David Bromwich
TomDispatch / Op-Ed
Published: Friday 19 August 2011
“A certain mystery surrounds Obama’s perpetuation of Bush’s economic policies and his expansion of Bush’s war policies in the absence of the crude idea of the enemy and the spirited love of war that drove Bush.”

Symptoms of The Bush-Obama Presidency

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Is it too soon to speak of the Bush-Obama pres­i­dency?
The record shows im­pres­sive con­ti­nu­ities be­tween the two ad­min­is­tra­tions, and nowhere more than in the pol­icy of “force pro­jec­tion” in the Arab world. With one war half-ended in Iraq, but an­other dou­bled in size and stretch­ing across bor­ders in Afghanistan; with an ex­panded pro­gram of drone killings and black-ops as­sas­si­na­tions, the lat­ter glo­ri­fied in spe­cial cer­e­monies of thanks­giv­ing (as they never were under Bush); with the num­ber of pris­on­ers at Guan­tanamo hav­ing de­creased, but some now slated for per­ma­nent de­ten­tion; with the re­peated in­vo­ca­tion of “state se­crets” to pro­tect the gov­ern­ment from charges of war crimes; with the Pa­triot Act re­newed and its most du­bi­ous pro­vi­sions left in­tact -- the Bush-Obama pres­i­dency has suf­fi­cient self-co­her­ence to be con­sid­ered a his­tor­i­cal en­tity with a life of its own.
The sig­nif­i­cance of this de­vel­op­ment has been veiled in re­cent main­stream cov­er­age of the na­tional se­cu­rity state and our larger and smaller wars. Back in 2005-2006, when the Iraqi in­sur­gency re­fused to die down and what had been pre­sented as “sec­tar­ian feud­ing” began to look like a war of na­tional lib­er­a­tion against an oc­cu­py­ing power, the Amer­i­can press ex­hib­ited an un­com­mon crit­i­cal acute­ness. But Wash­ing­ton’s em­brace of “the surge” in Iraq in 2007 took that war off the front page, and it -- along with the Afghan War -- has re­turned only oc­ca­sion­ally in the four years since.
This dis­ap­pear­ance suited the pur­poses of the long dou­ble-pres­i­dency. Keep the wars going but nor­mal­ize them; make them nor­mal by not talk­ing about them much; by not talk­ing about them imply that, while “vic­tory” is not in sight, there is some­thing else, an achieve­ment more re­al­is­tic and per­haps more grown-up, still avail­able to the United States in the Greater Mid­dle East. This other thing is never de­fined but has lately been given a name. They call it “suc­cess.”
Mean­while, back at home...
The usual turn from un­sat­is­fy­ing wars abroad to hap­pier do­mes­tic con­di­tions, how­ever, no longer seems ten­able. In these Au­gust days, Amer­i­cans are rub­bing their eyes, still won­der­ing what has be­fallen us with the pres­i­dent’s “debt deal” -- a shift­ing of tec­tonic plates be­neath the econ­omy of a sort Dick Ch­eney might have dreamed of, but which Barack Obama and the House Re­pub­li­cans to­gether brought to fruition. A re­dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and power more than three decades in the mak­ing has now been carved into the sys­tem and given the stamp of per­ma­nence.
Only a De­mo­c­ra­tic pres­i­dent, and only one as­so­ci­ated in the pub­lic mind (how­ever wrongly) with the for­tunes of the poor, could have ac­com­plished such a re­ver­sal with such sick­en­ing com­plete­ness.
One of the last good times that Pres­i­dent Obama en­joyed be­fore the frenzy of debt ne­go­ti­a­tions began was a chuckle he shared with Jeff Im­melt, CEO of Gen­eral Elec­tric and now head of the pres­i­dent’s out­side panel of eco­nomic ad­vis­ers.  At a June 13th meet­ing of the pres­i­dent’s Coun­cil on Jobs and Com­pet­i­tive­ness, a ques­tioner said he as­sumed that Pres­i­dent Obama knew about the dif­fi­cul­ties caused by the drawn-out process of se­cur­ing per­mits for con­struc­tion jobs. Obama leaned into the mi­cro­phone and of­fered a breezy ad-lib: “Shovel ready wasn’t as, uh, shovel-ready as we ex­pected” -- and Im­melt got off a hearty laugh. An un­guarded mo­ment: the pres­i­dent of “hope and change” sig­ni­fy­ing his sol­i­dar­ity with the big man­agers whose worldly irony he had adopted.
A cer­tain mys­tery sur­rounds Obama’s per­pet­u­a­tion of Bush’s eco­nomic poli­cies, in the ab­sence of the re­ac­tionary class loy­alty that ac­com­pa­nied them, and his ex­pan­sion of Bush’s war poli­cies in the ab­sence of the crude idea of the enemy and the spir­ited love of war that drove Bush. But the puz­zle has grown tire­some, and the ef­fects of the con­ti­nu­ity mat­ter more than its sources.
