Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hope-A-Dope (UPDATED)

The Spanish word for "change," in the sense of what you get back for what you pay on a purchase, is vuelta, which also means "turning" or "returning." This bilingual pun has been on my mind as I've watched some of the changes in Obama's promised policies with regard to the Long War (or whateverthefrack he ends up allowing it to be called). There have been many turnarounds, and many on the Left are expressing the uncomfortable sensation of having paid too much for what they bought.

Charles Krauthammer, writing in the WaPo, focuses his characteristically keen-edged wit on the matter:
If hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then the flip-flops on previously denounced anti-terror measures are the homage that Barack Obama pays to George Bush. Within 125 days, Obama has adopted with only minor modifications huge swaths of the entire, allegedly lawless Bush program.
Indeed. I've speculated in the past on the effects which Presidential-level access to Intelligence data and analysis might have on Obama's perspectives on how to meet the threats arrayed against us. I was not encouraged by his rash decision to issue an Executive Order to close Gitmo. He could not possibly have come up with a plan to deal with the inmates and the multiple obstacles to placing them anywhere but their current Island Resort.

Sure enough, even Congress seems to have become belatedly hip to the fact that the One's grand gesture was all hat and no cattle. Obama seems, astonishingly late in the game, to have been confronted with the fact that the worst of the worst of Gitmo's residents will not be accepted back (or will face torture and death) in their home countries, our much-vaunted allies want no part of them, and it appears that rehabilitation has been in short supply. Further (and this is a point I've hardly seen covered), the presence of seasoned and ideologically intense Jihadis in a general American prison population constitutes a very real danger of radicalizing that population, not to mention the dangers to communities which might host such prisoners and become the targets of retaliatory strikes (up to and including attempts to spring their incarcerated coreligionists).

Moreover, since soldiers in the field can hardly be expected to observe the conventions of Mirandizing and evidentiary protocol, the likely result of trying many of these detainees in a civil court would be the release of manifestly dangerous individuals into the population. Again, those military tribunals which were painstakingly crafted (and judicially vetted) during the Bush Administration are starting to look kinda good again...

Look, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if Obama has a series of coming-to-jebus moments and reneges on some of his ill-considered campaign promises in the larger interest of the safety of this Nation, then I'm all for it. I'm not even going to waste bandwidth whining about how nice it would be to have some public acknowledgment of how more complete Intelligence has yielded some of the same solutions at which the previous Administration arrived. I know full well that such public humility would constitute political suicide for the President. Not gonna happen.

My only hope here is that Obama does not get strong-armed into some politically expedient and dangerous compensatory gesture which undermines some of the sensible accommodations to reality in which he's engaged thus far. If he needs to slap some lipstick on the war pigs he's inherited, in order to set himself apart from his predecessor, while still making it unsafe to be a Jihadi in the world, then so be it. I only hope that, when the time comes to contemplate re-electing our POTUS, then observant people on the Left and Right (and everywhere else) will take his judgment and foresight (and the lack thereof) into serious consideration.

Krauthammer has some hopeful words on this subject, and I wish most strenuously that he is describing things accurately:

There is something much larger at play -- an undeniable, irresistible national interest that, in the end, beyond the cheap politics, asserts itself. The urgencies and necessities of the actual post-9/11 world, as opposed to the fanciful world of the opposition politician, present a rather narrow range of acceptable alternatives.

Among them: reviving the tradition of military tribunals, used historically by George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Winfield Scott, Abraham Lincoln, Arthur MacArthur and Franklin Roosevelt. And inventing Guantanamo -- accessible, secure, offshore and nicely symbolic (the tradition of island exile for those outside the pale of civilization is a venerable one) -- a quite brilliant choice for the placement of terrorists, some of whom, the Bush administration immediately understood, would have to be detained without trial in a war that could be endless.

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.

I for one will be looking very carefully at those deeds. You should, too.

UPDATE: Plus ca Change...

UPDATE 2: Over at Pajamas Media, an interesting case is made:

Writing in on May 18, in an [2] article called “The Cheney Fallacy,” [Harvard Law professor, Jack] Goldsmith argued that Barack Obama is waging a more effective war on terror than George W. Bush. The reason is not because, as Cheney argues, Obama has torn apart the proven methods used by the previous administration, but because of the new administration’s “packaging.” Bush’s policies actually had legitimacy and efficacy, he writes, but the Bush administration showed a foolish indifference “to process and presentation.” The Bush administration, Goldsmith contends, tried to act unilaterally on military commissions, detention and surveillance, avoiding seeking political and legal support from Congress. It thus aroused deep concern about an unnecessary expansion of presidential power, one that was exacerbated by expansive rhetoric.

In contrast, Barack Obama began with credibility, speaking as a critic of Bush’s terrorism policies and as a champion of civil liberties. Yet, as scores of commentators have noted, he has continued rather than scuttled Bush’s terrorism policies. He has done this, as yesterday’s speech showed, while trying to appear still as a strict opponent of the old Bush-Cheney policies, thereby deflecting the clear evidence that he has in fact continued them. Aside from the left-wing which will now increase its criticism of Obama as a sell-out, most of the nation is responding to Obama with the understanding that he has changed to keep the old policies intact because he has learned that there is a real terror threat—and hence he cannot keep to promises made during the campaign.

Goldsmith points out that in eleven different ways, Obama has carried out existing Bush policies that have enraged so many people. Goldsmith writes: “The Obama policies also reflect the fact that the Bush policies were woven into the fabric of the national security architecture in ways that were hard if not impossible to unravel.” The Bush and Obama policies are close, he reasons, because they reflect “longstanding executive branch positions.” Various administrations have detained enemy forces during war without charges; have used military commissions for war criminals, and refused habeas corpus review to aliens detained outside the United States.

The idea has a ring of truth; many (including myself) have said that the Bush Administration's maddening inability to present and manage its narrative for its policies has been perhaps its most damning failure (aside from its comprehensive tarnishing of the Republican brand through a sustained evisceration of fiscally responsible economic policy...another post). This was so, even (or perhaps especially) because its underlying strategy for the multi-pronged waging of the Long War was so adeptly (if, as I hardly need to point out, imperfectly) crafted. It seems that every apparently loose thread that the One and his people decide to pull turns out to be connected to something important, which is, in turn, connected to something vital, and ultimately belongs to a sloppy-looking but viable web of responses to complex problems that permit no neat solutions.

If Goldsmith is right, and Obama can continue to wage an effective global war on Islamist Extremism, while massaging the packaging such that it becomes more palatable to critics of the last Administration, then I suppose I can live with that. But it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. If plain speech and clarity of purpose have indeed failed to secure an air of legitimacy for the stalwart defense of Civilization against the creeping blight of barbarism, and all that has been needed is a sufficiently sophisticated facade of doubleplusgood doublespeak, then so be it. But if so, then it has incrementally degraded my estimation of just what it is we are fighting for.

The direct confrontation of evil, the appeal to fidelity and forthrightness among allies, and the unflinching dedication to defend the lives and rights of innocents while observing lawful checks on power seem pretty good sources of "legitimacy" to me.

I suppose that might just be too much to Hope for.

No comments: