Wonderfully Obama, utterly useless
Obama’s speech today, Protecting Our Security and Our Values, is a typical example of Obama restating the problem instead of offering a solution. Obama has always done this. Were he Alexander the Great, he would give a grand speech with Roman columns and flags waving and say, “We need to untie the knot, while not harming the post or the ox cart.” If he were James Kirk, he would say “Our purpose is clear. We need to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru, while not entering the Neutral Zone or otherwise provoking the Klingon vessels.” He would then, of course, comfort us by saying his staff was looking into it.
To paraphrase an old professor of mine, wonderfully Obama, utterly useless.
For those who don’t know, here is the formula to restating the problem:
- Pay lip service to ideals that cannot reasonably be challenged.
- Misrepresent the facts to make a straw man of your opponent.
- Do not offer clear solutions, but allude to them. (Plausible deniability if you’re called on it)
- Say that your staff is working to find a solution.
Of course, a lesson is more fun if you have examples:
What to do with Gitmo
Step One (Generally dealing with detainees):
“In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe.”
You see, I don’t think anyone can argue with that. The objection is not whether it’s your job, it’s that you’re not very good at it.
Step Two (Closing Gitmo):
“we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.”
This makes a straw man out of Harry Reid, of all people. The poor befuddled majority leader of the Senate was confused the other day on the difference between “releasing” the detainees and “transferring” them. Obama jumps on this to make it sound like his critics are idiots. Lost of course, is the question of whether we will be transferring detainees to US prisons.
Step Three (Placement of Prisoners):
“Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders – highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal “supermax” prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.”
It’s very subtle, but if you read that carefully, Obama can claim he never said these detainees would be transferred to US prisions. He said “we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities…” He then throws in, “[N]obody has ever escaped from one of our federal “supermax” prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.”
These statements give the impression that Obama will transfer detainees to US prisons. I’d bet tomorrow’s protein bars that if there’s significant backlash, Glibbs and the fawning press corps will seize on “same type”. Suddenly reference to US prisons will be a near non sequitor: “I think, what the President said,” will mumble Glibbs, “is that we would look for the same type of prison we have in the US, not that they’re being transferred to US prisons. I think if you go back and look at his statement, it’s pretty clear.”
To put a finer point on it, why not say “Where demanded by justice and national security, I will order these detainees be held in federal supermax prisons.” Why? Because then you’d be accountable.
You’ll also notice that later, when Obama talks about his 5 categories of detainees, in his second category (those subject to military commissions), he doesn’t say what he will do with them once they’re tried. The Bush solution was try them, and if they’re convicted, they stay in Gitmo. Obama’s solution? Good luck figuring it out.
Step Four (“Fixing” Military Commissions):
“That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”
This is, in essence, a restatement of the problem. The other four categories Obama mentions are (1) people who can be convicted in open court; (2) people that can be tried in Military Commissions; (3) people who have been ordered released by a US court and (4) people who will be taken by other countries. Put another way, this is the only category that represents the intractable problem. Obama’s solution? Restate the problem. But with empathy and compassion.