Bush we knew the mean­ing of, and the need for re­sis­tance was clear. Obama makes re­sis­tance harder. Dur­ing a deep cri­sis, such a nom­i­nal leader, by his con­tra­dic­tory words and con­duct and the force of his ex­am­ple (or rather the lack of force in his ex­am­ple), be­comes a sub­tle dis­as­ter for all those whose hopes once rested with him.
The philoso­pher William James took as a motto for prac­ti­cal moral­ity: “By their fruits shall ye know them, not by their roots.”
Sup­pose we test the last two and a half years by the same sen­si­ble cri­te­rion. Trans­lated into the lan­guage of pres­i­den­tial power -- the power of a pres­i­dent whose method was to field a “team of ri­vals” and “lead from be­hind” -- the motto must mean: by their ap­point­ments shall ye know them.
Let us ex­am­ine Obama, then, by the stan­dard of his cab­i­net mem­bers, ad­vis­ers, and fa­vored in­flu­ences, and group them by the an­swers to two ques­tions: Whom has he wanted to stay on longest, in order to profit from their so­lid­ity and bask in their in­flu­ence? Which of them has he dis­carded fastest or been most eager to shed his as­so­ci­a­tion with? Think of them as the saved and the sacked.  Obama’s taste in as­so­ci­ates at these ex­tremes may tell us some­thing about the moral and po­lit­i­cal per­son­al­ity in the mid­dle.
The Saved
Ad­vis­ers whom the pres­i­dent en­trusted with power be­yond ex­pec­ta­tion, and sought to keep in his ad­min­is­tra­tion for as long as he could pre­vail on them to stay:
1. Lawrence Sum­mers:  Obama’s chief eco­nomic ad­viser, 2009-2010. As Bill Clin­ton’s sec­re­tary of the trea­sury, 1999-2001, Sum­mers arranged the re­peal of the New Deal-era Glass-Stea­gall Act, which had sep­a­rated the com­mer­cial banks -- hold­ers of the sav­ings of or­di­nary peo­ple -- from the spec­u­la­tive ac­tion of the bro­ker­age houses and money firms. The aim of Glass-Stea­gall was to pro­tect cit­i­zens and the econ­omy from a fi­nan­cial bub­ble and col­lapse.  De­mo­li­tion of that wall be­tween sav­ings and fi­nance was a large cause of the 2008 melt­down. In the late 1990s, Sum­mers had also pressed for the dereg­u­la­tion of com­plex de­riv­a­tives -- a dream fully re­al­ized under Bush. In the first years of the Obama era, with the ear of the pres­i­dent, he com­man­deered the bank bailouts and ad­vised against major pro­grams for job cre­ation. He won, and we are liv­ing with the re­sults.
In 2009-2010, the crit­i­cal ac­ces­sory to Sum­mers’s power was Tim­o­thy Gei­th­ner, Obama’s trea­sury sec­re­tary.  Most likely, Gei­th­ner was picked for his po­si­tion by the com­bined rec­om­men­da­tions of Sum­mers and Bush’s Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Hank Paul­son. The lat­ter once de­scribed Gei­th­ner as “a very un­usu­ally tal­ented young man,” and worked with him closely in 2008 when he was still pres­i­dent of the New York Fed.  At that time, he con­curred with Paul­son on the wis­dom of bail­ing out the in­sur­ance giant AIG and not res­cu­ing Lehman Broth­ers. Obama for his part ini­ti­ated sev­eral phone con­sul­ta­tions with Paul­son dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign -- often hold­ing his plane on the tar­mac to talk and lis­ten. This chain is un­bro­ken. Any tremors in the pres­i­dent’s closed world caused by Sum­mers’s early de­par­ture from the ad­min­is­tra­tion have un­doubt­edly been off­set by Gei­th­ner’s re­cent re­as­sur­ancethat he will stay at the Trea­sury be­yond 2011.
Post­script: In 2011, Sum­mers has be­come more re­formist than Obama. On The Char­lie Rose Show on July 13th, he crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent’s dila­tori­ness in mount­ing a pro­gram to cre­ate jobs. Thus he urged the par­tial aban­don­ment of his own pol­icy, which Obama con­tin­ues to de­fend.
2. Robert Gates: mem­berof the per­ma­nent es­tab­lish­ment in Wash­ing­ton, Gates raised to the third power the dis­tinc­tion of mas­sive con­ti­nu­ity: First as CIA di­rec­tor under George H.W. Bush, sec­ond as sec­re­tary of de­fense under George W. Bush, and third as Obama’s sec­re­tary of de­fense.  He re­mained for 28 months and de­parted against the wishes of the pres­i­dent. Gates sided with Gen­eral David Pe­traeus and Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Ad­mi­ral Mike Mullen in 2009 to pro­mote a major (called “mod­er­ate”) es­ca­la­tion of the Afghan War; yet he did so with­out ran­cor or pos­tur­ing -- a style Obama trusted and in the com­pany of which he did not mind los­ing. In the Bush years, Gates was cer­tainly a mod­er­ate in re­la­tion to the ex­trav­a­gant war aims of Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Ch­eney, Sec­re­tary of De­fense Don­ald Rums­feld, and their neo­con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cle. He worked to strengthen U.S. mil­i­tarism through an ethic of bu­reau­cratic nor­mal­iza­tion.
