Former President George W. Bush's party acceptance speech from 2004 now reads like any old Obama soundbite, highlighting a significant parallel between the two leaders.
“I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people,” Bush told a crowd of supporters in Madison Square Garden in September 2004, four years into his presidency. “If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch.”
The two presidencies draw little similarity, with the exception of defense strategy. We were still fighting the war on terror. No one can stomach that phrase anymore because it is all too reminiscent of Iraq. But when Obama finally speaks about the semi-secret drone war, he – like Bush — will argue that the Oval Office must use extreme measures to ensure national security. Even if that means waging an illegal war like Bush did, or executing Americans without a trial as Obama has.
But remember that once we increase presidential powers, we can’t take them back. If the Bush era taught us anything about Executive overreach, it taught us we’ll regret it soon enough.
For now, the White House is using 2001’s Authorization of Military Force Act to defend the legality of targeted killings. We are not technically at war with Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen. But we drone strike Al-Qaeda in these places (and probably more) because the act states that:
The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…
It was passed two days after 9/11. Domestic tensions were higher than they are now, fear was higher, and so was confusion and shock. We were suffering a national whiplash. So it may have made sense at the time to wage a war on “terrorism,” but where did it take us?
Caught up in fear, we let our guard down and allowed a president to invade a nation and kill innocent civilians in the name of national security. Bush convinced Americans that Saddam Hussein was tied to the September 11 attacks. And he convinced the media there were weapons of mass destruction (WMD). By 2002, when we entered Fallujah, support was at sixty percent.
The point is that Executive power in wartime can go too far. The irony of it all is that members of the Bush administration have admitted to planning an Iraqi invasion even before his presidency began. There were never WMDs and Hussein was never linked to Al-Qaeda. But we were vulnerable in 2001 because after 9/11, Americans needed a fight.
And we’re still vulnerable today. Even with this history behind us, the use of drones has garnered bipartisan support. But see this for what it is. We are so used to fighting Al-Qaeda, to fear of the Muslim World, to long security checks at the airport, that’ll we’ll do anything to feel safe again. So much so, that we are allowing Barack Obama to use our tax money to kill militants (and sometimes civilians) across the ocean. Yet he refuses to divulge specifics about the program at home.
This is a man who staunchly opposed the Iraq War. In 2008, he ran on that platform. But by using the 2001 Act to excuse his current campaigns he’s saying, Well if Bush did it, I can too.
How far are we going to let them take this? Bush started using drones at the beginning of the wars, but Obama plans to expand their use. The White House now praises the initiative because there is no collateral damage on our part. But they’re only focusing on the physical. Have we even considered the consequence of our complacence and compliance? Supporting drones means that we are encouraging Obama to disrupt the sovereignty of nations we are not at war with, possibly killing civilians in the meantime. And we are telling the president that he should eliminate our enemies wherever they may be. And by all means necessary.
Accept it, America: we are paranoid. We allowed one president to drag us into a never-ending conflict. And since we see no way out, we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ll only live in peace once they are all dead. But after 12 years we know that no war can settle this. No missile and especially no secret drone. So don’t be fooled again.