Last week President Barak Obama seems to have reversed himself on his decision to revive George W. Bush’s practice of trying terrorism suspects in military commissions. He explained that he had always said that with reforms, such as limiting hearsay evidence and giving suspects greater latitude in picking their lawyers, he would support them. As he put it: “my administration is bringing our commissions in line with the rule of law.” Sounds like damage control to me though.
There have been several other cases when this president has seemed to change direction. For example, he promised that he would sign an abortion rights bill into law—now he says it isn’t his “highest legislative priority.” And recently, he authorized the release of previously classified memos describing the C.I.A.’s so-called “harsh interrogation techniques.” But then he reversed his (or his Justice Department’s) position and moved to block the release of photos showing abuse of detainees. In another example, he promised that he would work towards the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy practiced by his nation’s military, but this no longer seems to be on his administration’s agenda.
I cannot really say that I disagree with any of his new positions on these issues as they tend to align more with my own views that his earlier ones. These policy flop-flops do, however, bring into question his credibility on other issues that differentiated him from his predecessor.
I like this president. I see him as a major improvement over George W. Bush. I even like the fact that he’s capable of changing his mind as he thinks things through. A certain amount of recalibration could be considered thoughtful and a show the leadership that some will see as being required of a commander-in-chief.
There are bound to be limits, however, on the U.S. public’s tolerance of revisions of what they considered important premises of his past campaign. At that point his vaunted skills as an orator may not be sufficient to ease emerging doubts about his credibility.