by Victor Davis Hanson
That Damn Guantanamo!
Obama gave a rather incredible press conference about his review of security lapses. When he evoked Guantanamo, the president all at once (“make no mistake about it”) (a) promised to close it, (b) promised not to send any more detainees home to Yemen, and (c) claimed it was a recruiting tool for al Qaeda (i.e., apparently Bush’s Gulag had prompted the likes of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab to try to blow up an airliner).
This is nearly unhinged.
Mr. President consider:
1) Quit whining about closing Guantanamo, and close the damn thing. It either is useful or not. The American people are getting sick and tired of this sort of “Bush made me keep it open even though it is counter-productive” whining. If Guantanamo is a recruiting tool, then by all means stop the recruiting tool. Instead, we get the impression that these incredibly directionless people have discovered that Guantanamo has both utility and yet is a political liability among their more fervent supporters, and therefore they wish to continue its usefulness while blaming Bush for its unpopularity.
2) If you are not going to send back any more “alleged” terrorists to Yemen, then simply start trying them in your much preferred civilian courts. Why hold them any longer in the Gulag?
3) Let us get this straight: for a decade in the 1990s an ascendant al Qaeda committed serial attacks against the U.S. and its interests. All that culminated in 9/11. In reaction to the mass murder, and as part of efforts to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Bush opened Guantanamo Bay — after which we have seen no successful major attacks on U.S. soil comparable to 9/11.
So consider the logic: before Guantanamo, al Qaeda achieved its greatest success in damaging America; after it, it suffered some of its most grievous defeats, but somehow its existence is counter-productive and a recruiting tool? What, Pray God, was the recruiting tool on September 10, 2001?
All things being equal, the idea that a terrorist will spend a lot of time in a cell in Cuba if caught seems much less of a recruiting tool than hearing that your enemy has banned the use of “war against terror,” made up grand achievements of your civilization, apologized for his country’s sins, publicly bowed to prominent autocratic Muslims, promised a public trial in New York for your heroic mastermind of 9/11, and in general blamed the war on his predecessor. All that seems quite an encouragement to join al Qaeda in comparison to the punishment of incarceration if caught.
4) Does Obama have any notion of what enemies say and do in war? That al Qaeda claims this week that Guantanamo is a recruiting tool hardly makes it one. For years we heard that American troops in Saudi Arabia caused Bin Laden’s anger — and now that they are gone? If one were to collate all of Dr. Zawahiri’s constantly changing complaints — Jews supposedly in Mecca, lack of American campaign finance reform, Israel, etc. — the list would become endless. Thucydides invented a word prophasis precisely for the idea of belligerents inventing perceived grievances for their various aggressions. Would Obama really believe Hitler’s whine about Versailles as he went into the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, the Low Countries, Yugoslavia, Greece, Russia, etc.? At what point would Obama, our modern-day Clement Attlee and Stanley Baldwin, have ceased trying to make Versailles “right,” and instead pondered that Hitler was an aggressive thug who cloaked his endless invasions in all sorts of whines that were designed to appeal to guilt-ridden Westerners?
Back to Part II of Obama’s Greek Tragedy
Every self-destructive moralist, as tragedy teaches us, is obsessed with the self. In our own age, recall Woodrow Wilson’s shrill furor at lesser mortals who were suspicious of his exalted League of Nations, remember FDR’s court-packing anger at the less than sympathetic Supreme Court, or remember Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence” whine in summer 1979. Such is the lashing out of all exalted moralists when we, the lesser folk, have failed to appreciate the demi-god in the White House who has “deigned” to guide us.
Raging Against the Gods
Well, the second half of a tragedy is not pretty: cf. what Medea does to Jason, Dionysos to Pentheus, Oedipus to himself, Creon to Antigone/Creon to himself, and so on.
Unchecked hubris always incurs nemesis that leads to atê or destruction. In Obama’s case, we are witnessing such a sequence. His hope and change speeches are no more empty of substance than they ever were. But now the studied accentuation and Rev. Wright inculcated cadences are shopworn, the allusions tired and transparently the work of twenty-something speechwriters who ran out of clichés around March. The blame Bush continues, but it now is monotonous and sounds like the proverbial three-year-old’s sob.
NPR and the blogs use to ridicule Bush’s “nuclar,” but at least Bush joked about his own problematic philology. In contrast, does one believe Obama even recognizes that 300 million Americans wince when he says, “Let me be perfectly clear…” or “ Make no mistake about it” or repeats “I” or “me” or “my team” for the 30th time in his speeches?
If Obama gives yet another press conference or interview, and references himself as a nontraditional minority landmark figure who is not only a testament to our own moral progress, but also a reminder of how bad we were in the past, well, we are at the point where most will either snooze or laugh.
Abroad, no one quite believes the word of Obama: the Iranians laugh at our deadlines and consider them as concretely as Americans do Obama’s healthcare legislation deadlines. The Europeans figure he still considers them colonialists, and wonder what to do when their brainless left wing public is as infatuated with Obama as their more sober leaders are scared to death of him. (True fright for European diplomats is an America to the left of their own for-global-consumption, boutique leftism.)
Putin acts as if he is carving up an American turkey at a festive feast. The reach-out to thugs — whether Ahmadinejad, Castro, or Chavez — has won us contempt from all three. The Chinese are putting the final touches on a new foreign policy that translates their huge cash surpluses and our enormous debt and rising borrowing into a regional reordering in the Pacific. (A South Korea, I don’t think, believes we will be there should the North Koreans up the ante; the Taiwanese are wondering when the next Chinese escalation comes; the Japanese apparently want a third way between China and the U.S., and so on).
The apparent perception is that Obama’s America is either not willing to be the old ally of the past or cannot be, given the president’s capitulation to the voracious American appetite for entitlements on someone else’s dime.
What to expect? Obama will call a summit of his security advisors, given that his anti-terrorism sermonizing is now discredited; he will lecture on fiscal responsibility soon, given that he may well match all the debt piled up collectively by all prior presidents; he will talk of bipartisanship, given that he has become the most polarizing figure in recent political history — and very few will listen. His “this is the moment” passed around March 1.
There comes always wisdom at the end of a tragedy. A blind Oedipus at last can “see”. Pentheus receives a final vision of reality. Creon’s excesses bring him belated insight. Jason finally sizes up Medea — and himself sorta.
We shall never hear it, but there are hundreds of Democratic operatives who even now are concluding that Obama blew it: with ratings near 70%, with large majorities in Congress, with conservatives in disarray, all he had to do was show a modicum of fiscal sanity, do a bipartisan showy healthcare fix, praise Bush for the surge or keeping us safe for 7 years, and in general cease talking about himself, giving nonstop interviews, apologizing, and sermonizing. Had he done all that, he could have been as successful as Reagan or Clinton in neutralizing the opposition.
But in tragedy most recognition comes after, not before, the fall.
In other words, Democrats are starting to get wise to what Obama has wrought — and many fear not merely that he has the ability to take them down with him, but in fact doesn’t much care about them if he does.
Oh, Obama may still hover around 50% in the polls for a while, but the problem is that he likes all the things that have brought him disfavor and loathes all the things that might restore his effectiveness.
If in the past “hope and change” rhetoric bedazzled a college dean or philanthropist, why would he cease now since he believes that both the electorate and the world at large are as gullible to his charms as the university/community-organizing crowd was in the past?
In short, he can no more stop than could all-knowing Oedipus.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson