Preemptive strikes made popular by the Bush administration have returned once more by former Vice President Dick Cheney, this time in the form of a post-administration, c.y.a., war of words. Unable to ride peacefully off into the sunset Cheney returned to defend the policies implemented during the start of the war on terror, or what is now referred to in the Obama administration as, overseas contingency operations.
The battle lines were drawn when Cheney spoke at the American Enterprise Institute just minutes after Obama delivered his message at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. on May 21st. Going against a skilled orator like Obama, for Cheney it was reminiscent of an Obama-McCain campaign duel when substance and style versed pomp and circumstance.
In what is now looked at as one of President Obama’s most controversial decisions, the President looked to outline and reassure the American people about his one-year plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Was it a proactive approach to put his stamp on the Gitmo mess or a reactionary solution to stamp out future problems?
With the threat of facilitators being criminally charged for torture in wake of the waterboarding scandal and armed with the President’s lack of support for the announced closing, Cheney seized the opportunity to defend the Bush administrations decisions and attack Obama’s stand. “It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessor,” Cheney said at AEI.
There are those like Cheney that will uphold their position on the right and will disagree with the President only because he is on the left. On this issue there are many on the left who believe the President is just left of center therefore more right of the left. Left or right, O says it’s wrong. “Some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more,” said Obama. “As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America.”
While Senator John McCain can’t agree on Obama’s decision to close Gitmo the senator agrees with the President that the methods used by the Bush administration were torture. “It’s torture. It’s in violation of the Geneva Conventions of the international agreement on torture treaty,” said McCain in a taped interview on CNN. “It goes all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition. It’s not a new technique and it is certainly torture,” he went on to say. McCain himself was a prisoner of war for five years and was on the receiving end of torture.
While the first half of Cheney’s speech was clearly on the defensive the second part was a polar opposite offensive. Criticizing the Presidents restructuring of verbiage pertaining to the war on terror or – overseas contingency operations – Cheney said, “finding some less judgmental or more pleasant sounding name for terrorists doesn’t change what they are.” But when referring to what the President and Senator McCain called “torture” , Cheney preferred to use the terminology of “enhanced interogation techniques.”
Obama’s request for $80 million to help close Gitmo was rejected and by a 90-6 margin the Senate voted to keep detainess held at the facility in Cuba. Clearly President Obama has an uphill climb on how to close Guantanamo and to get the support of Washington in the process but the focus should be more on what the solution is instead of who and what caused the problem. But, by the President outlining what needs to be done and why, now only the blanks need to be filled in. The climb of a mountain always begins with a first step.
Sources – Speech transcripts, personal editorial