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Obama Adopts the Bush Approach to the War on Terrorism

President Obama speaking yesterday at the National Archives in Washington.
President Obama speaking yesterday at the National Archives in Washington. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)

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Observers of all political stripes are stunned by how much of the Bush national security agenda is being adopted by this new Democratic government. Victor Davis Hanson (National Review) offers a partial list: "The Patriot Act, wiretaps, e-mail intercepts, military tribunals, Predator drone attacks, Iraq (i.e., slowing the withdrawal), Afghanistan (i.e., the surge) -- and now Guantanamo."

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Jack Goldsmith (The New Republic) adds: rendition -- turning over terrorists seized abroad to foreign countries; state secrets -- claiming them in court to quash legal proceedings on rendition and other erstwhile barbarisms; and the denial of habeas corpus -- to detainees in Afghanistan's Bagram prison, indistinguishable logically and morally from Guantanamo.

What does it all mean? Democratic hypocrisy and demagoguery? Sure, but in Washington, opportunism and cynicism are hardly news.

There is something much larger at play -- an undeniable, irresistible national interest that, in the end, beyond the cheap politics, asserts itself. The urgencies and necessities of the actual post-9/11 world, as opposed to the fanciful world of the opposition politician, present a rather narrow range of acceptable alternatives.

Among them: reviving the tradition of military tribunals, used historically by George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Winfield Scott, Abraham Lincoln, Arthur MacArthur and Franklin Roosevelt. And inventing Guantanamo -- accessible, secure, offshore and nicely symbolic (the tradition of island exile for those outside the pale of civilization is a venerable one) -- a quite brilliant choice for the placement of terrorists, some of whom, the Bush administration immediately understood, would have to be detained without trial in a war that could be endless.

The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

That's happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won't have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com


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