Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Posts Tagged ‘Cheney’

Blog-On-Blog: Accessing Jennifer Rubin’s Charge that Obama Triangulates U.S. National Security

Posted by K.E. White on May 22, 2009

At Contentions Jennifer Rubin sifts through the aftermath of yesterday’s Obama-Cheney duel. She takes a firm line: accusing President Obama of a “triangulation game on national security” and being a “president who seems intent on getting the politics right and worrying about the policy later.”

Her specific charge? Obama seeks good politics and not good policy when calling for the end of advanced interrogation techniques and the GITMO closure. These decisions fall into Obama’s ovreall governing strategy, which Rubin describes as: “…to soothe all parties and charm even the most virulent foes of the United States has been Obama’s lifelong modus operand.”

This article will contend the following: First, Rubin fails to show evidence of actual triangulation, only that Obama is discussing security policies that she does not agree with at a time of conflicted public and partisan opinion. Second, she confuses the tools used to advance national security (e.g. what do we do with terrorists suspected of threatening America once detained) with national security priorities (e.g. how America should effectively beat back the terrorist threat).

First, her portrayal of Obama as bargaining between two extremes—hawks and doves in Congress and the public—flys in the face of commonsense, not to mention the substance of Obama’s address yesterday. When Obama evoked the ‘middle’ in yesterday’s speech he was not discussing how he chooses national security priorities, but how transparent and checked executive decisions on national security should be. (While this is a related matter, it is not tantamount to stating: ‘Well some people like GITMO, others don’t—so let’s just move it to Montana and ban torture to whip up libreal support!’) Obama’s positions presupposed the judgement that advanced interrogation techniques and GITMO’s continued operation harm American security. Accessing these decisions is separate from evoking them as triangulation.

By blurring the tools used to obtain national security with actual policies—which, admittedly, can overlap—Rubin is guilty of begging the question. She overlooks this glaring weakness with the Cheney position: the policies instituted by the Bush White House were of questionable effectiveness, controversial at home and grounded on dubious legal reasoning.

It is unquestionable that GITMO, whatever its merits, hurt America’s image around the world. Why then is Rubin so quick to portray Obama’s move to close GITMO as simply a gimmick to get Left-leaning support on other issues? By dodging the issue of whether or not moving detainees from GITMO to a Super-Max prison has any impact on American security, this implication rests on unstated, if not flimsy, assumptions.

Having an unclear standard by which to hold onto detainees has clear dangers. So why when Obama outlines his desire to codify in law their continued detention–even if thise means indefinite detention without recourse to a federal or military court–does Rubin imply this as a cynical attempt at assuaging the Right? This has particular resonance when contrasted with the ad hoc and hasty basis by which the Bush White House released past detainees.

It’s easy to see where Rubin goes wrong within her own post: she uses another writer’s perception that Obama is appealing to a fractured middle ground between doves and hawks that may or may not support them as as proof that Obama has politicized/triangulated national security policy. But even that speculation, if right, fails to prove triangulation. Proving triangulation requires showing incoherent or ineffective policy coming out of the White House in response to opinion polls.

Now, admittedly, I have set a high bar. But it seems next to impossible  to even suggest this in regards to current Obama administration national security actions. Yes, decisions on whether or not to prosecute Bush administration officials and releasing certain detainee photographs have changed. But those changes do not seem the result of public or partisan pressure. They seemed, whether right or wrong, rooted within an evolving sense of what constituted the national interest. While this process can be messy, it’s understandable on issues where there is no readily apparent ‘correct’ course of action.

Furthermore, Bush White House terror prosecutions and detainee photographs do not repreesnt the core of yesterday’s Cheney-Obama debate. The main issues at play are: 1) where to treat and place current and future terror detainees and 2) whether or not to use advanced interrogation techniques on suspected or known terrorists.

On these two issues any charge of triangulation fails. (Note: by triangulation I mean creating policy out of incoherent or contradictory positions to manufacture a public mandate.) Obama started his administration by bucking against political pressure and an unsure public will in ordering the shutdown of GITMO, the cessation of advanced interrogation methods, and the designing of transparent system of detention and prosecution. In yesterday’s speech, after weeks of criticism by the Right and the failure to obtain Congressional funds to close GITMO, what did Obama do? He stuck to his guns.

This suggests a President more interested in forging a sound national security policy than worrying whether or not it is popular to stop certain tools to deliver that end (i.e. certain interrogation techniques and detainee transfers out of GITMO).

Yes, these policies require politics. Closing GITMO requires votes in Congress; ending torture policies demands a President who shows the public why this change is justified; and reconstituting military tribunals and maintaining long-term detentions require congressional action. In no way do these actions prove Rubin’s charge of “triangulation”.

