The Corner

The one and only.

Gitmo, Politics, and Ending the War


Given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.

That’s the presidential trademark — the blistering attack on the straw men arrayed against his brilliant, effective, and virtuous policies. He’s the problem-solver; his opponents are the ideologues, or in this case merely craven politicians. (Someone needs to write a book about this rhetorical tactic) In a national-security address that contained no real surprises and was notable mainly for moving us just a bit further – though not completely – down the road toward a law-enforcement model for defending against jihadist terror, this line stood out for its sheer bad faith. Gitmo exists because the nature of this war created a class of detainee unlike those from previous wars, an often-unprosecutable (under any conventional civilian standard of evidence), un-uniformed unlawful combatant who can and should be interrogated and held for the entire duration of the hostilties — without a trial. Where should such detainees be housed? Is there an obvious answer to all those apolitical problem-solvers out there? To say that only “politics” maintains Gitmo given the relevant legal and strategic environment is sheer nonsense.

Another statement stood out:

Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

This is another common piece of presidential rhetoric (remember his inaugural address?), but repitition does not make it true. Wars don’t end when we want them to end, on timetables we desire, or because “democracy demands” that they end (whatever that means). They end when the parties either agree to end them or when one party imposes peace on the other. We may choose to commit greater or lesser resources to the fight — or not to fight at all — but that does not end the war if the enemy fights on.

In the 1990s, we pursued much the strategy that President Obama is recommending now — occasional pinprick strikes, peacetime operational tempos, and heavy diplomacy (no leader visited the White House more than Yasser Arafat). We ended the decade with the Second Intifada in full swing and the 9/11 plot underway. At least Bill Clinton had the excuse of the Oslo Accords to give him hope for peace. Upon what does President Obama base his hopes? The Arab Spring? From Benghazi to Cairo to Damascus, the Arab Spring looks bloodier and more radical by the day.

I’m once again reminded of the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

There is no peace. Not yet. No matter what “democracy demands.”