If it had been a prize fight, a compassionate referee would have called
President Obama hastily scheduled a speech on national security policy
at the National Archives yesterday. Since Mr. Obama said nothing
he hadn't said before, the purpose of the speech seems to have been to
divert attention from the speech, scheduled weeks earlier, that former
Vice President Dick Cheney made the same morning.
The president spent most of his speech defending his decision to make
public explicit details of the "enhanced interrogation techniques"
(EITs) the CIA used on some al Qaida bigwigs, and his decision to close
the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Mr. Obama made two sweeping declarations for which he provided no
evidence that the enhanced interrogation techniques didn't work, and
that the prison at Guantanamo "likely created more terrorists around the
world than it ever detained." But he still had nothing to say about
what he'd do with the prisoners currently in Gitmo.
The former vice president spent most of his speech providing the defense
of intelligence professionals Mr. Obama ought to have given, but hasn't.
He also challenged the president to make public the CIA memoranda
documenting the effectiveness of the EITs:
"When the soul searching was done and the veil lifted on the policies of
the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth,"
Mr. Cheney said. "The released memos were carefully redacted to leave
out references to what our government learned through the methods in
question...For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they
believe the public has the right to know the method of the questions,
but not the content of the answers."
Mr. Obama sounded nervous and defensive, as evidenced by his referring
to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates as "Bill."
The news leading into the duelling speeches suggests why. The New York
Times reported Thursday the Pentagon, for fear of embarrassing the White
House, has been suppressing a report that indicates one every seven
prisoners so far released from Guantanamo has returned to terrorism.
The night before, New York City police busted a homegrown Islamist
terror cell that was plotting to blow up two synagogues and to shoot
down a military aircraft.
But the big news for the week was the 94-6 vote in the Senate to deny
the president funds to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and to forbid
the transfer of prisoners held there to the United States.
Despite his campaign rhetoric to the contrary, as president Barack Obama
has largely followed the policies of his predecessor. The Obama
strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is essentially the same as the George
W. Bush strategy. President Obama sees value in trying some terrorists
by military commissions, which candidate Obama derided. And Mr. Obama
now thinks it a poor idea to make public the photographs of abuse of
prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
And where the president's security policies differ from those of
President Bush, they are neither popular nor successful.
Perhaps Mr. Obama's speech was in part an effort to appease those of his
left wing supporters who've noticed what he does isn't what he said he'd
do, and are concerned. But the contrast with Mr. Cheney's remarks
doesn't serve him well.
"Obama's is the speech of a young senator who was once a part-time law
professor platitudinous and preachy, vague and pseudo-thoughtful in
an abstract kind of way," said Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard.
"Cheney's is the speech of a grownup. He's sober, realistic and
concrete, stands up for his country and its public officials, and has an
acute awareness of the consequences of the choices one makes as a public
official and a willingness to take responsibility for those choices."
Before the speeches, NBC's Chuck Todd said on the Today program that it
was "unfair" to pit the popular president against Mr. Cheney, "one of
the most unpopular members of the Republican Party."
But Mr. Cheney isn't running for anything, and he's winning the policy