Friday, March 30, 2012

Franklin Roosevelt, Indeed

No guffawing.  No fingers crossed.    Not even a smile crossed his lips.

Apparently, incomprehensibly, Joe Biden was deadly serious when today in Wisconsin

“I’ve watched him make decisions that would make another man or woman’s hair curl,” Biden told the crowd of 150 inside the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee, according to a pool reporter on scene

Biden, who has said he’s the last man in the room with Obama before a tough call, often attests that his boss has a “backbone like a ramrod.”

And today he said that mettle — and the “serious problems” Obama faced upon taking office — put the president in a class of his own.

“I think I can say … no president, and I would argue in the 20th century and including now the 21st century, has had as many serious problems which are cases of first-instance laid on his table,” Biden said. “Franklin Roosevelt faced more dire consequences, but in a bizarre way it was more straightforward.”

The vice president claimed that the complexity of the 2008 financial crisis presented challenges in a way the Great Depression of 80 years ago did not.

The suggestion that President Obama has had it more tough than Roosevelt 32 is loathsome.     As Digby notes, "I think we can all agree that the Great Depression and Hitler were just a little bit more difficult than dealing with this recession and Mitch McConnell."

The vice-president's boast about his boss' courage is hard to square with the facts, especially as they pertain to the Administration's national security policies.      Today, New York Times Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal wrote

The Bush administration kept secrets largely for bad reasons: It covered up its torture memos, the kidnapping of innocent foreign citizens, illegal wiretapping and other misdeeds. Barack Obama promised to bring more transparency to Washington in the 2008 campaign, but he has failed to do that. In some ways, his administration is even worse than the Bush team when it comes to abusing the privilege of secrecy.

One example of this abuse is the government’s effort to block public scrutiny of its “targeted killing” policy – the use of drone aircraft to kill specific people identified as threats to the United States. The most notorious case is the Sept. 30, 2011, drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who United States officials say was part of Al Qaeda’s command structure. Another American was killed in the strike, and Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, also an American citizen, was killed in an attack two weeks later.

The Obama administration has refused to make public the legal documents underpinning the president’s decision to order the killing of an American citizen without any judicial review before or after the attack. So far, it has not even made those documents available to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Accordingly, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed two lawsuits aimed at forcing disclosure. One predates the Awlaki killing, the other followed the attack. The New York Times is party to the latter: Our paper wants the government to release the legal reasoning behind the attack. The ACLU is asking for more: It also wants to see the factual information that led to the decision to kill Mr. Awlaki.

But the government is blocking any consideration of these petitions with one of the oldest, and most pathetic, dodges in the secrecy game. It says it cannot confirm or deny the existence of any drone strike policy or program.

That would be unacceptable under any condition, but it’s completely ridiculous when you take into account the fact that a) there have been voluminous news accounts of drone strikes, including the one on Mr. Awlaki, and b) pretty much every top government official involved in this issue has talked about the drone strikes in public. 

I generally agree with Bill Maher, and disagree with Glenn Greenwald, that drone strikes are an unavoidable tool in combating terrorism.     When an American citizen leaves the U.S.A. and plots, or aids, terrorist attacks, he ought to be subject to assassination.      But secrecy is not the mark of courage, and it's not too much to ask the Obama administration to release whatever written material exists to justify its policy, particularly when, as Greenwald points out, Obama and other officials "have repeatedly boasted in public about this very program."

It should be enough to boast, as Biden has, "the best way to sum up the job the President has done if you need a real shorthand: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”       The ironic thing, given the Administration's pride in its drone program, is that the difficult decision made by the President was not in giving the go-ahead on Bin Laden but in eschewing a drone attack in favor of an operation on the ground by Navy SEALs in coordination with the C.I.A.        Approving the killing of America's greatest public enemy of the last half century should have been a no-brainer for Barack Obama; if he had decided to forego any operation, he would not have gotten the virtual pass from his political opponents that President Bush was largely afforded when he outsourced the effort to kill Bin Laden.       But the Navy SEALs prevailed, intelligence was preserved, and Obama earned a notch in his belt.

In the continuing struggle against terrorism- misnamed the "War on Terror"- the President has enjoyed significant success.         But secrecy is, as Greenwald notes, "the linchpin of the abuse of power."     If Mr. Obama really wants to exhibit the "mettle" ascribed to him by the Vice-President, the White House must stop leaning on the state secrets privilege, end its assault on whistleblowers, subject itself to normal oversight, and start turning an opaque presidency into a transparent one.

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