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Dan Balz's Take

Obama Finds Himself Between Bush and a Hard Place

No matter which way he turns, President Obama can't seem to shake the legacy of George W. Bush's presidency.

On two issues this week, the Obama administration broke with and embraced the policies of his predecessor, drawing criticism on successive days from both ends of the political spectrum.

The biggest break came with the decision Monday by Attorney General Eric Holder to initiate an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse by CIA interrogators and contractors.

Obama, who in his first days as president ordered an end to the agency's harshest interrogation techniques, has said repeatedly that he does not wish to re-litigate the past, or subject officials to criminal prosecution if they believed they were operating within parameters approved by their superiors. Holder's decision undercuts Obama's desire to move forward.

The appointment of career prosecutor John H. Durham to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant prosecutions does not guarantee that criminal charges will be filed. But the decision keeps the controversy alive indefinitely at a time when Obama has more than enough controversies to keep him busy.

The decision pleased neither liberal nor conservative critics.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that there is more than enough evidence to warrant prosecutions and accused Holder of "appeasing the political interests in Washington."

Former vice president Richard B. Cheney weighed in late Monday with a statement to the Weekly Standard. He said Holder's decision to hold CIA officials up for possible prosecution and a separate administration policy removing authority over detainee interrogations from the CIA are proof that the Obama administration cannot be trusted to protect national security.

"He's clearly carved out a middle course of not wanting the most egregious behaviors to pass uninvestigated while not wanting judgment of the Bush administration as the centerpiece of his administration," said Robert Borosage of the progressive Campaign for America's Future. Obama, he added, "bent over backwards to be sensitive and probably has paid a political price for it."

On the same day Holder made his announcement, it became clear that some elements of the Bush administration's policies for handling suspected terrorists would continue. The Obama administration will continue the policy of rendition -- shipping suspected terrorists abroad for interrogation -- although, administration officials insist, under stricter guidelines that will prevent suspects from being tortured.

That was the latest example of an area of continuity between Obama's and Bush's national security policies, particularly the policies that were in practice during the last years of Bush's presidency.

The most obvious area of continuity in foreign policy involves two of the key architects of Bush's policies in the final two years of his presidency. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command, continue to play central roles in military and security policy of the Obama administration.

In Afghanistan, Obama's departures from Bush's policies have been aimed at augmenting the size of U.S. forces and stepping up the nation's commitment to that war. In Iraq, Obama has ordered a withdrawal of U.S. forces, as he pledged during the campaign, but on a slightly elongated timetable. In reality, given the relative success of Bush's troop surge policy and the agreements negotiated at the end of the Bush administration, the shift from U.S. to Iraqi dominance in securing the country was already in the works.

In other areas of national security policy, Obama has made alterations but not always full breaks with Bush. In some cases, he has repackaged the rhetoric that describes these policies but former Bush administration officials see clear links.

"None of these are exact replicates of what Bush as doing, of course, and Obama and his team have an interest in not drawing parallels to what Bush & Company did," former Bush White House official Peter Wehner said in an e-mail Tuesday. "But they exist."

The following day, when the administration's new forecasts said the country will rack up another $9 trillion in debt over the next decade, officials pointed to a series of Bush administration policies that they said had irresponsibly contributed to the deficit. Though they said the steeper-than-expected recession played a major role, the officials also cast blame on Bush's tax cuts, a prescription drug bill that was not paid for, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were never truly accounted for in the budget.

At the same time, Obama interrupted his vacation on Martha's Vineyard to announce that he had decided to nominate Ben Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, keeping the Bush-appointee in place for another four years. Obama praised Bernanke for his boldness and creativity in dealing with the financial crisis that began to spiral downward late in last year's presidential campaign.

Bernanke was part of a three-person team during the waning days of the Bush administration that took the first steps designed to stabilize the financial markets and prevent the economy from slipping into a depression. The others were then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, then the head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and Paulson's successor at Treasury in the new administration.

