WPost Sees Neocon Hope in Obama

When reading Washington Post
editorials, one often is reminded of the famous question from
"Shawshank Redemption": "How can you be so obtuse?"

Of course, in the movie, the warden wasn't being "obtuse" as much as he
was obfuscating and obstructing. And similarly, one has to wonder if
the Post's apparent obtuseness is really something willful, that there
is a method to the maddening stupidity.

Such was the case with the Post's lead editorial on April 4, "New Words of War,"
in which the newspaper's neoconservative editorial writers equate
ex-President George W. Bush's "global war on terror" with President
Barack Obama's more targeted strategy against al-Qaeda.

The Post apparently still won't accept that Bush's blunderbuss GWOT
against "every terrorist group of global reach" was a geopolitical and
constitutional disaster. Instead, by cherry-picking a few words here
and there, the Post argues there's no real difference between Bush's
conflict against all "terrorists" everywhere and Obama's targeted
assault on al-Qaeda and its allies along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

In criticizing the Obama administration for allegedly playing word
games by dropping the GWOT phrasing, the Post was itself playing word

"Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton recently confirmed that the Obama administration
has dropped the phrase 'global war on terror,'" the Post wrote, adding:

didn't say why. 'I think that speaks for itself. Obviously,' was her
elaboration. That raised a few obvious questions: Does the new
administration believe the fight against al-Qaeda and other extreme
Islamist groups doesn't amount to war? Is the threat to the U.S.
homeland less, in President Obama's estimation, than that perceived by
President George W. Bush? And does the United States still expect its
NATO military allies to join in this newly unnamed, speaks-for-itself
endeavor? "

But is the Post
really that obtuse? What the change in wording means is that the Obama
administration doesn't buy into Bush's apocalyptic vision that
terrorism represents some new global phenomenon that requires waging
endless war and obliterating the U.S. Constitution.

The new words mean that Obama is defining the threat from al-Qaeda in a
much more limited way, thus offering a better prospect of victory
without the sacrifices of blood, treasure and liberties that Bush's
grandiose concept required in pursuit of some phantom security.

However, the Post editorialists drew other conclusions, citing Obama's
comments April 3 at a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France.

think it's important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now
President and George Bush is no longer President, al-Qaeda is still a
threat," Obama said. "We believe that we cannot just win militarily [in
Afghanistan and Pakistan]. But there will be a military component to
it, and Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder
that burden alone."

To the
Post's neocons, this statement was Obama channeling their hero, Bush,
though they complained of the unjust result - that Obama won praise
while Bush would have only encountered disdain.

W. Bush might have spoken those words, but Mr. Obama, in contrast to
how his predecessor might have been received, was greeted with applause
by his European audience," the editorial said.

No Change?

The Post then summed up its case for believing that the anti-terrorist
strategies of Obama and Bush were the same, except for the terminology.

The Post said officials of the Obama administration have acknowledged
that there is a threat from al-Qaeda, that it has a "global" component,
and that it "requires a military response, with NATO's participation."
Thus, the Post concluded, "It seems the 'global war on terrorism" will
continue - only without the name."

But that is a sophomoric - and obtuse - analysis. The Post ignores
crucial elements of Bush's GWOT that looked far beyond the threat from
al-Qaeda to seeing endless threats from militants, revolutionaries and
"rogue states" around the world.

The core problem of Bush's GWOT wasn't that it sought to neutralize
al-Qaeda's murderers but that it used Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as
an excuse to implement murderous strategies against people who had
nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, for instance, the
bloody invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Beyond forcing "regime change" in Iraq and seeking it in other "axis of
evil" countries, Bush's GWOT envisioned an endless "war" against
insurgents from Colombia to the Philippines to Central Asia that would
involve sending U.S. Special Forces and CIA hit teams to capture or
kill troublesome foreign leaders and militants. Bush even vowed to
continue this fight until he had eliminated "evil" itself.

The GWOT also was the rationale for imposing long-held right-wing
theories about an imperial Presidency that could override federal laws
and the U.S. Constitution, essentially establishing a "permanent
Republican majority" that would snuff out the American Republic.

Indeed, by 2002, Bush's GWOT had become the justification for
administration lawyers to craft legal opinions that asserted that the
President, as Commander in Chief, possessed "plenary" or total power
for the duration of the never-ending "war on terror."

Justice Department lawyers like John Yoo tossed away U.S.
constitutional rights almost casually. The GWOT meant scrapping habeas corpus,
the ancient right to challenge arbitrary arrests. Out, too, went the
First, the Fourth, the Fifth, the Sixth and the Eighth Amendments.

The needs of the GWOT took precedence over U.S. treaties and other
legal commitments, opening the door to the torture of detainees in U.S.
custody and to Bush's assertion that he could wage war without
congressional consent.

New Direction

So, Obama's narrower strategy of defeating al-Qaeda and its allies in a
regional conflict is not just semantics. It represents a significant
repudiation of Bush's grandiose GWOT, albeit not a totally new

There are residual
components from Bush's approach that have carried over into the Obama
administration, such as excessive claims of state secrets and long-term
detentions in Afghanistan as well as the year-long phase-out of the
Guantanamo prison and the three-year pull-out from Iraq.

The Post's neocons also find themselves sharing common ground with some
American leftists in treating Obama's approach as essentially the same
as Bush's. Their reasons, however, differ.

The Post wants to pretend that Obama is vindicating the Bush/neocon
position by keeping its substance although changing its name. Leftists
are pushing the line that Obama is no different from Bush, that Obama
is the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing.

But neither position recognizes that Obama has abandoned key components
of Bush's GWOT, particularly its infinite nature, both in time and
space. Obama has transformed the GWOT into a much more focused and
conventional conflict, targeting a specific terrorist group and its

By narrowing the
scope of the conflict, Obama also has implicitly rejected Bush's
corollary, that the GWOT requires a suspension of American liberties.
Neither of these shifts is insignificant - and to ignore them is obtuse.

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