At the bottom of it all has been the Bomb. For the first time in our history, the President was given sole and unconstrained authority over all possible uses of the Bomb.
Every executive encroachment or abuse was liable to justification from this one supreme power.
If the President has the sole authority to launch nation-destroying weapons, he has license to use every other power at his disposal that might safeguard that supreme necessity. If he says he needs other and lesser powers, how can Congress or the courts discern whether he needs them when they have no supervisory role over the basis of the claim he is making? To challenge his authority anywhere is to threaten the one great authority.
–Garry Wills, Bomb Power
I suppose I’ll eventually get around to discussing how the series of condoned leaks portraying President Obama as the Deciderer all rest on the pathetic but true fact that he is only borrowing George Bush’s claim to that title.
But for now, I want to focus on the one part of David Sanger’s mixed-metahpor saturated installment in the Deciderer 2.0 series that rings most true:
Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.
“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.
With cyberwar, with drones, and (to a lesser extent) with the embrace of the terrorists’ transnational methods to fight terrorists, Obama has crossed into uncharted territory of the sort Wills explored in his book, Bomb Power. These changes are likely a step beyond the Bomb Power paradigm, whatever that entails.
Yet Obama has only barely begun to think through the ramifications of these tools. He has, instead, focused on the near and overblown threats of Iran and AQAP, not seeing both the strategic implications of even those choices, much less the implications of the sort Wills describes arose in the wake of our use of a nuclear bomb.
The President has embraced waging extralegal war using drones from the Oval Office. The President has embraced using easily manipulable code to wage physical war. What are the implications of these decisions?
Oh sure, Obama started paying attention after the fact. A year ago, he rolled out a “National Strategy for Cyberspace,” calling for international cooperation to enforce responsible behavior of the sort we have already violated. Even more recently, DOD has been tinkering with our rules of engagement.
But there are signs it is already too late, the battle lines have been drawn. Continue reading