Together they helped initiate, with Bush's blessing, the financial industry bailouts that have continued under Obama -- to the dismay of some of Obama's liberal allies.

Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution said Obama's moves amount to embracing the Bush legacy while trying to walk away from it. "It was changes made by Bush late in his tenure ..... that are more readily embraced by President Obama." Those policies, he said, most seem to rankle Cheney.

Where there is continuing conflict with Bush policies, Mann said, it is "with the original Bush and the unchanging Cheney, while the overlap is to be seen in some of the more pragmatic moves made near the end of Bush's term."

All this leaves Obama in an uncomfortable position, drawing fire from conservatives while making his liberal friends nervous. It is a clear example of the difference between campaigning for president and actually being president.

Posted at 7:16 PM ET on Aug 25, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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What would be the point of shipping detainee's overseas, the United States did not use excessive force, by sending them to another country it would lend an air of suspicion that civil liberties should file tort actions against the U.S., for actions taken against nature. If no crimes were committed in Guantanamo then thats were their rights are, keep them here in the U.S. and establish those same rights, if you move them to another country and the process of 'rendition' continues, then whatever information collected from those interrogations becomes suspect, under tort.
No one will question the methods used at Guantanamo were horrific, and that the Bush Administration used the Terrorist Act to get the information needed to locate the terrorist cells by more than civil means and that to get that information the right to know had to have been garnished, with ego aside, those laws have to be put back in place, while keeping the fabric of the country from any new rents. This can not happen with constant media access, President Obama has to be allowed the compass to right this ship, because if allowed to continue to navigate off course, those laws will become subjugated, held accountable to those same unnatural crimes.

Posted by: edtroyhampton | September 1, 2009 4:11 PM

Cheney is again cackling because he afraid.
He did a lot of things against our constitution and hopefully will be completely exposed. Why should he get away with it??????

Posted by: barryaudrey | August 27, 2009 9:12 AM

Cheney is again cackling because he afraid.
He did a lot of things against our constitution and hopefully will be completely exposed. Why should he get away with it??????

Posted by: barryaudrey | August 27, 2009 9:11 AM

...and isn't a little ironic that the man defending the CIA is at the heart of another investigation that includes his chief of staff?

Nice job protecting Valerie Plame Mr. VP.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | August 26, 2009 7:46 PM

We know that Mr. Cheney is not happy.

Investigating the CIA interrogators will lead us directly to the question, "Who gave you your orders?"

Once we get answers delivered under oath, EVERYONE will know. So yes, let's ask the guys who got the orders. And let's find out what the White House and specifically the Vice President did.

Cheney defends the CIA. Why? Perhaps he knows they were just following orders.

But he offers no details on his role. Nor does he explain by what lawful authority he may have ordered the CIA to torture suspects.

Any investigation must begin at the beginning. Let's start with the operatives and see who they lead us to.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | August 26, 2009 7:38 PM

Why is there any doubt in anyone's mind that the reason Bush kept on reading the goat story to the kindergarden class was because he knew how many planes was supposed to hit. He was not informed that some of the planes was delayed leaving take off but after 18 minutes he knew something went wrong.

Posted by: SWAMPYPD | August 26, 2009 2:20 PM

I am so sick of hearing Dick Chaney say that the Obama administration isn't able to keep America safe. Who was it that ignored the August 6th memo that stated bin Laden wanted to attack within the United States. If he had investigated that information maybe Sept. 11th could have been avoided. It was the Bush administration that is responsible for the Sept. 11th attack.
I would also like people to remember the look on Bush when told by Andy Card that America was under attack, he didn't even show surprise and didn't issue any orders for 18 minutes (what great leadership) or until all his Saudi friends had left the country. For 18 minutes the United States was left unprotected. Bush himself should be investigated for dereliction of duty.