His ap­proach has been en­dorsed and will be con­tin­ued -- though prob­a­bly with less can­ni­ness -- by his suc­ces­sor Leon Panetta. With­out a ca­reer in se­cu­rity to for­tify his con­fi­dence, Panetta is re­ally a mem­ber of a dif­fer­ent species: the adapt­able choice for “run­ning things” -- with­out re­gard to the na­ture of the thing or the com­pe­tence re­quired. Best known as the chief of staff who re­duced to a sem­blance of order the con­fu­sion of the Clin­ton White House, he is as­so­ci­ated in the pub­lic mind with no set of views or poli­cies.
3. Rahm Emanuel: As Obama’s White House chief of staff, Emanuel per­formed much of the hands-on work of leg­isla­tive bar­gain­ing that Pres­i­dent Obama him­self pre­ferred not to en­gage in. (Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden also reg­u­larly took on this role.) He thereby in­curred a cheer­less grat­i­tude, but he is a man will­ing to be dis­liked. Obama seems to have held Emanuel’s abil­ity in awe; and such was his power that noth­ing but the chance of be­com­ing mayor of Chicago would have plucked him from the White House. Emanuel is cred­ited, rightly or not, with the De­mo­c­ra­tic con­gres­sional vic­tory of 2006, and one fact about that suc­cess, which was never hid­den, has been too quickly for­got­ten. Rahm Emanuel took pains to weed out anti-war can­di­dates.
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Obama would have known this, and ad­mired the man who car­ried it off. Whether Emanuel pur­sued a sim­i­lar strat­egy in the 2010 midterm elec­tions has never been se­ri­ously dis­cussed. The fact that the cat­e­gory “anti-war De­mo­c­rat” hardly ex­ists in 2011 is, how­ever, an achieve­ment jointly cred­itable to Emanuel and the pres­i­dent.
4. Cass Sun­stein: Widely thought to be the pres­i­dent’s most pow­er­ful legal ad­viser. Sun­stein de­fended and may have ad­vised Obama on his breach of his 2008 promise (as sen­a­tor) to fil­i­buster any new law that awarded amnesty to the tele­coms that il­le­gally spied on Amer­i­cans. This was Obama’s first major re­ver­sal in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign: he had pre­vi­ously de­fended the in­tegrity of the For­eign Sur­veil­lance In­tel­li­gence Act against the se­cret en­croach­ment of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA).
At that mo­ment, Obama changed from an ac­cuser to a con­di­tional apol­o­gist for the sur­veil­lance of Amer­i­cans: the se­cret pol­icy ad­vo­cated by Dick Ch­eney, ap­proved by Pres­i­dent Bush, ex­e­cuted by NSA Di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den, and sup­plied with a ra­tio­nale by Ch­eney’s legal coun­sel David Adding­ton. In his awk­ward pub­lic de­fense of the switch, Obama sug­gested that scrutiny of tele­com records and their uses by the in­spec­tors gen­eral in the rel­e­vant agen­cies and de­part­ments should be enough to re­store the rule of law.
When it comes to na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy, Sun­stein is a par­tic­u­larly strong ex­am­ple of Bush-Obama con­ti­nu­ity. Though some­times iden­ti­fied as a lib­eral, from early on he de­fended the ex­pan­sion of the na­tional se­cu­rity state under Ch­eney’s Of­fice of the Vice Pres­i­dent, and he praised the firm re­straint with which the Ashcroft Jus­tice De­part­ment shoul­dered its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “By his­tor­i­cal stan­dards,” he wrote in the fall of 2004, “the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has acted with con­sid­er­able re­straint and with com­mend­able re­spect for po­lit­i­cal lib­erty. It has not at­tempted to re­strict speech or the de­mo­c­ra­tic process in any way. The much-re­viled and poorly un­der­stood Pa­triot Act, at least as ad­min­is­tered, has done lit­tle to re­strict civil lib­erty as it stood be­fore its en­act­ment.” This seems to have be­come Obama’s view.
Char­ity to­ward the framers of the Pa­triot Act has, in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, been ac­com­pa­nied by a con­sis­tent re­fusal to ini­ti­ate or sup­port legal ac­tion against the “tor­ture lawyers.”  Sun­stein de­scribed the Bush Jus­tice De­part­ment memos by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, which de­fended the use of the water tor­ture and other ex­treme meth­ods, in words that stopped short of legal con­dem­na­tion: "It's egre­giously bad. It's very low level, it's very weak, em­bar­rass­ingly weak, just short of reck­less." Bad lawyer­ing: a pro­fes­sional fault but not an ac­tion­able of­fense.
