Many Republicans are celebrating with the old “I told you so” as Obama appears to be reversing some of his campaign promises and sticking to many Bush era national security policies. But don’t be confused. It’s not that Obama suddenly saw the light upon entering the White House. In fact, maintaining Bush’s policies do not make the country safer, but they do help keep the president in office. In other words, Obama’s decisions on everything from Guantanamo to Afghanistan are purely about political survival and have little to do with security, proving that even Obama caves under pressure.
One of the most common misconceptions about politics is that when a new president enters office he must renege on some of his campaign promises because the White House exposes him to the reality of the responsibilities of the Office — a reality which requires him to maintain certain policies of the previous administration. When this happens, the former president always gets in a good “I told you so.” The truth is that no such responsibilities exist. Rather the new president learns that political survival – i.e., what it politically takes to get reelected – dictate that he change his tune.
The Republicans are now smirking at Obama waffling on the Guantanamo prisoners and are accusing Obama’s previous position as being based on fatally flawed inexperience. But as George Will correctly points out, there is no rational threat to national security if we move the Guantanamo inmates to the U.S. and try them in U.S. courts,
The supermax prisons in our country are full of Americans who have killed Americans and are perfectly safe, so the idea that we cannot find a place to house these few people who are very dangerous strikes me as preposterous.
Or as Glen Greenwald wrote today,
The “debate” over all the bad and scary things that will happen if Obama closes Guantanamo and we then incarcerate those detainees in American prisons is so painfully stupid even by the standards of our political discourse that it’s hard to put into words, and it also perfectly illustrates the steps that typically lead to America’s National Security policies:
(1) Right-wing super-tough-guy warriors project some frightened, adolescent, neurotic fantasy onto the world — either because they are really petrified by it or because they want others to be (“Putting Muslim Terrorists in our prisons will make us Unsafe! — Keep them away from me, please!!!”);
(2) Rather than scoff at the inane fear-mongering or point out simple facts to reveal its idiocy, Democratic “leaders” such as Harry Reid echo the right-wing fears in order to prove how Serious and Tough they are — in our political debates, the more frightened one is, the more Serious and Tough one is — and/or because they are genuinely frightened of being called mean names by Sean Hannity (“Harry Reid isn’t as scared of this as I am, which shows that he’s weak”);
(3) “Journalists” who are capable of nothing other than mindlessly reciting what they hear then write articles depicting the Right’s frightened neurosis as a Serious argument, and then overnight, a consensus emerges: Democrats are in big trouble politically unless they show that they, too, are as deeply frightened as the Right is.
Furthermore the claim that by closing Guantanamo, rather than having established the prison in the first place, we are compromising our security is just as ludicrous. Imagine police officers arresting and detaining suspects without probably cause and in blatant violation of their rights, denying them the access to counsel or being presented with either the evidence or even the charges against them. Wouldn’t the prosecutors and police officers be the irresponsible ones for knowingly prosecuting suspects who they cannot reasonably or ethically get conviction at trial?
Any honest, non-partisan review of Guantanamo would conclude that the detention facilities must be closed and the detainees should either be processed or released. Nevertheless, Americans, irrationally afraid that the detainees may pose a threat to their localities, are putting pressure on their congressmen, and politics rather than policy are steering the debate. And the entire Democratic party, Obama included, are caving in.
As we have learned since 9/11, almost everything we are led to believe turns out to be a smoke screen, a series of concoctions of half truths, false generalizations, and easy-sells to a believe-anything public (including the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, the Iran Al Qaeda connection, and even Al Qaeda’s alleged ubiquity). Imagine that, in part, we demonize Syria and Iran for not stopping the flow of weapons across their borders into Iraq, yet we refuse to assume any responsibility for the guns that pass the U.S. border into Mexico and arm the Mexican narco-terrorists. Ever since the Cold War, American foreign policy has relished in the black-and-white, with-me-or-against make-believe world order. Either you were a commie which was evil and amoral or you were a beacon of light. Then Bush came with the Axis of Evil, reducing the world to jihadists who hated our American way or the Coalition of Willing. Willing to do what, I am not yet sure.
