More and more lately, I’m finding myself in agreement with President Obama, much to my surprise. Particularly when it comes to what we unreconstructed conservatives still stubbornly refer to as the War on Terror.
I agree, for instance, that Guantanamo Bay is the best place in the world to keep the worst of the worst, those jihadista’s who simply can’t wait to return to the struggle against us the moment we set them loose. As we’ve known to our cost that they will do. Yes, I know Obama at one point insisted that its existence was a big recruiting tool for al Qaeda, what with torture sessions being conducted daily right after breakfast (and it seems the dungeon masters at Gitmo have tightened down the screws even more – I’ve heard reports that they’re rationing ice cream! The monsters!). But those concerns seem to be a thing of the past. I have heard not a peep about Gitmo North out at Thomson Illinois. And unless I’ve lost track of time, we’re coming on for a full year after the deadline Obama set for Guantanamo to be closed. Given the deafening silence, I’m thinking that decision’s been allowed to make itself.
I also agree that civilian trials for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his ilk are ridicuous. Oh, I know, Attorney General Holder still insists whenever anyone asks him that it is still an option – even to have the trial in New York (hey, here’s an idea – why not have the trial at Cordoba House!). But nobody listens to Holder any more, and besides, he has his hands full dealing with his department’s refusal to press voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panthers. I haven’t heard the President speak on this in months – and the last time I did, he punted, saying it was up to Holder (as if) – but my guess is that this is another one of those goofy, please-the-left trial balloons that he is just as happy to let deflate.
I agree too on the Patriot Act, the renditions, the digital eavesdropping – this week they even pressed for more powers to conduct surveillance on blackberries and the like. And I agree strongly that the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi, and he seems to think so too, what with the promiscuous use of drone attacks to drop anonymous bombs on people we figure are bad guys – just the sort of thing Bush used to do! You go, Barack, baby! And if a few family members are incinerated at the same time, well, he and I are pretty OK with that. Their fault for hanging out with people who have a target painted on their foreheads.
And we’re trying to get our sights on this guy al-Awlaki in Yemen, and when the ACLU brings a lawsuit questioning our plans to paste an American citizen, Obama withholds information claiming – I love this – national security! Gotta love this guy! He’s playing with the same dice W did.
And finally, Iraq. Despite all the noise he made during the campaign, and before that during the few months he actually sat as a Senator, about how this was a distraction and how we were wasting time, money and lives in a fool’s campaign to force democracy on a backward country that didn’t ask for it – after all that, he is following through on the timetable set by Bush for an orderly American phase-out and gradual handover to Iraqi security forces. And it’s looking so promising that Joe Biden, with no apparent irony at all, suggested that it would be viewed as a major foreign policy success of the Obama administration. Well, if that’s what you want to call it, Joe, OK. As Reagan said, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.
So as far as a lot of this goes, it really looks like there has been no change, except that the man in charge is a Democrat and therefore the hue and cry is much diminished. Like I say, I agree with a lot of what he’s doing.
But then, you have to look at the big ticket items. Iran. Afghanistan. And the great Reset with the Muslim world.
I am amazed at the forbearance this administration has had toward Ahmadinejad. It’s one thing for Obama to give diplomacy a chance that he feels Bush never gave it (although year after year of the EU-led negotiations hardly seems like go-it-alone cowboy aggression). It’s another thing to be so obtuse that you just don’t get the hint when it is tatooed on your forehead in 60-point boldface font in bright red. And yet just this week we had the unedifying spectacle of the President, once again, saying we’re willing to extend the hand of peace and comity if Tehran will only meet us halfway, and immediately afterwards A-mad strides to the podium and gives him a loud Bronx cheer. So we huff our indignation a bit, but we’ll be back pressing for them to prove that their nuclear ambitions are genuinely peaceful.
Why is it so hard for the White House to accept that these guys mean it when they say Israel should be obliterated? Why do we take at face value their bald lies about their secret facilities, their denials of political repression and beatings of political opponents? Why, for that matter, did we sit on our hands when the brave protesters of the Green Revolution were trying to stand down the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij? I just don’t get where they think we are going with this policy. I thought at first that the long, patient attempt at diplomacy was to set the stage for when Obama opens the can of Whoopass. But it’s starting to look like there isn’t much oomph in that particular can. And if he doesn’t have his fist clenched behind his back while he’s making nice, one wonders if making nice is the whole strategy. That and learning to deal with a nuclear Iran.
His strategy on Afghanistan has been an agony. He hemmed and hawed for months and months, while David Petraeus stewed. Finally, he gave Petraeus most of what he asked for, but then took it all back by laying out this preposterous deadline of August 2011. The naivete of this is staggering. We are asking people in very dangerous neighborhoods to throw their lot in with us and against the people with long memories and sharp knives. And at the same time, we tell them we won’t be around for more than another 18 months. Who’s going to be dumb enough to side with us? I can’t think of an approach more finely calculated to undermine our efforts.
And now we find, thanks to Bob Woodward, that the reason the decision took so long is that he was asking his generals for a plan of retreat. Oh, he called it an “exit strategy,” but what he meant was he wanted the hell out and wanted it in the worst way. “I’m not going to do ten years,” he said, “I’m not going to spend a trillion dollars. I’m not going to lose the whole Democratic Party over this.” Not much talk there of the vital national interest of the country. This was national security as a political calculation.
Thank God his generals had the stones to say no to that. They couldn’t persuade him to adopt a plan for victory – or even to embrace that notion – but at least they got a chance to duplicate the surge that won the day in Iraq. Too bad the cost of that persuasion was this deadline which makes a tough job damn near impossible. If Petraeus succeeds in Afghanistan, they should carve his face next to Washington’s on Mount Rushmore.
Finally, there’s this vaunted “reset” with the Muslim world. Obama seemed to be captivated by the idea that the sheer wonderfulness of his personality, especially in contrast to the dwarf Bush, would make a change in the world’s perception of the United States. Thus the big speech in Cairo, the various forms of outreach (including the stunning revelation that the head of NASA is making it his principal objective to make Arabs feel less inadequate about their historical achievements in science). The go-no-go in support of the Park 51 project at Ground Zero. The pressure on Israel to concede more in the vain quest for peace with an implacable enemy.
And it all has led to…. well, not much. In fact, as far as the threat of terrorism is concerned, things have gotten worse. Not only do we worry about bitter Muslim fanatics holed up in caves in the Afghan mountains. Now we have fanatics who are US citizens – some even born and raised here – who have taken up the cause of jihad. If anyone understands the import of Obama’s reset, wouldn’t it be someone for whom English is a first language? And yet, they seem pretty unimpressed.
Maybe al Qaeda would have morphed into something viral like this in any case – I think that’s pretty likely. But the conceit that it was just because Bush was so hateful that we were facing so much Muslim hate has been shown to be a fantasy. They hate us for far deeper and more resilient reasons than that.
So, maybe I don’t agree with Obama so much after all. I’m pleased that he has kept the faith in so many vital aspects of our efforts to stay safe. But, in his heart, he’s a Democrat. I suppose you can’t fault him for being who he is. It’s not like we should be surprised.