NOW with Alex Wagner | February 11, 2013
>>> for a long time now there's been too much secrecy in this city. that era is now over. starting today every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those that seek to withhold information, but those that seek to make it known.
>> at the start of his first term president obama promise aide clean break from the bush administration 's terror policies. today is he facing heat from critics who complain that his use of drone aircraft to target and sass nature enemies of the state bears a striking similarity to the policies of his predecessor. the "new york times" notes four years into the tenure the one-time critic of president george w. bush finds himself cast as a present day mr. bush. just filing the muscular application of force and the defense of the nation while detractors complain he sacrificed the country's core values in the name of security. some on the left are wondering what is different other than a name of the guy in the oval office ?
>> the policy seems to be that, yes, we will fry people anywhere in the world with our flying killer robots because someone we know wrote it down on a piece of paper and, therefore, it's legal. i know obama is a swell guy and bush was an evil oaf, but it really is the seam policy, isn't it?
>> meanwhile, some on the right are crying foul about a blatant double standard .
>> i find it hilarious that people have all this patience for illegal architecture to be crafted after the fact. if this had been president george w. bush 's administration revealing that this many drone attacks were going on, there would be impeachment hearings underway. the help ok si sort of has republicans steaming.
>> if it seems just a little hip critical to criticize the administration for policies put in place by conservatives, the architect of the bush anti-terror manifesto himself dick cheney has found a slightly different angle from which to criticize the president. speaking of cabinet picks chuck hagel , john kerry , and john brennan , the former vice president told the wyoming republican party over the weekend that "the performance now of barack obama as he staffs up the marshall security team for the second term is dismal. frankly, what he has appointed are second rate people." if you can't get him on the drone stuff, jonathan, go for the people who are manning the drones, basically.
>> i guess it's a bit of sour grapes . i mean, what we're looking at -- notice that in the video that you showed january 21st , 2009 . barack obama had just been inaugurated president not 24 hours earlier, and what we had seen from his promise to close gitmo to where we are now is someone who campaigned one way, but then getting into the white house , seeing the intelligence reports, seeing the breadth of manufacturings that you have, and then having to have to govern in a way that forces you to make really just uncomfortable decisions for someone like --
>> i would bet those are some of the toughest choices of his administration.
>> i think david brooks talked about this in his column last week when i tacked about machiavellian and i find it laughable, though, that you have dick cheney blasting the president for maintaining pretty much all of the policies that he and president george w. bush --
>> ari, maintaining if not sort of sidestepping the thorniest parties of the issue, which is john, you brought this up in a wall street journal piece, and i'm not one that usually quotes from yon yu, but he said, look, you don't have to answer the questions about torture and rendition and military tribe unls if you are basically killing people. there are no bodies.
>> that's the policy shift.
>> there's a policy issue. even machiavelli wrote down. this administration has been loathe to do unless under extreme pressure. now in the second term, to alex's point, that is the fundamental shift in the law. a lot of people want to talk about the policy and the politics, but the law of war and detention governs things very differently, so what we had under george w. bush in the live conflict against what was really the first real stateless actor that had the powers or at least the ability to exhibit force like a state actor , was a lot of new questions that i think were handled very poorly by the office of legal counsel and doj at the time, but they were about detention. can you hold guantanamo open? do these people have habus rights? the supreme court did, i might add. can you abuse these people and what level of abuse amounts to torture? those were all very tough questions. that one handled it poorly.
>> as a side note john brennan is unable to say whether he thinks waterboarding is torture.
>> that is the legacy and stain and those of us that are journalists and lawyers and we have to say that john brennan is still wrong about that to this day, and now he is up for this important post. the second point, to your question and what you were talking about is if you're not in a detention, you know, context, right, according to dan clayman who wrote killer capture, which is one of the definitive accounts of the first term of obama on these issues, we've only captured one suspected terrorist as opposed to over 500 under bush. they are a different series of questions. it's illegal under the laws of war to kill when you can capture. the administration's argument, and it is a practical one, although i think it has a lot of holes, is we're in a lot of places where we cannot capture anymore, and this is classral damage, and we save many lives by not doing full ground scale operations. that is their substantive defense.
