Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings points to a very important phrase in the comments President Obama made as he signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo detention facility within a year:
“The message we are sending around the world is that the US intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so effectively, and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals … We intend to win this fight, and we intend to win it on our terms.“
The Bush administration presented to the American public this false dichotomy suggesting our only options were to abandon long-held principles—of due process, just war, and protection against unlawful search—or lose to Al Qaeda. That’s the foundation upon which Bush is trying to build some sort of legacy. The only real talking point coming from the right is that, if nothing else, Bush kept us safe (as long as you don’t count September 11). And even if you don’t count September 11 as a strike against Bush, the “he kept us safe” case only works if the way he kept us safe was the only way he could have gone about it.
Would we have been any less safe if Bush hadn’t started an unnecessary war that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars? Would we have been any less safe if the administration hadn’t encouraged torture, which often produces false confessions and isn’t a very effective intelligence gathering tool? Would we have been any less safe if the administration hadn’t spied on millions of U.S. citizens?
Simply put, Bush faced a choice and took the easy way out.
Perhaps defending the country would have been more difficult if he hadn’t abandoned a commitment to human rights, personal liberty, and the rule of law, but the country would have been better in the long run. Those principles are embedded in the Constitution—and Americans have bled and died to defend them—for a reason.
I’m tempted to just move on. The Bush administration is history, and now begins the long process of rebuilding. But there’s a danger in forgetting mistakes so quickly. Let him build a legacy on his work in Africa or anything but this. If those loyal to Bush are successful in selling the argument that safety trumps all else, then sometime down the road when we are again faced with that decision to make, we risk repeating the same mistakes.
Bush’s legacy matters. Obama proclaimed during his inauguration that “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” To completely reject that choice, we must not forget what the Bush administration did to make that line so poignant today.
Cross-posted at Ablogistan.