Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama and the Torture Trap - Score A Round For the Republicans

President Obama suffered his first big defeat last week with the Senate voting 90-6 to block funding to close the Guantanamo detention facility, which was a major campaign promise. The House of Representatives also rejected the closure. The vote was mostly symbolic, since it does not really stop Obama from shutting down operations at Gitmo. But the Senate vote sent a strong message to the Obama Administration - with the main concern being that allowing these detainees into the U.S. as prisoners is not the best idea right now, and Americans may not be ready for that move. Some have expressed concern that these prisoners could eventually become folk heroes in Federal prisons and could influence & recruit other inmates. There is some precedent to that…but I think this concern is being overblown for political purposes. Essentially what the Senate was telling Obama is that they (and the American People) want to see the plan.

In addition to the Gitmo defeat in the Senate, Obama also allowed Republicans to set a trap for him not only on torture, but on the wider issues of Terrorism and National Security. Cheney has effectively changed the narrative by taking the focus off of the crimes that he himself took part in while pushing an illegitimate war to focus instead on labeling Obama as weak on terrorism. Now the narrative is - another terrorist attack will be Obama’s fault because of his soft on terror approach and his efforts to change interrogation policy. Of course any new attacks won’t likely be due to a difference in interrogation techniques… but that’s the perception that Republicans are trying to create in the minds of the American public….and with their media advantage, they may succeed in creating that perception. This is why I have always stated that the Republican media machine/Spin machine is so powerful that they will be able to control narratives and get their message out, even while in the minority and while they are politically unpopular. Democrats and progressives don’t yet have a media infrastructure that can match what the Republicans have.

One thing in particular is strange about Cheney’s argument. He is laying the groundwork for Obama to fail on National Security by setting him up to be blamed for any new attacks… but wasn’t it Bush/Cheney & Co. that emphasized in 2001 and the years immediately after that the U.S. would probably be hit again? They focused on that point every chance they got - when they were in office. Of course, they did that to cover their behinds… because it was their negligence that, in part, allowed 9/11 to take place. They knew Americans wouldn’t tolerate 2 big attacks in a row under the "leadership" the same cast of clowns…. They would surely be voted out in 2004 if they allowed that to happen. So they sent the message that any new attacks against the Country would not be because they weren’t working hard to stop it…besides, they had the 'War on Terror' that was going strong at the time (although in reality it actually radicalized more people to harm us than it discouraged)…but any new attacks would be because the enemy hates the U.S. and “freedom” so much and they are plotting day and night against us. They admitted that they may not be able to stop all attacks. Do you recall how they emphasized that so incessantly? But now that they are out of office…. A new terrorist attack (which the Republican Party is praying for) will be the fault of Obama and the Democrats....not because the enemy is so determined to kill Americans. The Republicans are so good at changing the narrative to fit their political aims...and they are often able to get people to believe in the script.

The Republicans see an opening to possibly revitalize their dying Party by putting national security front & center. They are hoping that another terrorist attack will lead to a comeback, but they have to prep. Obama as the Fall guy to make it work. So far so good for the Republicans…with Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and others on the far Right showing their leadership over the Party.

The Republicans have hit Obama with a one-two punch combination… stunning him… almost knocking him down. How did Obama allow this opening? How did he get so distracted that he let his guard down? Because he allowed far Left elements of the Democratic Party to hijack his agenda & replace the nations top priorities with their own (torture, gay marriage, etc). It’s the same thing that has happened to the Republicans from time to time (and now on a more permanent basis) when they allow far Right single issue groups like the anti-abortion folks, the religious right, the racists, the anti-government crowd and the pro-gun community to hijack the wider Republican agenda. Ohh… wait a second. Hell… that is the Republican agenda. But you get my point. Obama got to this point by taking his eye off the ball… by taking his focus off of the economy, healthcare, and other bread & butter issues… to focus instead on matters that are not among the top concerns of most Americans. Although I blog about torture, it is not even a top 10 issue for me personally...never was. It's an important issue... I have stated as much before.. but i'm not as fired up about it as extreme Left ultra-Liberals are.

Obama has been unable (so far) to regain control of his Presidency since opening this can of worms. His hijacked agenda is now at risk of being driven over a cliff by some of the more fringe elements of his Party. Even Nancy Pelosi, who was dragged into this mess over the last few weeks, is now screaming uncle…and begging for the Obama train to be put back on the tracks to focus on Kitchen table issues. This is why I stated all along that pushing this issue too hard & taking the focus off of the economy was a bad idea. And attempting to close Gitmo without a well thought out detailed plan was boneheaded on the part of the President and his advisers.

Obama has also backtracked in the past few weeks on the issue of military style tribunals for terror suspects, a move that has irritated Progressives. So in the past few weeks, Obama has angered folks on the Right & the Left. But he did it to himself. Who in the World is advising him to make these boneheaded decisions?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering this is an Administration with staff that didn’t understand that flying planes low over Manhattan was probably not a good idea. It’s amazing that these folks are able to have jobs in the White House. I was amazed at how clueless these people were on that issue…and how they didn’t think it was a big deal. Now some of these same folks are showing how clueless they are on other matters.