The Obama pol­icy of de­clin­ing to hold any high of­fi­cial or even CIA in­ter­roga­tors ac­count­able for vi­o­la­tions of the law by the pre­ced­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion would likely not have sur­vived op­po­si­tion by Sun­stein. Apromise not to pros­e­cute, how­ever, has been im­plicit in the find­ings by the Obama Jus­tice De­part­ment -- a promise that was made ex­plicit by Leon Panetta in Feb­ru­ary 2009 when he had just been named Pres­i­dent Obama’s new di­rec­tor of the CIA.
As head of the pres­i­dent’s Of­fice of In­for­ma­tion and Reg­u­la­tory Af­fairs, with an of­fice in the White House, Sun­stein ad­ju­di­cates gov­ern­ment pol­icy on is­sues of worker and con­sumer safety; yet his title sug­gests a claim of au­thor­ity on is­sues such as the data-min­ing of in­for­ma­tion about Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and the gov­ern­ment’s de­ploy­ment of a state se­crets priv­i­lege. He de­serves wider at­ten­tion, too, for his 2008 pro­posal that the gov­ern­ment “cog­ni­tively in­fil­trate” dis­cus­sion groups on-line and in neigh­bor­hoods, pay­ing covert agents to mon­i­tor and, if pos­si­ble, dis­credit lines of ar­gu­ment which the gov­ern­ment judges to be ex­treme or mis­lead­ing.
5. Eric Holder: Holder once said that the trial of sus­pected 9/11 “mas­ter­mind” Khalid Sheikh Mo­hammed in a New York City court­room would be “the defin­ing event of my time as at­tor­ney gen­eral.”  The de­ci­sion to make KSM’s a civil­ian trial was, how­ever, scut­tled, thanks to in­com­pe­tent man­age­ment at the White House: nei­ther the first nor last fail­ure of its kind. The pol­icy of try­ing sus­pected ter­ror­ists in civil­ian courts seems to have suf­fered from never being whole­heart­edly em­braced by the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­side ac­tors. Local re­sis­tance by the New York au­thor­i­ties was the os­ten­si­ble rea­son for the fail­ure and the change of venue back to a mil­i­tary tri­bunal at Guan­tanamo. No mem­ber of the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­sides Holder has been ob­served to show much re­gret.
Dur­ing his 30-month tenure, in keep­ing with Obama’s will­ing­ness to over­look the un­pleas­ant his­tory of CIA ren­di­tions and “ex­treme in­ter­ro­ga­tions,” Holder has made no move to pros­e­cute any up­per-level of­fi­cial of any of the big banks and money firms re­spon­si­ble for the fi­nan­cial col­lapse of 2008.  His si­lence on the sub­ject has been taken as a sig­nal that such pros­e­cu­tions will never occur. To judge by pub­lic state­ments, the en­er­gies of the at­tor­ney gen­eral, in an ad­min­is­tra­tion that ar­rived under the ban­ner of bring­ing “sun­shine” and “trans­parency” to Wash­ing­ton, have mainly been ded­i­cated to the pros­e­cu­tion of gov­ern­ment whis­tle-blow­ers through a uniquely rig­or­ous ap­pli­ca­tion of the Es­pi­onage Act of 1917. More peo­ple have been ac­cused under that law by this at­tor­ney gen­eral than in the en­tire pre­ced­ing 93 years of the law’s ex­is­tence.
Again, this is a focus that Bush-era at­tor­ney gen­er­als John Ashcroft, Al­berto Gon­za­les, and Michael Mukasey might have rel­ished, but on which none would have dared to act so boldly. Ex­tra­or­di­nary de­lays in grand jury pro­ceed­ings on Army Pri­vate Bradley Man­ning, sus­pected of pro­vid­ing gov­ern­ment se­crets to Wik­iLeaks, and Ju­lian As­sange, who ran that web­site, are said to have come from a pro­tracted at­tempt to se­cure a legal hold against one or both po­ten­tial de­fen­dants within the lim­its of a bar­barous and al­most dor­mant law.
6. Den­nis Ross: Ear­lier in his ca­reer, Obama seems to have cher­ished an in­ter­est in the cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tin­ian state. In Chicago, he was a friend of the dis­si­dent Mid­dle East scholar Rashid Kha­lidi; dur­ing his 2007 pri­mary cam­paign, he sought and re­ceived ad­vice from Robert Mal­ley, for­mer spe­cial as­sis­tant to Pres­i­dent Clin­ton for Arab-Is­raeli af­fairs, and Zbig­niew Brzezin­ski, for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter.  Both were “re­al­ist” op­po­nents of the ex­pan­sion­ist pol­icy of Is­rael’s right-wing coali­tion gov­ern­ment, which sub­si­dizes and af­fords mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion to Jew­ish set­tle­ments on the oc­cu­pied West Bank.
