The Imperial Presidency

by Ian Huyett


People are often surprised to hear that I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Obama and McCain, however, had nearly identical policies on the environment, the drug war, gay marriage, Israel, immigration and Iran. I decided on Obama after I heard the candidates’ differing stances on the War in Iraq.

McCain infamously remarked that he’d be willing to “maintain a presence” in Iraq for 100 years. In contrast, then-Senator Obama said on Oct. 27, 2007, “I will promise you this. If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war.” He gave us a withdrawal date of about 16 months and insisted “we will not have permanent bases there.”

The website obamabodycount.org reports that, since Obama’s election, our bloody and futile occupation of Iraq has claimed the lives of roughly 10,000 Iraqi civilians and hundreds of American soldiers. In fact, President Obama’s stated plan is the opposite of candidate Obama’s promise: 50,000 troops consigned to remain indefinitely on permanent bases. He might as well have said “gotcha” at his inauguration. At least McCain’s “100 years” promise was honest.

Interestingly, Obama’s base doesn’t seem to care that he said one thing and did another. A study by Heaney and Rojas found that attendance at anti-war protests has declined by more than 90 percent since Obama took office. Quinnipiac Polls show that in 2010, 78 percent of Democrats said they approved of U.S. policy in Iraq, compared with only 22 percent in 2003. That means that more than 50 percent of Democrats either never had a principled stance against the war or, more disturbingly, reversed their position because of one man.

Have Republicans similarly changed their position? Dick Cheney certainly hasn’t. In a Jan. 17 interview with NBC, the former vice president praised Obama’s decisions to maintain Guantanamo, launch covert air wars in Pakistan and expand the Patriot Act. The only Republicans I hear opposing the war are those who did so before Hillary Clinton temporarily pretended to.

Increasing the debt more than every president in history combined, Obama has laid out a record-breaking war budget. The candidate for change hasn’t let the recession stop him from maintaining expensive military occupations around the world and financially supporting the same repressive regimes that Bush did. He even marked the acceptance of his peace prize with an unashamed defense of war a week after consigning an additional 30,000 soldiers to shed their blood in Afghanistan, where our ongoing military presence has become a recruiting tool for terrorists.

Saying that the President has little real power is a weak excuse. Last year, a Forbes study named Obama the second most powerful man on earth after Hu Jintao. The President can override Congress and issue executive orders, a power that Cornell University Law School describes as “almost limitless.” As commander in chief, Obama could wake up tomorrow morning and order a bombing run in Malaysia while having his coffee. The president has the final say in what the military does, and he can end wars with phone calls as surely as he can start them.

Saying that we should trust any secret information Obama may have obtained since his election isn’t much better. Many of the people I’ve heard employ this argument didn’t trust Bush’s invasion of Iraq any more than I did. Even if you view Obama as infallible, we can’t claim to have a representative system of government if the people get the opposite of what they voted for.

Since the administration of Woodrow Wilson, our government has policed the world at the expense of American tax dollars and lives. The founding fathers gave us a military to protect America, not serve as babysitters in 135 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe. Those more concerned with Obama himself than his policies should not discount the many Americans who still want the change they voted for.

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