going to come from President Obama.