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Has Obama Lost WaPo’s Ruth Marcus?


Not quite yet, but she’s not happy. Here’s the opener from her column today titled, “Oval Office is no classroom”:

No doubt: Barack Obama has what it takes to be a terrific law student. It’s less clear those are the ingredients of a successful president.

A great law student excels at reading the fact pattern on an exam and spotting the legal issues. The student then analyzes the situation and presents the pros and cons of each side in a dispassionate, balanced way.

It is less important, for grading purposes, to come down on one side or another than to demonstrate a mastery of the precedents and complexities.

By that rubric, Obama’s speech last week at the National Defense University deserves a solid A. I do not say this dismissively. The analytical skills of the lawyer are valuable attributes in a president.

But a good law student doesn’t make a good president:

Thus, Obama on drone strikes: On the one hand, the risk of civilian casualties from drones must be weighed against the cost of inaction. The risk of using drones must be weighed against the risk of conventional military means, simultaneously less precise and more dangerous.

On the other, “the very precision of drone strikes and the necessary secrecy often involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.”

All true, and so Obama, ever the A-plus student, posits the need for additional oversight and poses options, each of which “has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice.”

A special court “has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority.” Likewise, an internal oversight board “avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process.”

Brilliant, if you were scribbling exam answers in a blue book. Less impressive five years into a presidency. It seems a little late in the day for the president to talk about looking forward “to actively engaging Congress to explore these and other options for increased oversight.”

The law student gets points for identifying the issue. The president only succeeds by proposing — and implementing — a solution.

The whole piece is worth a read as she goes on to dissect the president’s law-school rhetoric on Guantanamo, prosecuting detainees and Holder’s leak investigations.





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