But it’s hard to argue with Rubin on substance. Nowhere in Rubin’s posting is discussion over what makes up the current “national security debate” she considers so important. (I am left to assume this debate expands to detention policies, torture policies and GITMO policies, and not, for example, the US-UAE nuclear deal or current AfPak policy). By failing discuss these policies Rubin (whether by choice or shoddy rhetoric) fails to show whether or not Obama-desired policies help or hinder American security. Hence, Rubin cannot offer a set of policies Obama ‘should’ pursue but has abandoned in order to secure public approval.

But the above assumes Rubin’s post to be a reasoned and dispassionate critique of the Obama administration. Rubin’s final paragraph squashes any such illusion. There she compares Obama’s discussion and desired reform of Bush-era detention and interrogation techniques with the hypothetical case of a President going into war to quell domestic critics. This, on its face, stands as a grossly false comparison. And it only highlights Rubin’s refusal to engage in actual discussion–not to mention here comfort in passing flawed logic off as refined argument.

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Proliferation Press Round-Up: Cheney and Obama Butt Heads Over Torture and GITMO; PONI Gives START its Due; Obama Signs US-UAE Nuclear Deal; China Modernizes Its Nuclear Arsenal

Posted by K.E. White on May 22, 2009

P. Press verdict: With these considerable monitoring stipulations attached, DeThomas’ practicality wins out. While it would be preferable to grant American nuclear technology assistance by a generalizable formula applicable to all nations and keep all dangerous nuclear technology out of the Middle East, these are unrealistic policy positions.  With the NPT conference approaching and Iran’s continued nuclear defiance, strong inducements exist for America to showcase its commitment to assisting the peaceful spread of nuclear technology—especially to nations in the Middle East.

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Obama vs. Cheney: Is There A Middle Ground When It Comes to America’s War on Terror?

Posted by proliferationpresswm on May 21, 2009

The following is an opinion piece that reviews and analyzes the speeches made today by President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney. For a quick review of the various claims in each speech, check this Politico article. David Biespiel offers excellent commentary on this same topic.

Talk about night and day. President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney went at it today, and there dueling speeches framed the debate over America’s national security.

After adsorbing the speeches, it’s hard not to be left wondering just why Republicans see national security as their most potent weapon against President Obama. And that has nothing to do with the messenger, but rather the message itself.

Cheney, speaking at AEI, mounted an impassioned and absolutist defense of all actions undertaken by the Bush administration in the war against terror. He sought to portray the Obama administration’s current approach to national security as weak-kneed, hypocritical and politically self-serving.

Cheney brought back the pre- and post-9-11 framework that dominated the Bush White House. He implicitly argued that the Obama administration—by junking the terms ‘war on terror’ and ‘enemy combatant’  and stopping the use of advanced interrogation techniques and shutting down GITMO—put forward a “boarder misconception” of the threats that face America.

But what’s most notable in Cheney’s polemic is its unflinching refusal to differentiate between the various aspects of Bush-era national security:

So we’re left to draw one of two conclusions – and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event – coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come.

Cheney’s dividing line is not only false, but dangerous. A reading of Cheney’s speech reveals “comprehensive strategy” to mean  all the following as necessary parts of defending the United States from terrorism:

A. The war in Afghanistan. No one would argue against this; yet, one may wonder why the Bush administration failed for years ensure the resources required for success. But in all fairness, Cheney did give Obama credit for redoubling American efforts in Afghanistan.

B. The war in Iraq. Yes, Dick Cheney defends this war on the grounds of battling terrorism. He sneaks in mention of  Saddam’s Hussein’s “known ties to Midest terrorists” while discussing the threats America faed after 9-11. Is this still really a question?

C. Advanced Interrogation Methods. Here Cheney devotes his most attention: arguing that the still-unreleased CIA memos would show just how valuable these limited programs were. And he continues to argue that Obama’s selective release detailing these practices hurts American security. To these charges, two questions: A) Just because advanced interrogation methods worked, does that mean they were the only way forward—let alone were they justified in a way that made them legally unsustainable? B) Did releasing memos detailing (now prohibited) practices already admitted to by the Bush administration really teach current or future terrorists something new? (Answer: No.)

D. GITMO. Here Cheney focuses on the most inane aspect of this important security debate. Does he discuss the untenable legal foundation GITMO was found on? No. Does Cheney concede that mistakes were made by is administration’s ad hoc treatment of the issue—leading to the release of prisoners who then continued to actively battle the United States under his watch? No. Or how about how GITMO became a symbol for an administration wanting wishing to act above the law and our nation’s system of checks-and-balances ? No. Instead he states the following:

Attorney General Holder and others have admitted that the United States will be compelled to accept a number of terrorists here, in the homeland, and it has even been suggested US taxpayer dollars will be used to support them. On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President’s own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating to their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental.

