May 23, 2013
The Obama Contradiction
Posted on Apr 30, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
In truth, at this point the president could clearly have ordered those deaths without such a document. Think of it as the presidential equivalent of a guilty conscience, but count on this: when those drones start taking out “behaviors” in Yemen and elsewhere, there will be no stream of 50-page memorandums generated to cover the decisions. That’s because as you proceed down such a path, as your acts become ever more the way of your world, your need to justify them (to yourself, if no one else) lessens.
That path, already widening into a road, may, someday, become the killing equivalent of an autobahn. In that case, making such decisions will be ever easier for an imperial president as American society grows yet more detached from the wars fought and operations launched in its name. In terms of the president’s power to kill by decree, whether Obama gets his second term or Mitt Romney steps into the Oval Office, the reach of the commander-in-chief presidency and the “covert” campaigns, so secret they can’t even be acknowledged in a court of law, so public they can be boasted about, will only increase.
This is a dangerous development, which leaves us in the grip—for now—of what might be called the Obama conundrum. At home, on issues of domestic importance, Obama is a hamstrung, hogtied president, strikingly checked and balanced. Since the passage of his embattled healthcare bill, he has, in a sense, been in chains, able to accomplish next to nothing of his domestic program. Even when trying to exercise the unilateral powers that have increasingly been invested in presidents, what he can do on his own has proven exceedingly limited, a series of tiny gestures aimed at the largest of problems. And were Mitt Romney to be elected, given congressional realities, this would be unlikely to change in the next four years.
On the other hand, the power of the president as commander-in-chief has never been greater. If Obama is the president of next to nothing on the domestic policy front (but fundraising for his second term), he has the powers previously associated with the gods when it comes to war-making abroad. There, he is the purveyor of life and death. At home, he is a hamstrung weakling, at war he is—to use a term that has largely disappeared since the 1970s—an imperial president.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of “The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s” as well as “The End of Victory Culture”, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book is “The United States of Fear” (Haymarket Books).
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Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt
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