Under pres­sure from the Is­rael lobby, how­ever, Obama dis­so­ci­ated him­self from all three cho­sen ad­vis­ers.
Ross, as surely as Gates, is a mem­ber of Wash­ing­ton’s per­ma­nent es­tab­lish­ment. Re­cruited for the Carter De­fense De­part­ment by Paul Wol­fowitz, he started out as a So­viet spe­cial­ist, but his ex­per­tise mi­grated with a com­mis­sion to un­der­take a Lim­ited Con­tin­gency Study on the need for Amer­i­can de­fense of the Per­sian Gulf.  An Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tor at the 2000 Camp David sum­mit, Ross was ac­cused of being an un­fair bro­ker, hav­ing al­ways “started from the Is­raeli bot­tom line.”
He en­tered the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as a spe­cial ad­viser to Hillary Clin­ton on the Per­sian Gulf, but was moved into the White House on June 25, 2009, and out­fit­ted with an elab­o­rate title and com­pre­hen­sive du­ties: Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent and Se­nior Di­rec­tor for the Cen­tral Re­gion, in­clud­ing all of the Mid­dle East and the Per­sian Gulf, Afghanistan, Pak­istan and South Asia. Ross has cau­tioned Obama to be “sen­si­tive” to do­mes­tic Is­raeli con­cerns.
In ret­ro­spect, his in­stal­la­tion in the White House looks like the first step in a pat­tern of con­ces­sions to Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu that undid Obama’s hopes for an agree­ment in the re­gion. Here, cau­tion pre­cluded all in­ven­tive­ness. It could have been pre­dicted that the as­cen­dancy of Ross would ren­der void the two-state so­lu­tion Obama an­tic­i­pated in his care­fully pre­pared and broadly ad­ver­tised speech to the Arab world from Cairo Uni­ver­sity in June 2009.
7. Peter Orszag: Di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get from Jan­u­ary 2009 to Au­gust 2010, Orszag was charged with bring­ing in the big health in­sur­ers to lay out what it would take for them to sup­port the pres­i­dent’s health-care law.  In this way, Orszag -- along with the com­pa­nies -- ex­erted a de­ci­sive in­flu­ence on the final shape of the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act of 2010. In Jan­u­ary 2011, he left the ad­min­is­tra­tion to be­come vice chair­man of global bank­ing at Cit­i­group.  A few days out of the White House, he pub­lished an op-ed in the New York Times ad­vis­ing the pres­i­dent to ex­tend the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2% of Amer­i­cans -- adding that Obama should in­di­cate that the cuts would con­tinue in force only through 2012. Obama took the ad­vice.
8. Thomas Donilon: Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser and (after the de­par­ture of Gates) Obama’s clos­est con­sul­tant on for­eign pol­icy. Donilon sup­ported the 34,000 troop-es­ca­la­tion order that fol­lowed the pres­i­dent’s in­con­clu­sive 2009 Afghanistan War re­view.  He en­cour­aged and warmly ap­plauded Obama’s non-bind­ing “final or­ders” on Afghanistan, which all the par­tic­i­pants in the 2009 re­view were asked for­mally to ap­prove.  (The final or­ders speak of “a pri­or­i­tized com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach” by which the U.S. will “work with [Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid] Karzai when we can” to set “the con­di­tions for an ac­cel­er­ated tran­si­tion,” to bring about “ef­fec­tive sub-na­tional gov­er­nance,” and to “trans­fer” the re­spon­si­bil­ity for fight­ing the war while con­tin­u­ing to “de­grade” enemy forces.)
Donilon comes from the worlds of busi­ness, the law, and gov­ern­ment in about equal mea­sure: a ver­sa­tile ca­reer span­ning many or­tho­dox­ies. His open and un­re­served ad­mi­ra­tion for Pres­i­dent Obama seems to have counted more heav­ily in his ap­point­ment than the low opin­ion of his qual­i­fi­ca­tion­sap­par­ently held by sev­eral as­so­ci­ates.  As As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for Pub­lic Af­fairs dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, he helped arrange the east­ward ex­pan­sion of NATO after the Cold War: per­haps the most point­less and de­struc­tive bi­par­ti­san pro­ject of the epoch. He was Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent for Law and Pol­icy at Fan­nie Mae, 1999-2005.
The Sacked
Ad­vis­ers and nom­i­nees with views that were in line with Obama's 2008 elec­tion cam­paign or his pro­fessed goals in 2009, but who have since been fired, asked to re­sign or step down, or seen their nom­i­na­tions dropped:
1. Gen­eral James Jones: For­mer Ma­rine Corps Com­man­dant and a skep­tic of the Afghanistan es­ca­la­tion, Jones be­came the pres­i­dent’s first Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser.  He was, how­ever, often de­nied meet­ings with Obama, who seems to have looked on Gates as a su­pe­rior tech­no­crat, Pe­traeus as a more pres­ti­gious of­fi­cer, and Donilon as a more fer­vent be­liever in the split-the-dif­fer­ence war and diplo­matic poli­cies Obama elected to pur­sue.  Jones re­signed in Oc­to­ber 2010, under pres­sure.
