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Do Obama's Reversals Mean that Bush Was Right?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Shortly after last year’s election, I quoted something former Centcom Commander Tommy Franks said that gave me hope that President Obama would do a better job on the issue of the military and national security than what I had feared Candidate Obama would do.


Franks said, "As we have a new commander-in-chief, and as the new commander-in-chief comes to know and appreciate these men and women who serve, he too is a lifelong learner and I predict that some of his views will change as he comes to know the people in our military."

Last week when I heard of yet another change of Obama’s position on a matter of national security, I hoped that what Franks said was the reason behind it.

Obama’s most recent changes of position were recounted in an L.A.Times article by Christi Parsons and Janet Hook.

“In quick succession last week…Obama announced two major shifts on sensitive national security issues…he said he would oppose making the detainee pictures public -- a switch that could put him at odds with a federal judge who ordered them released. And he declared that the administration would stick with a modified version of the Bush administration's military tribunals for trying terrorism suspects; during the campaign he had promised to rely on federal courts and the traditional military justice system.”

This was not the first time President Obama changed his position on issues relating to national security. Many in his leftwing base are upset that he is not ruling out the practice of “extraordinary rendition” for which President Bush was very harshly criticized.

According to reports, what convinced President Obama to change course regarding the release of photos showing detainees being abused by some members of the U.S. military was a passionate plea from Army Gen. Ray Odierno. Odierno made the case that release of the pictures would be used to recruit terrorists, just as those from Abu Ghraib had been.


Obama had to already know that the release of the photos could result in the same fallout that followed the release of the Abu Ghraib photos. Did Odierno share additional information that was not previously known publicly? Were any of the other policy changes results of Obama having access to information that he did not previously have?

When I first heard that Obama had changed his mind about releasing the detainee torture photos, I thought it didn’t much matter why he had reversed course, since the outcome would be the same regardless of motivation. On second thought I realized that the reason does matter.

Recent polls show the country evenly divided on the use of torture. Polls also show the public does not want a congressional investigation of harsh interrogation techniques used on detainees during the Bush administration and show the public is in favor of the Bush policy of keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba open.

Is Obama changing his positions as he better understands the reality of the terrorist threat we face? Is he now seeing information that only President Bush and those in his administration with security clearance had seen? Or is he simply shifting with the winds of public opinion?

If he is just playing politics and responding to polls, the danger is that he could always shift those positions again if public opinion changes. Jim Geraghty, reacting to so many abrupt changes since the election, said President Obama’s policies all come with an expiration date. Maybe the shift on national security and on domestic issues is all about responding to the political climate.


What is really interesting to consider though, is an unintended by-product of the possibility that Obama is doing as Tommy Franks suggested he might and is changing his mind as he better comes to know the military and the facts. As Obama came to side with Dick Cheney last week on the release of those photos, and as he changed other positions to side with Bush policy, one conclusion that could be drawn is that reality was as Bush expressed it.

This might seem a logical and not terribly surprising explanation for most people, but for those who have invested the past eight years into hatred of George W. Bush, it could be too much to take. They might have to accept that their “Bush lied” mantra was a lie.

For those who attributed every ill in the world to Bush, and who interpreted his every motivation as sinister, this is reality altering.

If those on the angry Left can attribute Obama’s changes in policy to responses to shifting public opinion, it will almost certainly be easier for them to take than to have to admit that George Bush had been right on those issues all along.

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