By Ariel Lavinbuk, an attorney at Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP and a Principal of the Truman National Security Project
In recent weeks, President Obama's approach to national security - particularly on issues related to terrorism - has drawn considerable criticism from his base. What began as disappointment over the decision to withhold images of past detainee abuse quickly turned to disillusionment over the continuing use of military commissions. Such concerns now pale in comparison to the almost universal outrage directed at plans to "preventatively detain" certain individuals for a potentially endless period of time. Taken together, these policies have been seen as a betrayal by the left, which has taken to wondering aloud whether President Obama is any different than his predecessor.
There is merit to some of the concerns that have been expressed, but there is also considerable danger in overlooking what President Obama has accomplished in a very short time, and in underestimating the challenges facing our country. These reactions distract from the considerable work that remains to be done in reforming our nation's response to terrorism.
In his first four months in office, President Obama has banned all interrogation techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual and guaranteed Red Cross access to all detainees still being held. At the same time, he has loosened Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) standards, released more Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos and ordered a review of government classification procedures. These are significant accomplishments. We forget how recently it was that we did not even know who our government was detaining, let alone what it was doing to them. Even better, these actions have inspired renewed confidence in the idea that adhering to our values is a strategic asset, not a liability; indeed, by a 55-to-37 margin, the American public now believes that President Obama's policies have made the nation safer than it was under President Bush.