Why Obama Can’t Shake George Bush

Ben Smith and John Harris of Politico offer an interesting analysis that I think goes a long way toward explaining the anger of liberal Democrats at President Obama’s tax compromise:

Tuesday’s deal to extend the deep 2001 tax cuts is the latest evidence of the remarkable durability of President George W. Bush’s policy legacy — one that constrains and confounds his successor at home and overseas even after two years in office.
The tax cuts were probably Bush’s single most significant domestic accomplishment, and they became not just a spur for Democratic complaints about growing deficits, but a symbol of — as candidate Barack Obama put it — “that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.”
Obama’s promise to reverse the tax cuts reflected a broader belief among Democrats that the Bush years were a bizarre and in essential ways illegitimate aberration, a period of panic and greed the errors of which Obama would reverse in a series of swift and decisive strokes.
Yet the tax compromise is just the most spectacular — and to Democrats, infuriating — element of a broader trend under a president who ran as the leader of the counter-revolution. It is the domestic counterpart of Obama’s early decision not to repudiate and investigate reviled Bush national security policies such as indefinite detention and warrantless wiretapping, but to refine and embrace them.

The difference between the Obama administration and the Democratic base is that the administration has to deal, in some fashion, with reality. To be sure, Obama’s first choice is always to address reality through a left-wing lens. But at some level, he has to face the fact that terrorists pose a serious threat, as well as the fact that the only real solution to our economic malaise lies in economic growth. His ability to take purist positions is limited by his desire to be re-elected.
It remains to be seen whether, in political terms, Obama’s compromises will allow him to triangulate successfully, like Bill Clinton, or will leave him in the worst of all worlds, satisfying hardly anyone. The national security case is an interesting one. Obama has defaulted on his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay, but not for lack of trying. One thing we learned from Wikileaks is the length to which the administration would go in order to persuade foreign governments to take prisoners off our hands–generally unsuccessfully, it appears. So the administration has pursued a policy of closure by degrees through premature release of terrorists from Gitmo.
We now know that many of these released terrorists have returned to the fight. Tom Joscelyn writes in the Weekly Standard:

150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday. In total, 598 detainees have been transferred out of U.S. custody at Guantanamo. 1 out of every 4, or 25 percent, of these former detainees is now considered a confirmed or suspected recidivist by the U.S. government.

Here is just one example:

In March, intelligence officials confirmed that Abdul Hafiz, a former Gitmo detainee who was transferred to Afghanistan in December 2009, had returned to terrorism. Hafiz is currently a Taliban commander who hunts charity workers in Afghanistan. Hafiz was held at Gitmo because he was implicated in the murder of a Red Cross worker.

With respect to foreign policy, at least, President Obama appears to be stuck in an unenviable position: his policies are not pure enough to satisfy his party’s base, while at the same time it is clear to both Republicans and independents that a Republican president would act more vigorously and more effectively to protect our security.
UPDATE: The State Department explains that it always expected many released detainees to return to jihad:

MACCALLUM: Let me quote the numbers, 13 are dead, 54 are in custody and 83 remain at large. Are we willing to take the chance with those 83, and, more importantly, with the 174, who are still detainees, is it time — are we in the middle of a war, I guess is the question? Or not?
CROWLEY: Well Martha, I suppose I would be asking the question of you, if a federal court orders the release of a detainee, are you saying that we should defy the wishes of that court and defy the Constitution? We are proceeding under the rule of law. We are working effectively with other governments and we believe we are doing everything we possibly can do to protect American security interests and those around the world. But recognize this: when criminals leave prison after serving a sentence, some of them return to crime. You know, we actually expected this to happen and we are taking appropriate —
MACCALLUM: But the comparison you are making would suggest that we believe this is a sort of a federal law enforcement issue and not a time of war issue and I want to be clear on that.
CROWLEY: Well, Martha, under your logic that would mean we’d never let anybody out of prison.

I have no idea what the State Department’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, is talking about. To my knowledge, none of the detainees in question was ordered released by a federal court or was serving a determinate sentence. They were simply let go pursuant to a review process begun under the Bush administration and continued by President Obama.

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