>> i would say helping that is the sort of smoke screen that's built in by the lack of information we have as far as casualties. i mean, these are estimates, right? there's a u.k.-based bureau of investigative journalism which tallies them at pakistan. pakistan there are 473 to 893 casualties. yemen, 72 to 178. somalia, 11 to 57. we just don't know. it's much harder to argue sort of what is a collateral damage , who is being killed who doesn't need to be killed. jake, to go to the sort of political domestic political piece here, all of the -- you have three confirmations that have been -- because she's not suesan rice. there's a controversy. we have republicans who are in a weird position on foreign policy and national security precisely because the president has been so aggressive. in a lot of ways there's not a lot of daylight between what republicans do in the same position as democrats. unless we're bipartisan, there is a lot of people in particular, chuck hagel as defense secretary nominee, and there has been some talk by some in the gop leadership that they will filibuster his nomination. john mccain saying he won't. what is your read on all that many.
>> i think it will be a very interesting move to filibuster. it will be a drastic move. wron if you guys saw, but carl livin said he will hold a vote on the nomination tomorrow, so they are moving ahead with it. my hunch is that they won't because i think deep down inside republican senators believe that a president does deserve to choose his advisors, and i think it sets a bad press debt because one day there will be a republican in the white house again. maybe not, i guess. the venom from republican senators towards chuck hagel is pretty remarkable. this is not a fwi who they hold in high regard by and large. he basically endorsed president obama in 2008 . john mccain on that committee. they don't want to set a precedent, i think, is the main thing, but i have been eating my words in a couple of days.
>> you never do know what's going to happen in the house. it's also worth noting that northbound -- there was some talk that maybe he will stand down. he is not going to walk away from this. said tom hagel , his brother. the way he is responding to this, he is just going to fight harder. lee, what seems to be clear is that hagel is obama 's guy, and at the end of the day fight chuck hagel all you want, but the person who is actually going to be dictating national security and foreign policy is sitting at 1600 pennsylvania avenue .
>> absolutely. many people said when he first nominated hagel that, oh, this is picking a fight. i don't think anyone realized how much of a fight it would be. as this has played out. it's interesting that tom hagel has come out. he has only spoken a couple of times. the story of the two of them fighting together is quite powerful. he said way back when, he said if anyone thinks my brother is a pacifist, he is a fool. of course, it's his brother. anyway, i mean, it does look like it's probably likely, but it's --
>> it's surprising he is the one coming under the most scrutiny gin the fact that brennan is the architect of the drone and the cia and john kerry is at state and we don't have verbalized obama doctrine. it's because of some slight against mccane during the 2008 campaign, and now here we have senator mccain at the center of the hagel controversy -- confirmation controversy. i'm not surprised by it.
>> that's the thing. to alex's point, this is so washington that hagel is the one under tank and not john brennan . it shows three things, i think. number one, that obamafication of a lifelong republican is too much for the republicans. my response is great, you don't get any republicans in the cabinet. if you can't handle this conservative republican from a red state , then forget it. we're not even going to work with you on that. number two --
>> then bernie sanders is going to be the secretary.
>> number two, that policy always comes second. the guy who was right about the iraq war and led at a time when it was more difficult from a conservative position is punished by that from everyone whereas the guy who in my opinion was clearly wrong about torture and has not offered a strong defense by which i mean a legitimate one of these drone issues and secrecy. he wants to optimize secrecy. he is fine. brennan is fine. third, that there is no real policy oriented oversight of these individuals. everything to jonathan's point is, oh, we don't personally like hagel anymore for our partisan reasons, and john brennan seems leak a good guy regardless. it tells you a lot about both parties? washington.
>> if the republican party wants to pick a fight on something substantive and worthy of greater policy discussion, we could talk about syria because that seems like an area where the president has not spent a lot of attention. 60,000 people have been killed. john mccane has been tough on that, and if i were john mccain , not that i am john mccain , i feel like that is an important issue that really could move the nation forward and hopefully move some amount of our foreign policy forward. we have to leave it there. the senate is expected to vote to reauthorize violence against women act later today . like many bills these days, the legislation is likely to face just a little republican opposition in the lower chamber . we will look at the players and the sticking points just ahead.