Critics in his own party and Republican opponents are attacking Barack Obama’s emerging stance on national security with equal ferocity. Many Democrats are furious that the president has broken his promise to abandon the Bush administration’s war-powers approach to fighting terrorism. Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, and other conservatives attack him for doing the opposite – for keeping his promise and emasculating the US anti-terror effort.
The left’s complaints make far more sense than Mr Cheney’s. Mr Obama is adjusting the Bush administration’s policies here and there and seeks to put them on a sounder legal footing. This recalibration is significant and wise, but it is by no means the entirely new approach that he led everybody to expect.
Mr Obama is in the right, in my view, but he owes his supporters an apology for misleading them. He also owes George W. Bush an apology for saying that the last administration’s thinking was an affront to US values, whereas his own policies would be entirely consonant with them. In office he has found that the issue is more complicated. If he was surprised, he should not have been.
The signature intellectual defect of the non-compromisers on each side of this debate is an inability to recognise conflicting ends.
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