Posted by: scooter0602 | August 26, 2009 12:31 PM

You wrote, "The decision pleased neither liberal nor conservative critics". Speaking as a Labor/Management Arbitrator with 23 years experience I've come to regard tough decisions that pleased no one were more often "right" than "wrong".

Posted by: geraldsutliff1 | August 26, 2009 11:53 AM

Bush did this...Obama is doing that... What happened to "The President proposes, The Congress disposes? Everything past administrations did had to be vetted through Congress. Who is to blame for our present war? Despite wild allegations to the contrary, the Bush administration was as blind-sided as everyone else by 9-11. The Congress gave Bush Carte Blanc for waging war, wherever!
Is Mr. Holder going to investigate the "excesses" of the Vietnam war? How about those of Korea and WWII? (All with Democrats in the White House, by the way, and agreed to by Congress.)

Posted by: hpyost | August 26, 2009 11:20 AM

President Obama = Bush lite

Posted by: kct1 | August 26, 2009 9:07 AM

With no disrespect to Obama but in loving memory of Ted please read this visionary link:

http://americaspeaksink.com/2009/08/the-office-of-the-presidency-must-end/


Posted by: CRich1 | August 26, 2009 8:41 AM

"FED, Worse Terrorist Than Al-Qaeda"

Posted by: Archarito | August 25, 2009 10:07 PM

What a load of horse manure. The incompetent college boy dumbo in the White House uses the Bush administration as a crutch.
He hasn't accomplished anything, except spreading a loaad of B.S. all across this country. No accomplishments, and no substance. He's trashing the economy, our national security and trying to do it to our health care.
What a disgraceful, inept numbnuts the class envy crowd elected.

Posted by: LarryG62 | August 25, 2009 9:50 PM

One wonders what the private note that 43 left for 44 actually said. Probably something like, "Good luck, sucker!" After all, Bush and his allies plundered the nation's treasury, took actions that eroded our constitutional protections, and left a trail of destruction across our land worse than any Cat 5 hurricane could ever possibly wreak.

Undeniably, Barack Obama inherited from his predecessor a badly broken country with a ruined economy and terrible image abroad. He probably had no idea just how bad things were until he arrived in the Oval Office and started receiving intelligence reports.

Since taking office, Obama and his team have plunged ahead fearlessly and tirelessly to right the American ship - to address many of the systemic problems plaguing our country. He's stuck to his campaign pledge of bringing true change to government.

But meaningful change takes time. I can appreciate why Obama often seeks middle ground and why his actions can cause consternation on both ends of the political spectrum. He knows that true change must happen gradually.

Even so - even in spite of Obama's bending over backwards to forge bipartisanship, the GOP and their corporate allies have been throwing a fit. Their blatant attempts to sabotage the President are nothing less than treasonous.

And the ultra neoconservatives - Limbaugh, Gingrich, Beck and the rest - should be put out of commission. They should have their broadcasts cancelled, their plugs pulled, their voices muffled. They do nothing but harm the nation with their incendiary rhetoric, outrageous lies and vile characterizations.

I for one hope the American people are smart enough to see the truth - to realize that our President is an honorable man here to help the nation move forward from the very terrible, very dark years of Bush and Cheney.

Posted by: commpro | August 25, 2009 9:41 PM

Enso - "Ted Bundy shouldn't have been tortured, only executed. But if he had a live victim stashed away aomewhere when he was caught, I would have had no qualms whatsoever "extracting" the info from him. Same with KSM and the non-human animals like him. This doesn't make me a sadist. It makes me a sensible person."

I'd go past this to allow hard interrogations of convicted domestic criminals where it is still vital information - which may have been unecessary to obtain a conviction - but of continuing high value to society and victim's families. It shouldn't be a purely voluntary process on the convict's part.

