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September 1, 2015 / 17 Elul, 5775
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Mr. Obama’s Monumental Hubris


Over the past few weeks we have remarked on what we see as President Obama’s presumption that public resources are for his own uses – including political uses – regardless of laws or past political protocol.

Thus we noted the extraordinary “scrubbing” from public records of references to Jerusalem as part of Israel after the Justice Department told several courts in the well-known Zivotofsky passport litigation that such references didn’t exist.

We also pointed to flattering references to Mr. Obama that were added to biographical sketches of past presidents featured on the White House website.

We had suggested that the president may have acted, if not necessarily against the letter of two federal document anti-tampering statutes, certainly against their spirit.

Over the past week, far more serious examples of presidential hubris have surfaced.

The New York Times, which ordinarily runs interference for Mr. Obama, went much further than we did. In a May 30 editorial, “Too Much Power for a President,” the Times said,

It is has been clear for years that the Obama administration believes the shadow war on terrorism gives it the power to choose targets for assassination, including Americans, without any oversight. On Tuesday, The New York Times revealed who was actually making the final decision on the biggest killings and drone strikes: President Obama himself. And that is very troubling.Mr. Obama has demonstrated that he can be thoughtful and farsighted, but, like all occupants of the Oval Office, he is a politician, subject to the pressures of re-election. No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield – depriving Americans of their due-process rights – without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle.

Incredibly, The New York Times is telling its readers that it suspects the president of the United States of harboring a political motivation in ordering the killing American citizens abroad. Hard stuff, indeed. But there is more.

The basis of the Times editorial was an exhaustive news story beginning on the front page of its May 29 issue titled “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” The article described the inner workings of the U.S. drone war and placed President Obama at its center. It seems obvious to us from the access the reporters had and the tone of the piece that it was promoted by the White House in order to burnish, in the run-up to the November election, the president’s image as a hard-nosed defender of U.S. security. Thus the article said,

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.

The article featured several substantive comments from Thomas E. Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer, and Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief lawyer. But even more significant was the statement that one quoted official “requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.”

Can anyone recall another instance when this or any previous administration was so publicly forthcoming on a matter of such import for national security? A couple of days later, on June 1, also beginning on the front page, the Times published another long piece – “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyber Attacks Against Iran” – which again involved disclosure of top secret information. The article reported that from the first days of his presidency to the present, President Obama, in conjunction with Israel, has been pushing for increasingly sophisticated attacks on Iranian computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities.

“This account of the American and Israeli efforts to undermine the Iranian nuclear program,” the article acknowledged, “is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.”

Does anyone think this kind of access involving top-secret operations could have occurred without White House support? Or that it’s merely coincidental that the storyline hews to the administration’s election-year narrative of Mr. Obama as warrior-president?

And then there is the several months-old issue of White House cooperation with filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal in a project involving the Navy SEALS operation that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden, which is now drawing renewed interest in this campaign season.

Here is what Times columnist Maureen Dowd, a fairly strong supporter of Mr. Obama, had to say about the story last August:

The White House is…counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual…. The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently – to the surprise of some military officers – at a CIA ceremony celebrating the hero SEALS.

Ms. Dowd noted that the movie is scheduled to open on October 12 – a little over three weeks before election day.

This president has a view of the powers of his office that is truly breathtaking.

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