A cu­ri­ous point:  Obama had spo­ken to Jones only twice be­fore ap­point­ing him to so high a post and seems hardly to have come to know him by the time he re­signed.
2. Karl Eiken­berry: Com­man­der of Com­bined Forces in Afghanistan be­fore he was made am­bas­sador, Eiken­berry, a re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral, had se­nior­ity over both Pe­traeus and then war com­man­der Gen­eral Stan­ley Mc­Chrys­tal when it came to ex­pe­ri­ence in that coun­try and the­ater of war. He was the au­thor of ca­bles to the State De­part­ment in late 2009, which car­ried a sting­ing re­buke to the con­duct of the war and un­con­cealed hos­til­ity to­ward any new pol­icy of es­ca­la­tion.  The Eiken­berry ca­bles were drafted in order to in­flu­ence the White House re­view that fall; they ad­vised that the Afghan war was in the process of being lost, that it could never be won, and that noth­ing good would come from an in­creased com­mit­ment of U.S. troops.
Pe­traeus, then Cent­com com­man­der, and Mc­Chrys­tal were both dis­turbed by the ca­bles -- star­tled when they ar­rived un­bid­den and in­tim­i­dated by their au­thor­ity. Obama, as­ton­ish­ingly, chose to ig­nore them. This may be the sin­gle most baf­fling oc­ca­sion of the many when fate dealt a win­ning card to the pres­i­dent and yet he folded. Among other such oc­ca­sions: the 2008-2009 bank bailouts and the open­ing for fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion; the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico and the op­por­tu­nity for a re­vised en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy; the Fukushima nu­clear plant melt­downs and a re­vised pol­icy to­ward nu­clear en­ergy; the Gold­stone Re­port and the chance for an end to the Gaza block­ade.  But of all these as well as other cases that might be men­tioned, the Eiken­berry ca­bles offer the clear­est in­stance of per­sist­ing in a dis­cred­ited pol­icy against the weight of im­pres­sive ev­i­dence.
Am­bas­sador Eiken­berry re­tired in 2011, and Obama re­placed him with Ryan Crocker, the For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer brought into Iraq by Bush to help Gen­eral Pe­traeus man­age the de­tails and pub­lic­ity around the Iraq surge of 2007-2008.
3. Paul Vol­cker: Head of the Fed­eral Re­serve under Pres­i­dents Carter and Rea­gan, Volker had a record (not nec­es­sar­ily com­mon among up­per-ech­e­lon work­ers in fi­nance) en­tirely free of the re­proach of ve­nal­ity. A steady ad­viser to the 2008 Obama cam­paign, he lent grav­ity to the young can­di­date's pro­fes­sions of com­pe­tence in fi­nan­cial mat­ters.  He also coun­seled Obama against the one-sid­ed­ness of a re­cov­ery pol­icy founded on re­pay­ment guar­an­tees to fi­nan­cial out­fits such as Cit­i­group and Bank of Amer­ica: the pol­icy, that is, fa­vored by Sum­mers and Gei­th­ner in pref­er­ence to mas­sive job cre­ation and a major in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture. "If you want to be a bank,” he said, “fol­low the bank rules. If Gold­man Sachs and the oth­ers want to do pro­pri­etary trad­ing, then they shouldn’t be banks.”  His ad­vice -- to tighten reg­u­la­tion in order to curb spec­u­la­tive trad­ing -- was adopted late and in di­luted form. In Jan­u­ary 2010, Jeff Im­melt, CEO of Gen­eral Elec­tric, which paidno fed­eral taxes that year, re­placed him.
4. Den­nis Blair: As Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, Blair sought to limit the ex­pan­sion of covert op­er­a­tions by the CIA.  In this quest he was de­feated by CIA Di­rec­tor Leon Panetta -- a sea­soned in­fighter, though with­out any ex­pe­ri­ence in in­tel­li­gence, who suc­cess­fully en­larged the Agency’s pre­rog­a­tives and lim­ited over­sight of its ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing his tenure. Blair re­fused to re­sign when Obama asked him to, and de­manded to be fired. He fi­nally stepped down on May 21, 2010.
Doubt­less Blair hurt his prospects ir­repara­bly by mak­ing clear to the pres­i­dent his skep­ti­cism re­gard­ing the use­ful­ness of drone war­fare: a form of killing Obama fa­vors as the most politic and an­ti­sep­tic avail­able to the U.S.  Since being sacked, Blair has come out pub­licly against the broad use of drones in Pak­istan and else­where.
