In his new book, former Bush administration attorney and infamous torture memo collaborator John Yoo favorably argues that President Barack Obama is wielding executive powers in the same manner as his White House predecessor.
Titled "Crisis and Command," Yoo's 500-plus-page work looks at the evolution of presidential powers from Washington to Bush, but with an afterword added for the current White House occupant. Few people have theorized as much about the limits of the powers granted to the presidency under the constitution (though, in Yoo's case, much of that theorizing went into figuring out how to stretch or defy those limits). And, in his writing, the current U.C. Berkeley law professor insists that Obama has -- due to the challenges of elected office -- shunned the anti-Bush posture he struck as a presidential candidate.
"President Obama has come to have more in common with the ends of the Bush administration's terrorism policies than did Candidate Obama," Yoo writes. "It should be clear, further, that this would not be possible were it not for a broad view of presidential power."
Yoo points to a continued American presence in Iraq, enhanced deployment to Afghanistan, the continuation of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping power and the "extensive use of predator drones" as examples of a Bush-like wartime executive operating under the reduced (but still present) constraints of Congress and the judicial branch. "Even ordering the CIA to follow military rules in interrogating enemy combatants depends wholly on the president's authority to command the military and determine operational tactics and strategy," he adds. "Congress itself refused to place the CIA under the rules of the Army Field Manual on interrogation."
"Obama has done nothing less than exercise many of the executive's broader powers in time of emergency of way," Yoo writes, in words that will undoubtedly irritate the White House and cause howls among Obama's progressive critics.
Yoo does not fully disrespect the role Congress plays during times of war. He notes that even as Obama sought the closure of Gitmo, the legislative branch was well within its rights to balk at appropriating the funds to transfer "any detainee from Guantanamo Bay to enter the United States."
But the afterword is defined not by sketching out the role of the legislative branch, but rather by a glaringly satisfied, told-you-so examination of Obama's first months in office. He calls the president "naïve" for having said during the campaign that America could "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." He also pokes Obama for demanding the closure of Gitmo, "terminating" the CIA's capacity to used advanced interrogation methods on suspected terrorists and for releasing the Bush administration's torture memos -- "some of which I worked on," Yoo writes.
Obama, he writes, "pleased the left wing of the Democratic Party." But he also "threatened to handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks."
Months into his presidency, Yoo's assessment changed. "As Obama has matured in office and learned more about the nation's security environment, he has adopted policies that suggest more continuity with the past," he writes.
And while Obama may be relying on the same executive powers Bush once deployed, Yoo compares him to a wholly different former president. "Obama bears similarity not to FDR or even Lincoln, to whom the new President is sometimes compared, but Eisenhower," he writes. "Ike was another President whose personal popularity outstripped the public support for his policies. The Eisenhower administration continued the basic strategy developed by his immediate predecessor, Harry Truman, to address the dire security challenge posed by the Cold War."