Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama national security speech: The American people are not absolutist

Today Obama and Cheney have dueling speeches on national security (I’ll examine Cheney’s in a post later today). (Some of the pictures of Obama in this post are actually of the wax figure of Obama which arrived at the Wax Museum in San Francisco today. See if you can spot which ones.)

Obama repeatedly stressed the need to stick with our fundamental values*

*unless it is absolutely convenient not to. So there was a lot of stirring rhetoric interspersed with less stirring caveats.

He said that the Bush admin (which he never named) made after 9/11 “a series of hasty decisions” and “all too often... made decisions based on fear rather than foresight.” Oh, I’m pretty sure those are the same decisions they’d have made with the benefit of more time and less soiled underpants.

“Now, I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. ... That’s why we must leave these methods where they belong, in the past.” Er, they didn’t really belong there either. It’s not like waterboarding was ever a good idea.

“Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo, likely, created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” So it’s like a Ponzi scheme....?

He said some prisoners will be tried by US courts for violating US laws, some will be tried by military tribunals for violating the laws of war, some will be released per previous court rulings, some transferred to other countries and... “Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” Oh good, the legal category, so well known to the Constitution, of people who “cannot be tried and cannot be released.” “Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at Al Qaida training camps or commanded Taliban troops in battle or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans.”

“Expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden.”

He explained that he released the Bush Justice Dept memos because “the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known. The Bush administration had acknowledged its existence. And I had already banned those methods.” Anyone else have the distinct impression that he would have covered them up if “the existence of that approach to interrogation” had not been “already widely known”?

“There was and is no debate as to what is reflected in those photos is wrong.” Obama doesn’t watch a lot of Fox News.

“I ran for president promising transparency. And I meant what I said. And that’s why, whenever possible, my administration will make all information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.” You know, whenever possible. Of course it’s always possible; he means whenever it’s not inconvenient. When it is inconvenient, he’ll let the American people make uninformed judgments and hold the government unaccountable. Like his retention of the power to detain people indefinitely, this comes down to the same “trust us, we’re the good guys” approach as the Cheneyites.

Speaking of Cheney, he gave a little shout-out to his rebuttal speaker: “Some Americans are angry. Others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, in some cases, debates that they have lost.”

He opposes a truth commission. “I have opposed the creation of such a commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability.” Of course, the purpose of the truth commission would be to investigate things that our existing democratic institutions failed to prevent happening, so, you know, good luck with that.

“Already, we’ve seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides to laying blame.” Er, so?

IN OLDEN DAYS A GLIMPSE OF STOCKING: “on the one side of the spectrum, there those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism and would almost never put national security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words -- anything goes.”

“Now, both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist. They don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems.” You know what the Constitution and Bill of Rights – which you’re literally standing right in front of – are, Barack? A rigid ideology.

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