Thursday, May 21, 2009

The President’s Big Speech: Obama Attempts to Quell Critics on Both the Left and the Right

Guantanomo Prison

In the Highs and Lows of Obama’s Big Speech, the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin offers a comprehensive analysis of the president’s attempt to quell critics on both the left and the right in response to several of his recent policy moves.

In hitting the lows, Froomkin contends:

But in some parts of his speech, Obama appeared to be defending actions and even taking positions that didn't live up to his own professed standards.

When it came to what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo, he declared that he would work to create a system that would enable the indefinite detention without trial for a limited number of people whom the government is unable to prosecute for past crimes, but whom are nevertheless considered to be threats to the country. Even though he spoke of establishing lawful standards and periodic reviews, that's a dangerously extreme policy proposal. He once again expressed his intention to use a reformed military commission process for some detainees -- but gave no reason to think it won't run into many of the same legal challenges that Bush's process did. He spoke of sending many detainees to face trial in federal courts -- but then promised that no one would be released who endangers our national security. The whole point of a fair judicial system is that the executive can't guarantee the results.

Obama spoke passionately about his commitment to transparency, but offered up the same lousy and unpersuasive excuses he did last week for his decision to fight the court-ordered release of more photos of prison abuse. In particular, the weight he put on his responsibility not to release information that would inflame our enemies was deeply disturbing.

He offered no additional clarity regarding his position on the state secrets doctrine, where his lofty promises still stand in dramatic conflict with what his administration is actually doing.

And in continuing to oppose the creation of an independent commission that would fully investigate the abuses of the Bush administration, he marginalized those of us who want to find out what happened as polarizers, much like those who continue to doggedly defend Bush policies. He said the recent debate has obscured the truth -- when all we want is to let it free.

Froomkin has more to say on Obama’s disrespect for those who support at least an investigation of possible war crimes by the Bush Administration.

On how those nutty people who want to find out what really happened are really only interested in finger-pointing, and are just as bad as the Bush dead-enders:

"It's no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And it's no secret that our media culture feeds the impulse that lead to a good fight and good copy. But nothing will contribute more than that than an extended relitigation of the last eight years. Already we've seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides to laying blame. It can distract us from focusing our time, our efforts and our politics on the challenges of the future.

"We see that above all in the recent debate -- how the recent debate has obscured the truth and sent people into opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism and would almost never put national security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: 'Anything goes.' Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the president should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants, provided it is a president with whom they agree.

"And both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems."

Read Froomkin’s column in its entirety here.

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