On his way out, he was ret­ro­spec­tively made a scape­goat for the No­vem­ber 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, killing spree by Army psy­chi­a­trist Major Nidal Hasan; for the “un­der­wear” bomber’s at­tempt to blow up a plane on its way to De­troit on Christ­mas day 2009; and for the failed Times Square car bomb­ing of May 2010 -- all at­tacks (it was im­plied) that Blair should have found the miss­ing key to avert, even though the Army, the FBI, and the CIA were un­able to do so.
5. James Cartwright: As vice-chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen­eral Cartwright passed on to Obama, and in­ter­preted for him, a good deal of in­for­ma­tion that proved use­ful in the Afghanistan War re­view. Their friend­ship out­lasted the process and he came to be known as Obama’s“fa­vorite gen­eral,” but Cartwright stirred the re­sent­ment from both Pe­traeus and Mullen for es­tab­lish­ing a sep­a­rate chan­nel of in­flu­ence with the pres­i­dent. Like Eiken­berry, he had been a skep­tic on the ques­tion of fur­ther es­ca­la­tion in Afghanistan.  His name was floated by the White House as the front-run­ner to be­come chair­man of the Joint Chiefs after the re­tire­ment of Mullen.  In­formed of the mil­i­tary op­po­si­tion to the ap­point­ment, Obama re­versed field and chose Army Chief of Staff Gen­eral Mar­tin Dempsey, a fig­ure more agree­able to Pe­traeus and Mullen.
6. Dawn Johnsen: Obama’s first choice to head the Of­fice of Legal Coun­sel, a choice gen­er­ally praised and closely watched by con­sti­tu­tional lawyers and civil lib­er­tar­i­ans.  Her name was with­drawn after a 14-month wait, and she was de­nied a con­fir­ma­tion process. The cause: Re­pub­li­can ob­jec­tions to her writ­ings and her pub­lic state­ments against the prac­tice of tor­ture and legal jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for tor­ture.
This re­ver­sal falls in with a larger pat­tern: the putting for­ward of can­di­dates for gov­ern­ment po­si­tions whose views are straight­for­ward, pub­licly avail­able, and con­sis­tent with the pre-2009 prin­ci­ples of Barack Obama -- fol­lowed by Obama’s with­drawal of sup­port for the same can­di­dates. A more re­cent in­stance was the nam­ing (after con­sid­er­able delay) of Eliz­a­beth War­ren as a spe­cial ad­vi­sor to or­ga­nize the Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bu­reau, fol­lowed by the de­ci­sion in July not to nom­i­nate her as the first di­rec­tor of the bu­reau.
Avoid­ance of a drag-out fight in con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings seems to be the re­cur­rent mo­tive here. Of course, the ad­van­tage of such a fight, given an ar­tic­u­late and will­ing nom­i­nee, is the ed­u­ca­tion of pub­lic opin­ion. But in every pos­si­ble in­stance, Pres­i­dent Obama has been averse to any pub­lic en­gage­ment in the clash of ideas.  “Bot­tom line is that it was going to be close,” a Sen­ate De­mo­c­ra­tic source told ABC’s Jake Tap­per when Johnsen’s name was with­drawn. "If they wanted to, the White House could have pushed for a vote. But they didn't want to 'cause they didn't have the stom­ach for the de­bate."
Where the nom­i­na­tion of an “ex­treme” can­di­date might have hard­ened the im­pres­sion of Obama as an ex­trem­ist, might not a pub­lic hear­ing have helped erad­i­cate the very pre­con­cep­tion that a fright­ened with­drawal tends to con­firm? This ques­tion is not asked.
7. Greg Craig: For two years spe­cial coun­sel in the Clin­ton White House, he led the team de­fend­ing the pres­i­dent in the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings in Con­gress. Craig’s de­c­la­ra­tion of sup­port for Obama in March 2007 was vital to the in­sur­gent can­di­date, be­cause of his well-known loy­alty to the Clin­tons.  Obama made him White House Coun­sel, and his ini­tial task was to draw up plans for the clos­ing of Guan­tanamo, a promise made by the pres­i­dent on his first day in the Oval Of­fice. But once the paper was signed, Obama showed lit­tle in­ter­est in the de­vel­op­ing plans. Oth­ers were more pas­sion­ate. Dick Ch­eney worked on a sus­cep­ti­ble pop­u­lace to res­ur­rect old fears.  The forces against clo­sure ral­lied and spread panic, while the pres­i­dent said noth­ing.  Craig was de­feated in­side the White House by the “re­al­ist” Rahm Emanuel, and sacked.
