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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama Vs. Cheney: The Politics Are Not So Clear

I have no doubt that President Obama hastily rushed to develop and deliver his national security speech today because he knew that Dick Cheney was giving a similar speech as well. Conventional Wisdom (CW) would have it that as long as Dick Cheney is visible that's bad for Republicans. That, to me at least, is far too simplistic. Obama only began to seriously lose the debate over GITMO when Cheney pushed back. Does anyone really think that the Senate would have voted 90-6 against Obama yesterdady without Cheney leading the way in condemning the closure of GITMO?

As far as the duel speeches, the folks over at Hot Air make an excellent point.

In hindsight, wasn’t it awfully stupid of The One to rush out a national security speech to try to preempt Cheney? If he’d kept quiet, this still would have been a hit on righty blogs and Fox News but nowhere else. By jumping in, he created the sensational “terror duel” storyline that’s forcing the media to magnify this. At the very least, he should have waited a week or so and then given his speech as a rebuttal to Cheney’s. For someone so message-savvy, he crapped the bed this time.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Cheney's approvals have been moving up since he took on this strong defense.

For me, the reason that I believe that Cheney will win this debate is because he speaks with a clarity that Obama simply doesn't. Cheney believed then, and believes now, that the defense of this nation was his only priority. He makes no excuses for any of the measures that he took to protect the nation. He sees a moral clarity in doing everything necessary to gather all available intelligence to stop the next attack.

Obama doesn't have nearly that kind of moral clarity. He believes that GITMO and most of Bush's terror policies wound up costing our nation our moral bearings. Yet, he also stipulates that a set of the detainees won't be tried or charged but simply held incommunicado for an indefinite period of time. It seems he'd like to have it both ways. He'd like to adhere to a strict moral code in condemning his predecessor while leaving himself a lot more flexibility for his own policies.

He says that he released the memos relaying our most intense interrogation techniques because we already knew everything in them and so there was no harm to releasing them. Yet, he won't release the photos of prisoner abuse because that would harm our troops even though there's nothing new in those photos either.

Obama wants to keep the very military tribunals he's condemned and instead give the terrorists more rights in them. But of course, it isn't the structure of the tribunals themselves that had folks like him outraged with moral indignation, but rather the idea of trying anyone in a military tribunal at all. So, exactly what sort of moral clarity is he adhering to?

Finally, Obama was clear that Bush's policies, which he saw as lacking in moral clarity, created more terrorists than it destroyed. Of course, he offers no proof or evidence of this. Here is the ultimate contradiction. If moral clarity is the key to destroying terrorists, then wouldn't it make sense to release those we can't charge rather than hold them incommunicado? Why not release the photos? Why did a lack of moral clarity cause more terrorism under Bush, while a slightly less lack of moral clarity won't do the same?

For me, Cheney had a job to do and he understood it. Obama sees a lot more nuance to the same job. Bush was both lauded and criticized for his simplicity, and knack for black and white, Obama, we were told, would see a lot more nuance. Yet, in my opinion, it is exactly this nuance that will lose him this particular debate. As Dick Cheney himself said, "there is no middle ground in fighting terrorists".


Simon said...

I agree Cheney will likely win the debate because his black and white simplification of what is a very complex issue appeals to the majority of folk - who don't like to think in nuances.

I don't agree with Cheney, but he can keep hammering away at the same issue in a very clear simple way.

mike volpe said...

Nice backhanded insult.

Yeah, Obama, though, he catches all the "nuance". It's Obama's position that is black and white only it's so full of contradictions that it winds up being full of nuance.

On the one hand, he's all about the rule of law but at the same time, some detainees will just be held incommunicado. For them, the rule of law doesn't apply apparently.

We need the rule of law but we can also listen into terrorist with no warrants. Apparently, the rule of law is very "nuanced".

In reality, Obama has no set strategy but he sure does know how to attack Bush. The reason that Obama is so "nuanced" is because there's nothing consistent about anything he does on this issue.

Think about it, in Bagram, the detainees face the exact thing he claims is a mess in GITMO and yet he condemns GITMO but supports Bagram.