Much is being made of the Dick Cheney vs. Barack Obama "debate" now going on in the media over national security. The Wall Street Journal has it on the front page today, after Cheney and Obama gave dueling speeches yesterday -- Obama from the rotunda of the National Archives and Cheney from the American Enterprise Institute. As has been his consistent message, Obama again reiterated his view that the Bush administration had "gone off course" in using enhanced interrogation techniques and off-shore prisons, saying that he is seeking to restore "the power of our most fundamental values". The former Vice President, meanwhile is having none of it. Calling the Bush policies "legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do", he again took on the administration's critics by pointing out that "After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked or scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed."
This is an exceedingly vital debate. President Obama has made decisions on the basis of politics that I believe are putting our nation at risk. He caved to the left in precipitously deciding to close Guantanamo without any alternative plan; now it turns out that many of the most hated Bush policies -- using military tribunals and indefinite detention -- will continue. Why? Because more than half of the remaining Guantanamo detainees are too dangerous to try in court or to release back into the civilized world. But where will they go once Guantanamo is closed? No one has a clue, because nobody in Congress wants these lethal prisoners in their backyard. In the halls of Congress, NIMBY is the rule -- unless, of course, it's pork.
The problem for those who think that Obama is on a dangerous path, however, is that it is Dick Cheney leading the charge. Where is the spokesperson for the opposition to this president who isn't past his prime and considered a cross between an "angry white man" and Darth Vader?
We know, of course, that John McCain -- the Republican candidate for president just a short 6 months ago who got more than 44 million votes in the election -- is of little help on this issue, having campaigned himself against enhanced interrogation and for the closing of Guantanamo. So he's been -- by necessity and by temperament -- silent in this debate. But where are the others? Are there any conservatives who have a future (as opposed to a past) in politics willing and able to stand up and say to the nation what it already suspects? That Obama's inexperience and desire to "make everyone happy" is putting us at risk? That his world view -- and thus his emerging foreign policy -- is dangerously naive?
You have to give Obama credit -- he certainly likes to talk as if he is reasoned and balanced in his approach, that he has command of the vital issues that face us as a nation. He is nothing if not outwardly confident. But this president doesn't deal well with specifics and facts. He's long relied on soaring rhetoric that sounds great but says nothing. Like many liberals, he makes statements of opinion as if they are fact, saying it in such a way that it seems beyond dispute -- but offering no evidence to back it up. As the WSJ recounts in its lead editorial today: The President went out of his way to insist that its existence "likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained," albeit without offering any evidence, and that it "has weakened American security," again based only on assertion. What is a plain fact is that in the seven-plus years that Gitmo has been in operation the American homeland has not been attacked.
It is also a plain fact -- and one the President acknowledged -- that many of the detainees previously released, often under intense pressure from Mr. Obama's anti-antiterror allies, have returned to careers as Taliban commanders and al Qaeda "emirs." The New York Times reported yesterday on an undisclosed Pentagon report that no fewer than one in seven detainees released from Gitmo have returned to jihad.
Mr. Obama called all of this a "mess" that he had inherited, but in truth the mess is of his own haphazard design. He's the one who announced the end of Guantanamo without any plan for what to do with, or where to put, KSM and other killers. Now he's found that his erstwhile allies in Congress and Europe want nothing to do with them. Tell us again why Gitmo should be closed?
President Obama is making things up out of whole cloth and peddling them as fact; he is tremendously vulnerable on these issues, because what he says doesn't pass the simple smell test. Why is it Dick Cheney -- a man whose career is over -- shooting the arrows at the president and his party over this?
Is this really the best we can do?