The Obama-Romney War on Terror

by Julian Ku

Polls show that President Obama’s handling of foreign policy is one of his advantages over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.  And it will indeed be difficult for Romney to challenge President Obama on his war on terror policies.  Not only are they seen by the public as successful, they are also not that different from policies Romney himself would pursue.

Is there any reason to doubt that a President Romney would use drone attacks as aggressively as President Obama? Is there any reason to think a President Romney would close Guantanamo Bay any faster than President Obama?  And is there any indication that President Romney would eschew the “outsourcing” of detention to third countries where conditions are, to put it mildly, much worse than Guantanamo ever was?

This last claim is actually the least well-sourced.  But according to Eli Lake in the Daily Beast, the U.S. has been turning over suspected pirates and Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists to the Somali prison, where facilities are far less than adequate.  And it is reasonable that the U.S decision to stop bringing new detainees to Guantanamo has and will continue to result in the need to send detainees to countries with far less humane facilities.

Critics from the right, like Jack Goldsmith, suggest that the need to use prisons in Somalia and other countries to detain suspected terrorists means there probably is a policy tradeoff between using drones (Obama’s preferred approach) vs. detentions (Bush).  This is likely to eventually evolve into a Romney talking point, even though it will likely be small one and unimportant one.

As Jamie Kirchick points out here, the real political danger for President Obama’s policies would be from the left.  But while I wouldn’t call Harold Koh a hypocrite (as Kirchick does) for defending a general war approach that he criticized under Bush, I would say that Koh and other groups have provided Obama with plenty of cover on his left flank.  And President Obama has largely gotten a free pass from European allies (although he is getting some flak from the UN).

What is interesting, therefore, is that if Romney wins, he will have wide policy discretion to conduct an aggressive war on terrorism akin to that pursued by President Obama.  And if Obama wins re-election, well the same applies.  The Bush-Obama-Romney consensus would probably spell the beginning of the end of serious political dispute in the U.S., and perhaps around the world, of the propriety of US war-on-terror policies.  Not sure that is what President Obama intended, but there you go.

3 Responses

  1. “What is interesting, therefore, is that if Romney wins, he will have wide policy discretion to conduct an aggressive war on terrorism akin to that pursued by President Obama.”

    I disagree.  The most regrettable feature of progressive politics over the past four years has been its nearly complete hypocrisy — remaining silent over objectionable Bush-era practices that Obama continued or even expanded (drones, prosecuting whistleblowers).  Is there any reason to doubt that the same people who are okay with such practices when engaged in by Obama would be outraged again if Romney continued them?  Such is the cult of personality on the left: far too many progressive are interested in the man, not the rules.  I trust Obama far more than I trust Romney (though that’s not saying much), but I trust genuine constraints on executive power that apply to all presidents far more.  Sadly, I seem to be in the minority.

  2. Response…
    At least Obama ended the Bush-Cheney serial criminality that Bush admitted was his “program” of secret detention (a crime against humanity and war crime), unlawful transfer of non-pows from Iraq and Afghanistan occupied territory (a war crime under GC arts. 49 and 147 — remember the Goldsmith memo?), and coercive interrogation tactics (e.g., torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment).  Romney would most likely initiate such international criminal activity. Somone should ask Romney whether he would use waterboarding (I think he already has). I bet Condi Rice is waiting in the wings for another chance to facilitate the “program”!

  3. Romney has said he would torture as did all the other Republican presidential hopefuls with the exception of Ron Paul.  I find these kinds of posts part of the overarching effort (such as also at to legitimize everything the US has done in the War on Terror.

    I think the point is that there really is no left – there are only shades of right – in what is the space in which national security discourse is done.  There are a few tokens allowed to speak – as long as they eschew any accountability for high-level people.


Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.