Obama is no George W. Bush, says Carney

The White House on Monday rejected assertions it has co-opted President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism programs amid mounting criticism of its policies.

White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted President Obama has “lived up” to his promises to change the way the United States conducts the war on terror.

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He said the president had significantly shifted U.S. policy on the four major counterterrorism issues that defined the Bush years: the Iraq war, the Guantánamo Bay prison facility, the use of torture during interrogations and the warrantless wiretapping program.

“In every case, this president’s policy has been different,” Carney said. 

The White House is eager to draw the distinction between Obama and Bush in the aftermath of an explosive interview with Edward Snowden, the former Defense contractor who claimed responsibility for the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks.

Speaking with The Guardian, Snowden said he decided to come forward partially out of disappointment that Obama had not ended programs launched under Bush.

“I believed in Obama’s promises,” Snowden said. “I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor.”

Snowden’s comments threw gasoline onto an already smoldering fire.

A photo mash-up of the two presidents that first appeared on The Huffington Post went viral on social media networks like Tumblr and Reddit. The phrase “George W. Obama” was trending on Twitter for much of the weekend. 

Maureen Dowd quipped Sunday that Obama should not worry about his administration being “Bush-Cheney lite” because there was nothing “lite” about the surveillance programs. Michael Moore called Snowden the “hero of the year.”

Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said the revelations meant Obama owed Bush an apology.

“Drone strikes. Wiretaps. Gitmo. [Obama] is carrying out Bush’s 4th term. Yet he attacked Bush for violating Constitution,” Fleischer said on Twitter.

Obama’s second-term agenda was already at risk because of a host of controversies swirling around his administration, and concerns about the NSA program have only added to the sense of disarray.

While the left has largely offered cover for Obama on scandals involving the IRS and the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, some of the criticism on the NSA programs has come from Obama allies.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said Sunday there was little evidence that the phone data collection programs actually helped prevent terrorism. He also slammed the Obama administration for not being more transparent about the surveillance.

“Maybe Americans think this is okay, but I think the line has been drawn too far toward we’re going to invade your privacy rather then we’re going to respect your privacy,” he told CNN. “I expect the government to protect my privacy, and it feels like that isn’t what’s been happening.”

On Monday, Carney insisted that the White House had struck the correct “balance between security and privacy.”

He and the White House have sought to draw a distinction between the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping and the NSA programs under Obama by repeatedly emphasizing the congressional and judicial review involved in Obama’s policies.

Critics, however, have argued that there are holes in the White House’s argument.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court overseeing the counterterror programs, they point out, has only rejected seven of more than 13,000 applications since 2006, leading many to criticize the panel as a rubber stamp. 

On Guantánamo Bay, while Carney noted Monday the president “has sought to close that facility,” the prison camp remains operational. A visit by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Friday resulting in a joint call to close the facility was blown off the front pages by new revelations in the NSA controversy.

A recent report by the Open Society Justice Initiative suggested that the U.S. government may continue to operate secret prison sites overseas. Obama has ordered hundreds of targeted drone strikes on suspected terrorists overseas.