Monday, September 28, 2009
The following is an excerpt from a HuffPost blog entry by James Warren about topics featured in magazines this week.
No matter how much he might disdain the George W. Bush presidency, especially when it comes to misuse of executive branch power, Barack Obama may be a "self-entangling giant" who is going down the same perilous path argues no less an initial Obama sympathizer than journalist-historian Garry Wills in the Oct. 8 New York Review of Books.
Wills, a Northwestern University historian emeritus, argues in "Entangled Giant" that Bush left office unpopular and disgraced, with Obama set on ending illegal acts like torture and indefinite detentions, denial and legal representation to detainees, and nullification of laws by signing statements, among others. But he then contends that, "The momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked or even slowed."
Our entire post-World War 2 history "caused an inertial transfer of power toward the executive branch," replete with a de facto monopoly on nuclear power, a vast worldwide network of military bases, the systems of classification and clearance, the "war on terror" and what Wills calls the "cult of the commander in chief." And while Obama has taken certain steps, like announcing the future closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, there are other actions and statements that give pause: the CIA asserting that it may retain the practice of sending prisoners to foreign nations; the Justice Department decision to abort a trial by invoking "state secrets"; refusing to release photographs of "enhanced interrogation"; the release of gay personnel from the U.S. military at rates equivalent to the Bush years; and what Wills deems Obama's defiance of the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause, mandating states to recognize laws passed by other states, via Obama's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing states to refuse to recognize other states' approval of gay marriages.
Most of his case involves national defense and he concedes, "It should come as no surprise that turning around the huge secret empire built by the National Security State is a hard, perhaps impossible, task." In sum, he argues that Obama will become a prisoner of the national security prison we've built over decades; an empire of military bases and imperial dealings largely unknown to the average citizen.
"He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command," writes Wills. "Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant."