How realistic are the fears of hawkish presidents?

Last night at dinner with a couple of friends who are civil liberties lawyers, I asked why they thought Obama had changed his tune on surveillance; from campaigning for limited, closely overseen, transparent surveillance regimes to establishing a secretive, overarching, totalizing surveillance system that necessitates prosecuting more whistleblowers than all the other presidents in American… READ THE REST

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I think Jimmy Carter might qualify as a doveish President that lost the Democrats the Presidency. Reagan hammered Carter mercilessly over the Iran hostage crisis during the election.


I was going to say Carter as well. There is also the issue that no President has ever been voted out of office for being too hawkish. LBJ may have lost because of Vietnam if he has chosen to run again, but I can’t think of any President that started a war that was ongoing during his re-election and lost.

James Buchanan.

(20 character minimum? tyranny!)


Sorry, but I can’t think of anything to say here that I haven’t already said too many times on BB.

“Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all– the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

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On the other hand, Bush did get us attacked on his watch, with complete negligence, and paid no price at all.


I believe that there’s more than reelection hopes at stake:

There’s posterity. Leader worry how they’ll be viewed by history.

There’s the ideological expectations of the leader’s base, including his or her bureaucratic supporters. A deeply unpopular war might be kept going to please ideologues in the intelligence, diplomatic, and military services.

NOTE: This thread wasn’t tagged as a Boing Boing thread.

I will go with Al Gore.

On the other hand, Bush did get us attacked on our watch, with
complete negligence, and paid no price at all.

But then, he was definitely not characterized as dovish so it isn’t a valid counter-example. He immediately invaded a country that has nothing to do with the attack for goodness sake. If anything, he is an example as to how being hawkish can help you keep the Presidency.

Reagan also had some interesting ways of “dealing” with terrorists (and manipulating the people).

Obama’s defense of pervasive surveillance seems sufficiently insincere, especially when contrasted with his earlier opposition, that I don’t think he actually believes the reasons he’s giving. Therefore, it must be something else. My theory is that he isn’t giving the NSA free rein because he’s afraid of the political implications of a terrorist attack, but rather than the NSA has dirt on him from prior eavesdropping, and they’ve blackmailed him into giving them free rein since he took office. Pervasive surveillance readily strips itself of all effective checks and balances.

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I think the answer strongly depends on how much tinfoil you like on your headwear.

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One thing my friends and I always wonder about is the secrets that the president learns once they take office. Perhaps there is a real fear, but it is actually a secret so well kept that Wikileaks can’t even dig it up for us. I keep returning to this article on Mother Jones.

I’m the exact opposite of a conspiracy theorist, but what is exactly going on? Did Obama learn something upon becoming president that completely changed his philosophy? If those secrets were leaked, would we also change our tunes? Can you even conceive of a secret that would cause you to support something like PRISM?

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Asking why Obama changed his tune is kind of pointless. It was either a good reason or a bad reason. He doesn’t seem to be sharing a good reason. He’s not even acknowledging that he changed his tune.

The President has to sort through a lot of people telling him that if they don’t get what they want, we will be attacked. “If we don’t build a mile-high wall between us and Mexico, we will be attacked.” “If we don’t have one F-22 Raptor per child in this country, we will be attacked.” So yeah, probably someone did tell him, “If we don’t have Total Information Awareness, we will be attacked.”

But it’s the President’s job to sort through those things. It’s not like “surveillance-happy spooks” have some kind of monopoly on existential terrors.

"B-But we need the thingy, Mr. President! To keep us safe!"

There could be political consequences for an attack. Certainly the Republicans would use it as material in the next election. But I’m wondering why Obama didn’t realize that there would also be consequences for the government brazenly violating the 4th Amendment. That Amendment being part of a thing that Obama swore to preserve, protect, and defend.

Maybe he thought nobody would ever find out?


Candidate Kennedy defeated Vice President Nixon in part by claiming a supposed missile gap that the then President Eisenhower did not believe and that it did not actually exist. That made the Soviets think that Kennedy was a dangerous hawk, and fearing a first strike, contributed to them deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy also got sold into the domino theory, starting the deployment of US troops in Indochina. Eisenhower knew much better what the military industrial establishment were up to.


He had to be President for eight years while being told every day he was a goddamned dolt who couldn’t figure out how to eat a pretzel.

That’s got to eat at a guy after a while.

No. I cannot conceive of any secret that would allow me to think “Well, that 4th Amendment was always kind of sketchy anyway.” Or “That American citizen is so bad that we can’t allow a trial to happen: Drone strike.” These things are so foreign to my integral beliefs of what American society is and what it stands for that to be the actual root cause of these events would mean that I would be directly responsible for the destruction of the America that I believe should act as a beacon to others.

3,000 people died on September 11th. Three times that were killed by drunk drivers last year, but I don’t see extraordinary privacy invasions as a result of drunk drivers. The response of the Patriot Act and PRISM (and drone strikes and Gitmo) are too heavy and ham handed a response for the actions that set them in motion. We are better than that as a society and we should act like it.


He wasn’t a president, but PM Neville Chamberlain is remembered for his appeasement policy.

Sadly, I think politicians weigh the consequences of hawk vs dove positions and hawk usually comes out on top, Regardless of whether you’re a hawk or a dove, if nothing happens on your watch, you win. But if a strike on your soil happens on your watch and you’re a hawk, then you did your best, but if you’re a dove, you’ve failed.

American presidents are totems of the people. Considered intellect and brave peace are not cultural values for most of the nation, for a variety of reasons. Dudebro hypermasculinity, reactionary paranoia, and Manichaean us-vs-them invective are. 56% (ish) of this country is totally fine with Orwellian surveillance, as long as they git the bad guys. This isn’t a problem for the president to solve, it’s a problem for the society that would much rather be safe and fat and stupid than smart and brave and effective. We’ve got a values malfunction, sir.


First, politicians will say whatever they need to in order to get elected, Obama’s base is largely liberal, so his message during the elections reflected that. It’s very easy to hold that divergence between election rhetoric and political action against a politician whom we don’t like. As always, idealism must be modified by the world we live in.

Second, when confronted with the responsibilities of actual leadership, most presidents have undergone an almost immediate change. Hawks tend toward a more moderate stance, and doves begin to lean toward more militant positions. The “weight of command” is not a literary fabrication. It is real, and palpable. A president feels the responsibility for the security of the nation as no other person can.

When intellectuals meet for dinner, agreeing with one another about the sorry state of the world, and discussing all the obvious cures, it is good that other people, more sober and realistic, are actually making the decisions.