Danny Sjursen on the somehow unforeseen problems when “the other party” comes to power:
Many Americans were fond of Barack Obama. He left office with some of the highest approval ratings of his entire term. On foreign policy, as in most matters, he seemed reflective, deliberate, and rational. An effective communicator, he maintained composure and presidential poise, no matter the topic. In rare moments of frustration, Obama channeled “disappointed sitcom dad” rather than “blustering bully.” Love him or hate him, Obama was a gentleman. And that’s the problem. Mainstream progressives – who cried foul at George W. Bush’s every move – looked the other way as Obama expanded unfettered presidential power in foreign affairs. Why? Because they trusted him – his judgment, character, and motives. Maybe that trust was warranted. Here’s the catch: the 22nd amendment. No president may serve for more than eight years, no matter how beloved (by some). Furthermore, each chief executive creates important precedents for his successor. For this reason, many liberals – and perhaps the former president himself – may come to lament Obama’s principal foreign policy legacy: the unbridled expansion of executive power in matters of (endless) war.
Presidential primacy is nothing new, of course. Executive power has gradually expanded for centuries, especially since World War II. The Obama administration eschewed imprudent, large-scale, conventional invasions, but his legacy is also defined by a sustained campaign of extrajudicial killings of terrorists, expanding the range and geographic scope of military operations, and cracking down on media leaks and whistleblowers. In each sphere, Obama’s hawkish behavior surpassed even that of George W. Bush. This is one reason why Republican criticism of Obama’s supposedly “weak” and “feckless” foreign policy was so confusing. Sure, it’s fair to debate the wisdom of the Iran nuclear deal, his handling of the Syrian civil war, and his near-total withdrawal from Iraq. These are thorny issues worthy of complex analysis. But to label Obama a “dove” is just empirically false.
Finally, we turn to the much maligned “crooked” media. Sure, the recent invective between journalists and the Trump administration is spiraling out of control. Yet, even here, Obama’s legacy presents cause for concern. All early campaign rhetoric to the contrary, the last administration was notoriously opaque on certain aspects of national security. In fact, Obama used the controversial 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more leakers and whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. While there’s certainly a need for reasonable levels of government secrecy, the classification process and national security state have grown increasingly pernicious. When in doubt, government agencies’ default course is to reflexively classify. No matter their political persuasion, citizens ought to desire a free, fair press. Independent journalists require anonymous sources to maintain the transparency Americans once held dear. More prosecutions and threats of serious jail time will inevitably reduce the likelihood courageous sources will step forward. And given President Trump’s contentious “running war” with the press, Obama’s precedent may only be the beginning.