I have always thought that once convicted, the court should have the power to order further interrogation of the convicted felon in certain major crimes. Within the individual right not to be forced to give testimony against him or herself, but with persoanl immunity to resolve other crimes, and get critical details of crimes that were resolved at trial, or offered up and accepted in a plea deal , resolved with conviction while huge pieces of missing info not needed to obtain a conviction or plea deal remain concealed.

Such as interrogation of a serial killer until they give all the locations of disposed of bodies for the families, and societies interest. Who exactly were the terrorist convicted of murder's confederates. Who did a convicted spy meet with that we learned of after his plea deal? Or interrogating a Wall Street crook on precisely how he worked his 205 million dollar scam, and who else was involved not known at trial..Or interrogating major drug barons. (to allow America and law enforcement to better understand how they work, the technical and logistic resources they have in organized crime syndicates, who in police, courts they have bought off)

I'd balance that with assurance that more criminal charges would not be possible to be lodged based on what was forced out of them after conviction (immunity)- to reconcile post-conviction interrogation with the 5th. And allow more chances to exonorate - by partially subsidizing DNA tests (do-gooder groups and the convict and convicts family would have to put up most of it to cut down on expensive, specious lab testing and private forensics resources that have to be employed.)

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | August 25, 2009 9:02 PM

What do you mean he can't shake the legacy. He keeps on bring things up. I can't believe the things I read in the WAPO these days.

Posted by: FredKnowsBest | August 25, 2009 8:58 PM

LOOK! Just treat 'our' guys with the same decency they treated their captives. Is that a problem? Hmmmm?

Two common expressions seem to fit, here:
1. Turn about is fair play. (D. Webster)
2. Payback's a *itch.

Posted by: drjillshackford1 | August 25, 2009 8:48 PM

thebobbob, is exactly right. Obama has been left with a house burning. The problems he has been left with by Bush are absolutely incredible. In every arena. And, they CANNOT be solved in any short period of time.
Republicans have decided to make sure that he cannot solve them in ANY period time. They have decided to make sure that he fails and, therefore, the entire nation fails.

Posted by: cms1 | August 25, 2009 8:19 PM

The libs would rather have us attacked than to pressure the terrorists into telling us their plans....if you want to call it torture, you are a MORON....torture is when John McCain can't raise his arms above his head today...these terrorists were THREATENED with torture...John McCain endured it...the libs will insure we are attacked again...they are weak and the weak will be attacked...thanks, Demo-Nazis.

Posted by: powerange | August 25, 2009 8:15 PM

What Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice and the rest of them will never understand is that this about the breaking of US laws in contravention of the US Constitution and the Geneva Convention.

Nobody -- let me repeat that -- NOBODY is above the law, not even the President of th United States of America.

And Bush, et al have never shown anything but utter disrespect and disregard for the laws of this nation. If found to have broken the laws, they must be prosecuted.

Posted by: kec132 | August 25, 2009 8:05 PM

During the presidential campaign many of us kept saying "Obama = Bush".


Ha!


We were and continue be right all along.

Posted by: coqui44 | August 25, 2009 8:02 PM

Bush and The Republicans left America knee-deep in deficits, war, collapsing economy, shredded Constitution and a dysfunctional Federal Bureaucracy. The problem isn't 'being President'. The problem is cleaning up the mess Republicans made. They lit the house on fire and are throwing rocks at the firemen.

Posted by: thebobbob | August 25, 2009 7:56 PM

"On the same day Holder made his announcement, it became clear that some elements of the Bush administration's policies for handling suspected terrorists would continue. The Obama administration will continue the policy of rendition -- shipping suspected terrorists abroad for interrogation -- although, administration officials insist, under stricter guidelines that will prevent suspects from being tortured."

If this was a conservative administration, liberals would be fainting from moral outrage. There is a pretty common term for describing a person who says one thing and does another. We can only conclude that Obama's actions are an endorsement of the correctness of the Bush-era policies he is continuing.

Thank you, President Bush, for giving this rookie a head start.

Posted by: hill_marty | August 25, 2009 7:55 PM

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