Best Defense

My estimate of Obama’s three rules: Be cool, let sleeping torture lie, and don’t challenge the national security crowd

In a recent conversation with some smart guys, one suggested that Obama was naïve about national security and so got intimidated by its establishment. I think not. Rather, my estimate on Obama is that he decided on three things during the campaign, and has stuck with them: A black candidate for national office cannot afford ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In a recent conversation with some smart guys, one suggested that Obama was naïve about national security and so got intimidated by its establishment. I think not.

Rather, my estimate on Obama is that he decided on three things during the campaign, and has stuck with them:

  • A black candidate for national office cannot afford to be seen as "angry."
  • There would be no investigations of Bush administration actions such as the use of torture by intelligence operatives and subsequently misleading Congress about that.
  • More generally, there is no upside for a Democrat today to challenge the national security establishment.

I wasn’t saying he was right to do so — that’s another question. I was just trying to figure out what he was doing. Even so, I got some pushback from the smart friends, including:

  • Actually, not being angry comes natural to him. He is a cool, stubborn, and solitary man. He doesn’t get mad, he gets remote.
  • He appears to act sometimes on national security questions without regard for consequences, as in his love affair with drone killings.
  • No, it is naïve to hire people inexperienced in national security for national security slots, as he did. This amounted to a challenge on his part — effectively, a statement that he would place politics above policy, even overseas.

What think youse? (And please, don’t make this a Bush slugfest. I think we all know well where everyone comes down on all that.)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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