As we speak, we are now being warned of the imminent threat of the Taliban to both Pakistan and the rest of the world. Yet, as Juan Cole and Shahan Mufti explained on last week’s Bill Moyers Journal, there is no hard evidence to corroborate those claims. There are no journalists directly covering the fighting between the Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban (who are actually not the Taliban but other smaller groups who we like to call, for simplicity’s sake, the Taliban). All news reports we have the fighting comes solely from the Pakistani army, and the Pakistani military has a direct vested interest in us believing that they are fighting this Taliban. They are afraid we’re going to stop funding them and start giving our money to civilian groups. Furthermore, the entire idea that a couple of thousand of Taliban forces in a remote region can topple a 500,000 Pakistani army is ridiculous.
But it is just as ridiculous to ask us to believe that the nation with the most modern, expensive and technologically advanced military in the history of mankind is mortally threatened by a small group of cave dwellers thousands of miles away. We actually have Al Qaeda exactly where we want them: isolated in Afghani and Pakistani caves. And with respect to the Taliban, the Taliban has no international agenda. They pose no direct threat to the U.S. As a matter of fact, the Pakistanis see them as less of a threat than India and actually as mitigating the situation in Kashmire.
Nevertheless, for purely political reasons, Obama could not “legitimately” pull out of Iraq and prove tough enough to be the commander-in-chief without arguing for troop increases in Afghanistan. That’s just how American politics work. To get elected and not come off as a peace-loving pinky, candidates need to demonstrate they are trigger-happy. Accorinding to Greenwald, “[a]s always, the more frightened one is of childish fantasies, the more Serious and Tough one is deemed to be.”
As I have argued before, the only reason for military action in Afghanistan is to serve as a distraction to the terrorists, like one of those bug lights that attracts the insects and then zaps them to death. Keeping a limited number of troops there to give the terrorists a place to do their damage away from American soil is not a bad idea, but major troop escalation is a waste of resources and lives. As mentioned, the caves of Afghanistan or even that dead-beat Bin Laden cannot be our greatest national security threat. On the other hand, a nuke in Iran that can reach its neighbors, Israel or Europe is a serious threat. Nevertheless, the more I hear Israeli leaders, in the wake of having to decide between a two-state or a one-racist-state solution (and leaning towards the latter), the more it smells like a suspicious distraction. How long will it take Obama to abandon his tough stance on Israeli settlements and allow Israel to delay a two state solution — the one that is without a doubt in the U.S.’s best interests — until the alleged Iran threat is abated?
And there is Obama in the thicket of it all, abandoning common sense and the hard facts in favor of political expediency, sounding more and more like George W. Bush. The problem is that by escalating in Afghanistan to mitigate his decision to pull out of Iraq, Afghanistan will become Obama’s war, just like the Vietnam War became associated with Nixon even though it was started by his Democratic predecessors. Because Obama has already exposed himself politically in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, Obama will have to follow that long presidential tradition of re-inventing the facts. And everything we learn from the government and the press in favor of Obama’s new national security policies will become Obama’s spin, Obama’s propaganda.
Years ago I asked a friend who was an expert on Latin American politics why his country did not reallocate some of its huge military budget to fighting illiteracy and also offer incentives for coca farmers to switch to cash crops. His explanation was so obvious I felt stupid for asking. He said that, unlike the U.S., in his country if you did not show great deference to the military (i.e., in the form of money), then you faced a military coup. And if you did not look the other way on narco-trafficking then you faced assassination. Whenever the U.S. government assumes a policy that is so clearly contrary to reason or the nation’s best interests, I often recall my friend’s words. Of course, I don’t think that a U.S. president should worry about a military revolt or worse from one of the special interest groups. But when you critically analyze the decision-making process, there is no denying that the U.S. system has its own breed of enhanced persuassion techniques. The result is political expediency and loads of propaganda.