Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama vs. Cheney On Security - Part 2

Adult vs. Adolescent 

Yesterday’s “dueling” speeches given by President Barack Obama and former Vice-President Cheney provided a clear contrast, of not only style, but content.

My impression of Obama’s style is that he seemed that of a defensive adolescent, evidenced even by his tactic of scheduling so as to pre-empt Cheney’s speech , which had been previously scheduled for some time. Parents with two or more children may be familiar with a similar scene; upon arriving home after an evening out, they find something broken and one child attempting to pre-empt the other’s story, because he knows that if the other child's story is told first, his story will be suspect.

Although delivered with his usual professional demeanor, Obama’s content seemed whiney and defensive, with an emphasis on emotion. His stage prop was the national archives; he mentioned his immigrant father; and he bemoaned the “mess” (Guantanamo) that he was handed. The “mess” that he was handed was actually a well reasoned and pragmatic approach to dealing with enemy combatants (not uniformed military and signatories to the Geneva Conventions) captured on the field of battle, and not subject to the protection or justice of our Constitution. The present awkward situation is one of his own making, as he recklessly announced that he would close Guantanamo within one year without any plan to accomplish it, and then subsequently releasing some of the Bush Justice Department memos detailing the constrained structure of enhanced interrogation tactics, but not releasing the ones that evidenced their efficacy and significance.

Obama’s usual rhetorical technique was evident; claiming to not want to litigate the past, but then going on to constantly blaming the Bush administration for every current problem. He made statements without any demonstrated basis, such as that the enhanced interrogation techniques didn't work, Guantanamo was an al Qaeda recruiting tool, and that the prison at Guantanamo "likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained." But he went further too, accusing the Bush Administration of operating out of “fear”, as if that were a failure. 3,000 American had just been killed, anthrax was being mailed to member of Congress, and Sadam Hussein was paying families of suicide bombers and reportedly developing WMD’s . Of course they operated out of fear! It was the only responsible response.

Despite his efforts to create the impression that he was changing what Bush had put in place, by the end of his speech he had effectively validated all of the Bush decisions on dealing with enemy combatants, simply by making cosmetic changes: he will still utilize rendition; he will house captured enemy combatants in either “Gitmo” or a “Gitmo-like” facility; he will use military tribunals to prosecute them; he will have to keep some imprisoned indefinitely; and he will even maintain the right to personally determine if and when to use enhanced interrogation procedures on enemy combatants. And he did it without once ever reflecting that his initial assessment as a candidate had been naïve and ill-informed, but instead, constantly denigrated the Bush Administration’s work, while maintaining a self-righteous attitude.

On the other side of town, Vice President Cheney played the part of the adult, delivering a concise, non-emotive rational for the strategy and actions that the Bush Administration put into play after 911. He explained the pre-911 approach which had been to treat each terrorist action as a criminal law situation, and then prosecute and close the case - a pure response driven approach. Cheney effectively established the context of the situation after 911 that caused Bush to initiate a pre-emptive and comprehensive approach to stopping future attacks on the U.S., which have obviously been successful.

Stressing the importance of obtaining accurate intelligence, the Bush administration gave tools and lawful authority to obtain vital information. Cheney disputed the “torture” label Obama and the Democrats have used to describe the enhanced interrogation techniques that were used on only three hardened terrorists, and only after all other interrogation methods had failed. He pointed out the bi-partisan agreement that was involved in establishing these methods, as well as the deliberate caution that was employed to ensure that the interrogations never crossed the line into torture. Since Obama had already compromised National Security by allowing some of the memos to be released ,Cheney acclaimed the success of these interrogation methods, but then questioned Obama’s reluctance to release the complete set of memos, including the ones detailing the results, suggesting allowing the American people to decide the appropriateness of the interrogation procedures.

The Vice President also derided the Obama team’s tendency to conflate the individual abuses committed at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo with the use of enhanced interrogation, as well as their tendency to portray terrorists as innocent victims of US policy.

In closing, Cheney dismissed Obama’s approach to find some middle ground to appease the liberals and conservatives in maintaining the security of the United States and fighting terrorism stating, “… in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy”.

Charles Kruathamer summed the “debate” up very effectively…

“On Guantanamo, it's Obama's fellow Democrats who have suddenly discovered the wisdom of Bush's choice. In open rebellion against Obama's pledge to shut it down, the Senate voted 90 to 6 to reject appropriating a single penny until the president explains where he intends to put the inmates.…. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, no Gitmo inmates on American soil -- not even in American jails. 
The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established. 
That's happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won't have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.”


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