Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One Small Kudo to Janet Napolitano

As the Obama Adminstration makes increasingly clear that it intends to adopt a policy of warmed-over Bushism, it does deserve credit for at least one small deviation. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has announced she is killing a proposed program to make information from spy satellites available to domestic law enforcement.

The Wallstreet Journal reveals an important detail left out of the Washington Post account. The Bush Administration had taken only "preliminary steps" to implement the program, such as acquiring office space and "beginning" to hire staff.

This points up a critical distinction. It is much easier to prevent such things in the first place than to reverse them once they become established. The proposed program of satellite surveillance had not yet become an established interest. It did not have an entrenched bureaucracy to fight for its survival. Stopping it did not mean taking on a powerful establishment, merely preventing one from forming. Significantly, the only other real reversal Obama has successfully made in Bush policies was to close the CIA "black sites" -- sites that had been empty and unused from some time.

Not having access to Obama's brain, I do not know what has motivated him to follow so many of George Bush's War on Terror policies. Maybe he supports them. Maybe he considers chaning them a low priority and wants to expend his political capital on something else. Maybe he fears being labeled soft on terror. Maybe he likes the power. But another major factor (not incompatible with any of these others) is that powerful, entrenched interests will fight any such change every step of the way. This was one program easily defeated because no such interests existed.

May it signal the beginning of some real rethinking on Napolitano's part.

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