Power Wars

My Review of Charlie Savage's Book, Power Wars

By Matthew Waxman
Saturday, November 7, 2015, 12:02 PM

Earlier this week, Time magazine published reviews of Charlie Savage's new book, Power Wars, by me and former Obama White House Counsel Bob Bauer.  As I read it, "the story strongly implies that mainstream American politics don’t support fundamental rethinking of counterterrorism policies. As an alternative to sweeping change, incremental reforms and procedural adjustments under Obama have, while improving them, also normalized and legitimated some practices that many civil libertarians and allied governments find abhorrent." Bauer observes in his piece that the Obama administration's efforts to establish rules and procedures to govern the president's exercise of powers "is legal reform, to be sure, but it is hard to see that any advance in the protection of civil liberties would be possible without it." 

My full review is available here. It begins:

“If the Bush years can be caricatured as government by cowboy, energetic but shooting from the hip, the Obama era was government by lawyer, methodical and precise —sometimes to a fault.” So observes New York Times investigative reporter Charlie Savage in Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency, which provides the most comprehensive account to date of the Obama administration’s approach to national security law and policy-making.

These are, indeed, caricatures drawn with exaggerated features, and Savage illuminates more complex pictures of both. He carefully documents key decisions while placing them in context of politics, personalities and ideological agendas. Overall, the story strongly implies that mainstream American politics don’t support fundamental rethinking of counterterrorism policies. As an alternative to sweeping change, incremental reforms and procedural adjustments under Obama have, while improving them, also normalized and legitimated some practices that many civil libertarians and allied governments find abhorrent.