Recess appointments send mixed messages
Obama, by making six recess appointments, may be trying to reassure his liberal base that he will use the full range of executive powers to control the agenda next year. But in doing so, he has messed up his meta-message of bipartisan cooperation and called into question whether his foreign and national security policies are becoming any more sensible.
Let's take James Cole, the new number-two man in the Justice Department. As Bill Kristol observes in recalling Cole's own writing asserting that going after terrorists is like chasing drug dealers:
Now we have someone unambiguously dedicated to a criminal law understanding of the war on terror, the [Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, issued on September 14, 2001] notwithstanding, as deputy attorney general of the United States--without having been confirmed by the Senate. Surely congressional committees have a duty to call him before them to clarify his views. Does Cole think as deputy attorney general he is simply "a prosecutor fighting crime," or does he accept his responsibilities as part of the national security team carrying out policies authorized by the AUMF? If so, does he withdraw his criticism of Attorney General Ashcroft? And has he made his new understanding clear to the attorney general, and the president?
But what of the seeming movement by the Obama administration away from the ACLU-version of anti-terror policy (e.g. forget closing Guantanamo, defend indefinite detention, pull the plug on public trials for 9/11 terrorists)? Is he serious about moderating his views, or is Cole to be the real face and force behind a Justice Department that has been staffed with left-leaning attorneys hostile toward the prior administration?
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton (who is considering a 2012 presidential run) emails me, "It is outrageous that, after two years, President Obama is appointing someone who equates Islamicist terrorism with drug trafficking. Unless and until the President rejects his professorial worship of the law enforcement paradigm and accepts that we are in a new kind of war, America will be vulnerable." It was this sort of criticism that the Obama team had, we thought, sought to tamp down on by adopting a less ideologically-driven approach to the war on Islamic terrorism.
A smart conservative colleague mused yesterday that perhaps Cole was a sort of legacy candidate, a leftover nominee who predates the midterms and whom Obama wasn't going to abandon. That's quite likely the case, but if so, it reveals how paper thin Obama's move to the center is. If other considerations intervene -- a grouchy base, for example -- we see that out the window go comity and moderation.
A former Justice Department official also notes that Cole and Holder are former colleagues and close friends. The official wonders if "he may be just a yes-man rather than someone willing to give warranted but unwanted advice." Considering Holder's record in making ill-advised decisions that were later reversed (e.g., advising the White House it had no choice but to release the detainee abuse photos, proposing the trial of 9-11 mastermind KSM without consulting New York City elected leaders) this does not bode well for more vigorous vetting of Holder's proposals.
Likewise, the nomination of Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. as ambassador to Turkey flies in the face of the Obama team's belated effort to show devotion to democracy promotion and human rights. In this 2006 interview Ricciardone falls over himself excusing the backsliding of the Mubarak government on human rights. The imprisonment of editor Ayman Nour, for example, he passes off as inconsequential. ("The truth in Egypt is larger than one case.")
Even more noxious, in an interview a couple of months later he dismissed the epidemic discrimination of Coptic Christians. ("Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.")
His unctuous comments praising Egyptian "democracy" at the time Mubarak was backsliding and still wielding "emergency law" powers became infamous in the human rights community, as did his slobbering over the autocratic leader of Egypt. (He proclaimed: "President Mubarak is loved in the U.S., and we always welcome him and appreciate his advice and benefit from it. He is a figure of historic importance on the global arena, and for the U.S.")
Is that the sort of excuse-mongering we are expected to hear from him with regard to the Erdogan government? Are we soon to hear that he too is "beloved" in the U.S. and that Turkey is a model of free discourse?
The trouble with Obama's appointments, aside from the disturbing policies they embrace, is that they reveal his rhetorical poses as just that -- poses. If you want to know where policy is heading, look at the personnel. From Cole and Ricciardone we should expect more of the same on Obama's not-Bush war against Islamic terror and on his preference for despotic leaders over human-rights activists. So much for moderation, eh?
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