8. Carol Browner: A lead­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, Browner was given a sec­ond shot by Obama as di­rec­tor of the White House Of­fice of En­ergy and Cli­mate Change Pol­icy.  She found her ef­forts thwarted within the ad­min­is­tra­tion as well as in Con­gress: in mid-2010 Obama de­cided that -- as a way to deal with global warm­ing -- cap-and-trade leg­is­la­tion was a loser for the midterm elec­tions. Pres­sure on Obama from the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce to heed busi­ness in­ter­ests served as a strong in­cite­ment in forc­ing Browner’s res­ig­na­tion after the De­mo­c­ra­tic “shel­lack­ing” in midterm elec­tions, a re­sult that his quiet aban­don­ment of cap-and-trade had failed to pre­vent. The White House had no backup plan for ad­dress­ing the dis­as­ter of global warm­ing.  After Browner’s res­ig­na­tion in March 2011, her po­si­tion was abol­ished. Since then, Obama has sel­dom spo­ken of global warm­ing or cli­mate change.
Moral and Po­lit­i­cal Limbo
The Obama pres­i­dency has been char­ac­ter­ized by a re­fined sense of im­pos­si­bil­ity. A kind of suf­fo­ca­tion sets in when a man of power floats care­fully clear of all un­ortho­dox stim­uli and re­sorts to of­fi­cial com­forters of the sort ex­em­pli­fied by Panetta. As the above par­tial list of the saved and the sacked shows, the pres­i­dent lives now in a world in which he is cer­tain never to be told he is wrong when he hap­pens to be on the wrong track.  It is a world where the un­con­ven­tion­al­ity of an opin­ion, or the ex­is­tence of a pos­si­ble ma­jor­ity against it some­where, counts as prima facie ev­i­dence against its sound­ness.
So al­ter­na­tive ideas van­ish -- along with the peo­ple who rep­re­sent them. What, then, does Pres­i­dent Obama imag­ine he is doing as he backs into one weak ap­point­ment after an­other, and purges all signs of thought and in­de­pen­dence around him? We have a few dim clues.
A pop­u­lar book on Abra­ham Lin­coln, Team of Ri­vals, seems to have prompted Obama to sup­pose that Lin­coln him­self “led from be­hind” and was com­mit­ted to bi­par­ti­san­ship not only as a tac­tic but as an al­ways nec­es­sary means to the high­est good of democ­racy.  A more wish­ful con­ceit was never con­ceived; but Obama has talked of the book eas­ily and often to sup­port a “prag­matic” in­stinct for con­stant com­pro­mise that he be­lieves him­self to share with the Amer­i­can peo­ple and with Lin­coln.
A larger hint may come from Obama’s re­cently re­leased Na­tional Strat­egy for Coun­tert­er­ror­ismwhere a sen­tence in the pres­i­dent’s own voice as­serts: "We face the world as it is, but we will also pur­sue a strat­egy for the world we seek." If the words "I face the world as it is" have a fa­mil­iar sound, the rea­son is that they re­ceived a trial run in Obama’s 2009 Nobel Prize speech. Those words were the bridge across which an am­biva­lent peace­maker walked to con­front the her­itage of Ma­hatma Gandhi and Mar­tin Luther King with the re­al­i­ties of power as ex­pe­ri­enced by the leader of the only su­per­power in the world.   
In­deed, Obama’s un­der­stand­ing of in­ter­na­tional moral­ity seems to be largely ex­pressed by the propo­si­tion that "there's se­ri­ous  evil in the world" -- a truth he con­fided in 2007 to the New York Times con­ser­v­a­tive colum­nist David Brooks, and at­trib­uted to the the­olo­gian Rein­hold Niebuhr -- com­bined with the as­ser­tion that he is ready to "face the world as it is." The world we seek is, of course, the bet­ter world of high moral­ity. But moral­ity, prop­erly un­der­stood, is noth­ing but a frame­work for ideals.  Once you have dis­charged your duty, by say­ing the right words for the right poli­cies, you have to ac­com­mo­date the world.
This has be­come the ethic of the Bush-Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in a new phase.  It ex­plains, as noth­ing else does, Obama’s enor­mous ap­petite for com­pro­mise, the grow­ing con­ven­tion­al­ity of his choices of pol­icy and per­son, and the le­git­i­macy he has con­ferred on many rad­i­cal in­no­va­tions of the early Bush years by as­sent­ing to their logic and often widen­ing their scope. They are, after all, the world as it is.
Obama’s prag­ma­tism comes down to a se­ries of max­ims that can be re­lied on to rat­ify the ex­ist­ing order -- any order, how­ever re­cent its ad­vent and how­ever re­pul­sive its ef­fects. You must stay in power in order to go on “seek­ing.” There­fore, in “the world as it is,” you must re­quite evil with lesser evil. You do so to pre­vent your re­place­ment by fa­nat­ics: peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, like those who in­vented the means you began by de­plor­ing but ended up adopt­ing. Their dif­fer­ence from you is that they lack the vi­sion of the seeker. Fi­nally, in the world as it is, to re­tain your hold on power you must keep in place the sort of peo­ple who are nor­mally found in places of power.