The issue regarding the detainees is not that hard to fix. Possible solution: Segregate the international terror detainees from other inmates. The issue regarding trials is complex but not something that can’t be dealt with. The Obama Administration could start by trying as many cases as possible in the Federal civilian court system. Those suspects who can’t be tried in the Federal Courts should be retried in a rebuilt and fair tribunal system…and they could be taken through a new interrogation process if necessary (for those who faced harsh or unfair treatment under the old system). Those suspects who can’t be tried under either system should be sent back to their home Countries or held for a defined period for further investigation or charged under more broad anti-terror legislation. Holding suspects indefinitely without attorney’s & without trial is crazy talk which should be out of the question.

Obama has to get back to focusing on the bread & butter issues that matter most to Americans. He does better on the pocket book issues that people are most concerned with…although the stimulus effort from Democrats was not aggressive enough in funneling money towards job creation and creating new industries. I call this the 3rd round of a 12 round fight. Obama scored a knockdown in round 1 (by winning the election)…and won on points for round 2 (his first 100 days). But round 3 goes to the Republicans. By pushing the Torture & Gitmo issues so aggressively… lured by Leftists in his own Party, Obama fell right into a Republican trap. It allowed them an opening to take the media’s focus off of the economy which they destroyed and allowed them to put National Security and fear back on the front page.

With North Korea engaging in irrational behavior, and with Iran testing missiles, you will see Republicans pressuring Obama and even dictating the nations foreign policy, even though they are in the minority. By painting Obama as weak… they will attempt to goat Obama into leaning towards some sort of military solution (when there is no military solution) with North Korea and Iran. Israel has already launched an effort to influence U.S. media and U.S. politics, by attempting to frighten the American public with their leaked intelligence reports on Iran. Israels goal is to push Obama to go to war with Iran (a war that would likely draw in other nations...and a war that wouldn't be in the best interests of the United States...or any other Country). And as I stated, there isn't even a military solution regarding Iran to begin with. The only military solution is a sensible containment policy and defense. The solution in both cases is political, strategic and economic….with some creative out of the box thinking required. But the Republicans would like a war with both Iran and North Korea. The torture issue has now weakened Obama’s hand …in terms of possible solutions and diplomatic approaches. Notice how he has already been forced to engage in tough talk…. Pushing more sanctions for North Korea…among other possible punishments… steps that aren’t likely to work. Obama should instead push harder for direct State to State talks…and getting rid of the Six Party framework… that hasn’t worked…and probably can’t work. The idea of the Six Party framework was flawed from the beginning. A wider, more comprehensive regional Peace Treaty or non-aggression pact is needed… starting with an official end to the Korean War. But Republicans are already working to paint Obama into a corner… (because he opened the door to be attacked on National Security). The Republican media is already calling the North Korea issue "a moment of truth for Obama". As if Bush & Co. didn’t have any moments of truth with North Korea that they completely bungled. For 8 years, the Neo-Conservatives refused to negotiate one on one with North Korea…even when they were willing to give up their program (back when the U.S. had leverage). The U.S. no longer has much leverage with North Korea. That window of optimal leverage closed some time ago… in the years under Clinton and Bush. Now they want Obama to fix it…

I’m hoping that Obama won’t allow Republicans to dictate policy…and will work on a diplomatic, political and economic solution. Americans tolerated 16 consecutive years of pro-war policy under Clinton and Bush…. But Republicans are ready to give up on more sensible alternative approaches after only a few months. It’s amazing. Iran and North Korea aren’t responding to Obama’s overtures after a few weeks (which have not been that friendly) and now all of a sudden it’s time to send in the Carriers and attack.

1 comment:

Andre said...

AI, I still maintain that ever since 9/11, this country has lived in a results-based state; where any actions taken to protect the individual citizen will be accepted, regardless to how unruly they may be. This is a prime example of how the Bush Adminstration could clearly trampled on the Constitution without so much as a slap on the wrist. I suspect that as long as politics remains relevant in public discourse, the Republicans will ALWAYS have the "Bush kept us safe" talking point at their disposal. And now that Bush has managed to dodge any post 9/11 attacks (whether by a stroke of luck, the efficacy of his policies, or the whatever other reason), there will always be the lingering question of whether or not no additional attacks in a hostile world were really the product of the Bush Administration. But in the absence of knowing that for sure, I think the country is becoming more accepting of George Bush's policies...most likely the reason why the Senate overwhelming voted overwhelmingly to keep Gitmo open. Any radical shifts away from a policy that has seemingly worked against the threat of terrorism would be risky at this point.

Then of course, there is the obvious reality that if an attack DOES happen, the standing president will get the blame...even if the attack was the product of policies from previous administrations.