Obama and Bush as wartime executives

The latest issue of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis features former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s assessment of the Obama administration’s approach to the fight against Islamism.

President Obama campaigned for office largely on the claim that his predecessor had shredded the Constitution. By the Constitution, he could not have meant the document signed on September 17, 1787. Article II of that document begins with a simple declaration: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” Not “some” or “most” or even “all but a teeny-weeny bit” of the executive power. The President is vested with all of it. This is particularly noteworthy when compared with the enumerated legislative powers vested in Congress: “All legislative Powers herein granted.” The Founders understood, based in part on their unfortunate experience under the Articles of Confederation, that the branch of government most likely to be in need of the ability to act quickly and decisively is the executive. The branch most likely to overreach is the legislature.

The conversation reminds this commentator of an observation from former Bush anti-terrorism official Juan Zarate during an interview with Carolina Journal Radio/CarolinaJournal.tv.

Kokai: You worked for the Bush administration. Some people listening to us are going to say, “OK, this guy is going to have a lot of bad things to say about the way President Obama has handled terrorism.” But you call his decision to take out Osama bin Laden a “gutsy call” and the “right call.” How has President Obama done in handling anti-terrorism?

Zarate: Well, I think it’s a little bit of a mixed story. I think there’s been fundamental continuity in the counterterrorism policies that were handed over in 2009. I think one of the realities is that our counterterrorism policies evolved over time. What we were doing in 2002 [and] 2003 changed and adapted. By the time we got to 2009, there was a fundamental approach to our counterterrorism that, I think, the Obama administration has largely adopted. Where I differ with the Obama administration is where they have tried to starkly distinguish themselves, in obvious ways, from the Bush administration. That’s when they’ve gotten into trouble because the baseline of their policy is consistent with the Bush administration.

Where they have, for example, signed an executive order trying to close Guantanamo on an artificial deadline — not fully appreciating the complexities of that, not fully appreciating the fact that President Bush said he wanted Guantanamo closed in 2006 and was trying to do that, not fully appreciating the complexities of devising a detainee system that includes a military tribunal option, that includes criminal trials, that includes what the Obama administration accepts is indefinite detention without any trial — those are differences the Obama administration has tried to draw. But the difference has not held up and has forced the Obama administration to retreat from some very controversial policy decisions.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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