The campaigns of those who hope to become the Republican presidential nominee keep reminding me of the Democratic primary in 2008, when I almost lost a friend or two. I had expressed a personal preference for Hillary Clinton as the nominee, and gone to an event in her honor. I admired Ms. Clinton, thought she was brilliant, and found the idea of a woman as president exciting . . . but I had a change of heart and let it be known.
There was a single compelling reason: I was sure from what she said and from her background as first lady that Ms. Clinton was, to put it bluntly, a hawk; I wanted a president who disapproved of the war in Iraq and was able to articulate diplomatic approaches to the world’s conflicts. Little did I know how things would change.
Like the Norwegian committee that awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, I was naive. That he chose Ms. Clinton as secretary of state was politically expedient, to be sure, but it also drew them together as decision-makers. The new president appointed the head of the Central Intelligence Agency to be secretary of defense. He increased the numbers of our troops in Afghanistan, and then he escalated the use of drones on killing missions. A peace president? Hardly.
After Sept. 11, it was said drones would help us destroy Al Qaeda and stop imminent attack, if necessary. Since then, some 60 deaths have been caused by drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan — where Al Qaeda were said to have set up shop — with others reported just this week. The drones have been sent over Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, and Somalia, been used in Libya and Syria, and in the Mexican drug war. The Obama administration not only shrouds how targets are determined and strikes approved but it refuses to make public its argument for how drones are justified under international law.
The hope had been (in my case, it was expectation) that President Obama would reverse what many of us believed were violations of the Constitution under the Bush war on terror. He may have stopped the practice of torture, which the former administration endorsed, but he has approved a law that seems to violate the Constitution in another way: He signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows anyone, even an American citizen, whom the government considers to be “a member of, or part of, al-Qaida or an associated force‚” to be held in military custody indefinitely “without trial until the end of the hostilities. . . .”
Perhaps Mr. Obama was naive, too. Maybe he didn’t foresee how being president would affect his views on war and peace; maybe he had no idea he would find it no longer possible to be (or pretend to be) a dove. It’s true that he has made some dovelike gestures recently, cautioning against fanning the flames of war with Iran and, this week, reportedly reconsidering our military mission in Afghanistan. But would Ms. Clinton in the Oval Office have been any more hawkish? I doubt it.