By John Yoo, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Obama has learned to face “the world as it is,” and loudly proclaim the right to self-defense.
Who said this?
“Make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man, and the limits of reason.”
It sounds like George W. Bush, but it was Barack Obama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.
The Obama administration may be growing up. One sign of maturity is understanding that international politics do not wax and wane with a president’s popularity or media buzz. Iran and North Korea did not drop their quest to acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles simply because we elected our first African American president. Al-Qaeda did not end its plans to launch another terrorist attack on our country because the Democrats won big in 2008.
So out with the apologies before foreign audiences for America’s sins. And in with a full-throated defense of America’s right to protect itself.
“As a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by the examples” of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi alone, Obama said in Oslo. “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.”
Obama may be coming to grips with reality. Platitudes about the United Nations and world peace are not going to protect the United States from terrorists and rogue states that wish us harm.
“The world must remember that it was not simply international institutions – not just treaties and declarations – that brought stability to a post-World War II world,” Obama said. “Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”
So instead of fleeing Afghanistan, as many in the antiwar left hoped, Obama is sending an additional 30,000 troops. Instead of accelerating the drawdown of American forces in Iraq, Obama is keeping to the Bush timetable.
Add to all this a full dose of American exceptionalism – the idea that the United States has a special role to play in the world – and you have a strategy that is turning toward, rather than away from, the course of the previous eight years.
As we near the end of the administration’s first year in office, it is ironic, to say the least, that victory in Afghanistan and Iraq may save the Obama presidency from itself. According to the latest Gallup poll, less than half of the American people (49 percent) now approve of Obama’s job performance. His massive stimulus plan, bank and auto bailouts, and explosive deficit spending did not stop unemployment from topping 10 percent. He wants to nationalize one-sixth of the economy by taking over health care, and limit greenhouse gas emissions, which will result in energy rationing. These measures will suppress growth and entrepreneurship just when our nation needs it most. The inevitable tax increases that will have to pay for these grandiose schemes may herald the return of 1970s-style stagflation.
The even larger irony is that if anything saves Obama after his rocky first year, it will be a constitutionally vigorous presidency along the lines of Reagan or Bush. It will not be the meek one for which he and the Democratic Party campaigned the last eight years.
When Obama decided to boost troop levels in Afghanistan, he did not go to Congress on bended knee. He said in his speech at West Point: “As commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” He told those brave cadets: “I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Congress has conveniently forgotten how to howl about an imperial presidency. The attacks on Bush were always more about partisan politics than the Constitution. Almost no one questions that Obama holds the power to decide the nation’s fundamental security policies and to send the military and intelligence agencies in harm’s way. Congress could cut off funds for Obama’s surge, just as with Iraq, but making tough decisions does not get representatives and senators reelected.
The last irony is that if Obama someday joins the ranks of our great presidents, it will be by returning to the Founding Fathers’ original vision of the office. They could never have imagined its vast bureaucracy or sweeping influence over domestic affairs. They designed the presidency to act with “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch,” not to bail out businesses or take over health care, but to prevail in the face of unforeseen emergencies, crises, and wars.
If Obama succeeds in bringing the nation through Iraq and Afghanistan, and destroys al-Qaeda, he will have drawn on the same wellsprings of presidential power that sustained Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. Let’s hope he has learned the lessons of past presidents well, as he enters his second year in office.
John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, served in the Bush Justice Department. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Crisis and Command.”