The president's reversal on the release of photos showing alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan proves one thing: Barack Obama is NOT planning on providing tha "change-that-we-can-believe-in" for which his supporters so hoped. Instead, the reversal puts Barack Obama in the position of defending his predecessor's prerogatives with respect to keeping the photos under wraps because of national security.
This isn't the first time that the current administration has demonstrated that it is becoming more like an extension of George W. Bush rather than a sharp break away from him. The Obama Justice Department invoked the same "state secrets" privilege as Bush in arguing against the reinstatement of a lawsuit on behalf of Gitmo detainees who claim that they were "renditioned" to a foreign country and tortured. It is also enforcing the expanded foreign-intelligence eavesdropping laws passed last year. No surprise there, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for them. And, the administration hasn't been exactly quick to end "don't ask, don't tell." Quite the opposite, in fact.
Considering how often Dick Cheney is going out saying that Obama's change in policies has made the country "less safe," liberals might want to start asking, what "change" in policies?
Meanwhile there is a momentous reshuffling of the US' Afghanistan command structure (Bye-bye, David McKiernan; hello, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal) AND a serious gearing up of Obama's health-care plan. The former event, again, is reminiscent of Bush's policies toward Iraq when David Petraeus was finally brought on board in January 2007. McChrystal is a Petraeus protege and can be expected to try to create an Afghanistan version of the surge.
But when one combines this new military strategy with the building blocks to a new health-care plan, one has to go back a lot farther than George W. Bush. Indeed, there hasn't been such a simultaneous commitment to guns and butter since one Lyndon Baines Johnson, who tried to win the war in Vietnam at the same time he wanted to build a Great Society domestically.
Neither of these two presidential comparisons -- George W. Bush nor Lyndon Baines Johnson -- are exactly favorable to Barack Obama. They both left office with horribly low poll numbers -- each done in, partly, because of a failure to get a foreign misadventure under control. The irony in the case of Bush is that Petraeus' surge did work, but that the public had long-since soured on the war.
Obama seems to be working with Gates to shake things up in the effort -- before public support for the Afghanistan War starts to waver. Strategically, this is a smart move. But, the question remains: For how long will liberals give Obama a pass, given the many Bush policies the new president is continuing -- in particular the expansion of a war that shows little signs of ending any time soon?
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.