On the point of US taxpayer dollars being used to “support” former GITMO detainees: American tax dollars already “support” terrorists held in GITMO. Unless Dick Cheney is arguing to cease funding GITMO, this seems a non-issue. Second, the suggestion that suspected terrorists cannot be held on American soil appears little more than politically convenient fear-mongering. Why can America not hold dangerous terrorists on American soil? We do now.  And we already have facilities specifically designed for this very purpose.

One can understand why the image of 9-11 burns so brightly for Dick Cheney. Not only was he Vice President during the attacks, but was only a month latter sent to a secret location to head-up a secret, back-up federal government. Why? The CIA feared an imminent nuclear attack on New York City. Those were scary times, and we still live in them.

What is not comprehensible is the former Vice President’s refusal to admit that not every policy enacted after 9-11 actually served to prevent future terrorist attacks. And his insistence that anyone who voices this position as forgetting 9-11 is ludicrous.

Obama’s speech: Finding A Middle-Ground Between Security and Transparency

Against this black-and-white approach to the war on terror, Obama offered a full-throated defense of his administration’s actions.

In discussing the use of advanced interrogation methods, Obama staked his credibility on his belief these tactics—whatever their value—caused more harm than good for the United States. Now this might be an endlessly debated question. But the President has decided. While some may disagree, Obama has staked his credibility as commander-in-chief on this issue. And it seems reasonable to believe he has done so because there are other avenues through which to obtain this information that do not carry the dangerous spill-over effects of advanced interrogation techniques.

On GITMO, Obama pitched a nuanced and comprehensive plan. The boiled-down version? Those detainees who cannot be released, transfered to other countries, or brought before federal court or military tribunals will face continued detainment. The crucial difference is this: clear standards will be created and periodic reviews made as to why these individuals should be detained and for what duration. Besides the question of where in the US these individuals should be placed—an inane, if publicly potent issue— one may be left wondering what exactly Cheney has against this move.

Unless Cheney truly believes that only the executive branch, not the US court system or US Congress, can be trusted with issues of national security. And even then, it seems that crafting standards might be needed if a President is elected who doesn’t follow Cheney’s personal viewpoint. (Perhaps this is something the Bush-Cheney White House should have done themselves)

Not only are suspected terrorists either facing justice or being detained under the Obama approach, checks-and-balances will be instituted that ensure careful decision-making. Such careful decision-making probably would have avoided the Bush-Cheney administration’s earlier and careless release of GITMO detainees.

But the most telling difference in Obama’s speech was its ability to break-out of Cheney’s binary world-view. In Cheney’s post 9-11 framework extreme actions were and still are necessary to defend the United States. If mistakes happen while prusuing this mission, they are not mistakes. Any difference of opinion must necessarily equate to a less safe America.

Obama argued for a middle-ground. A middle-ground that still recognizes America is at war and must protect itself, but also accepts that not every action considered or undertaken in this mission inherently effective. Closing GITMO and transferring prisoners to American soil does not endanger American security. And letting detainees languish in GITMO in the face of legal challenges amounts to the President picking and choosing what laws to apply. While one can argue what value GITMO is to terrorist recruiters, one pernicious truth remains: America’s system of laws in undermined while yielding no added security to American citizens.

Conclusion: Is This Really the Rallying Cry of The Right?

If conservatives really wish to base their foreign policy on maintaining GITMO and using advanced interrogation techniques, they have made themselves a party of the past. Yes, terrorists will continue to be detained and interrogated. But it’s virtually assured that any valuable information from these suspected terrorists can be obtained through other means. Furthermore, there’s no rational basis to fear placing any such dangerous individuals in super-max prisons in the United States–prisons developed actually for this purpose.

From Obama Americans heard a confident president defending his conception of American foreign policy and homeland security. In so doing, he acknowledged that these questions were difficult and that there were no easy answers. And, indeed, his plan for GITMO prisoners detainees modifies, but does not fundamentally reverse the Bush-era view on detention. Furthermore, Obama banned enhanced interrogation techniques, but has reserved the power to bring them back. But even if his approach is not perfect, he is having an open discussion over how America should protect itself and attempting to create clear and public standards for American actions.

Cheney preferred to defend every action of the Bush administration, admitting no error. By lumping all Bush-era national security decisions together and refusing to acknowledge the inherent difficulties of maintaining specific policies his White House promulgated, Cheney substituted real discussion for rhetorical flash–answers for partisan point-making.

This is not to say Obama shyed away from partisan notes himself. Or that every decision Obama has made or will make will be 100 percent correct. But in showing a willingness to reveal and discuss America’s security policies, Obama had already won. Cheney argued for a system where the ‘right’ President should always be trusted and allowed to conceal their administration’s actions. (Cheney has no answer for what contingency there is against poor executive decisions.) Obama offered a, however imperfect, conception of national security where standards are known and executive power is subject to review.

The winning argument is clear. It’s the one that actually makes sense.

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