The Corner

A Few Criticisms . . .

. . . of Obama’s national-security speech. Just a few, for now.

1. Obama said the following about what he called America’s “brutal methods” of interrogation: “They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured.”

In my view, the first part of that statement is arguable — “They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle.” But the second part is flat-out false. Qaedists determine how they treat Americans by how Americans treat Qaeda detainees? Ridiculous. There is no reciprocity in the Qaeda playbook or mindset. They simply chainsaw away.

I regard this as an embarrassingly naive comment from the president of the United States. I wonder who fed him the notion — or whether he made it up himself or what.

I remember a tour I had of a detainee camp in Iraq last fall. We give them all sorts of classes: Islamic studies, nutrition, art, blah, blah, blah. There is a class on sewing, too. The instructor showed us “the graduation piece” the detainees make: a stuffed camel. I found myself thinking, somewhat bitterly: Gee, what’s the graduation piece for Americans in a Qaeda camp — if there were such camps, which, to my knowledge, there are not?

2. This is just a general comment: I think Obama found himself in a real jam about Guantanamo. He and the rest of the Left had made a bogey of it. They talk about how Gitmo became a symbol for our enemies, or potential enemies, abroad. I think it became more of a symbol for them — for our Left. Well, Obama wins the election, and he finds that Guantanamo does the job. He finds that other options are lousy. But he is stuck with his original language and assertions.

What to do? You can’t admit error; you can’t cut the Bush administration any slack. So you cover Guantanamo with a fog of words. You just brazen it out, rhetorically, trusting in a cooperative press, and in favorable world opinion. I think that is what Obama has done in this speech.

3. At a certain juncture, Obama said, “I want to be honest: . . .” That is slightly dangerous for a speechmaker: It implies that other parts of the speech — not so much.

4. Twice, Obama spoke of the “mess” at Gitmo, no doubt thinking it would be politically useful. But, when his attorney general went there, he found it a well-run, admirable prison. Which it is, by every conscientious account. So . . .?

5. Obama spoke of “those who think that America’s safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building” (the National Archives). Names, please? And does it become presidents to construct strawmen in this way?

I remember something charming that William Safire put in his memoir of the first Nixon administration — a very charming book. He said that, now and then, he felt someone should propose the easy way. Because the president was always saying, “Some have counseled that we take the easy way. But I . . .”

6. Obama named Zaccarias Moussaoui “the 20th 9/11 hijacker.” So it wasn’t Rush Limbaugh? Wasn’t the president chortling about that, a couple of weeks ago? All class, all class.

Most Popular

Elections

The Jerry Springer Debate

It’s a shame that Joe Biden couldn’t attend Tuesday night's debate. Okay, Biden was in attendance, but during the 90 minutes, it felt like he barely ever finished a complete sentence. It’s not clear that President Trump necessarily won the night, in the sense that people who were leaning against ... Read More
Elections

The Jerry Springer Debate

It’s a shame that Joe Biden couldn’t attend Tuesday night's debate. Okay, Biden was in attendance, but during the 90 minutes, it felt like he barely ever finished a complete sentence. It’s not clear that President Trump necessarily won the night, in the sense that people who were leaning against ... Read More
Elections

Trump Did Himself No Favors

The debate was a remarkable example of the fact that Donald Trump, the most self-serving man in America, doesn’t know how to do himself any favors. For the first ten or twelve minutes of the debate, he was walking away with it — Trumpy, sure, but in control and surprisingly reasonable-sounding. If he had ... Read More
Elections

Trump Did Himself No Favors

The debate was a remarkable example of the fact that Donald Trump, the most self-serving man in America, doesn’t know how to do himself any favors. For the first ten or twelve minutes of the debate, he was walking away with it — Trumpy, sure, but in control and surprisingly reasonable-sounding. If he had ... Read More
Elections

On Last Night’s Debate

The fact that I believe the debate was unwatchable last night does not mean I believe President Trump did not have some good moments. And the fact that I imagine it was a net-net win for Joe Biden does not mean he did not have some utterly awful moments. Yet the unwatchability of the debate -- the cringe factor ... Read More
Elections

On Last Night’s Debate

The fact that I believe the debate was unwatchable last night does not mean I believe President Trump did not have some good moments. And the fact that I imagine it was a net-net win for Joe Biden does not mean he did not have some utterly awful moments. Yet the unwatchability of the debate -- the cringe factor ... Read More

Chaos in Cleveland

The 90 minutes of “debate” between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden cannot be told as a cohesive story, or reduced to a few bottom lines. It was too fast and too disorganized. Almost anyone watching would have just picked up impressions along the way. I’ve grouped mine into piles ... Read More

Chaos in Cleveland

The 90 minutes of “debate” between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden cannot be told as a cohesive story, or reduced to a few bottom lines. It was too fast and too disorganized. Almost anyone watching would have just picked up impressions along the way. I’ve grouped mine into piles ... Read More
Elections

Actually, The Debate Was About Issues

I know. A lot of folks are saying the debate was an ugly, insult-filled shouting match that barely got down to cases. Actually, I thought it was a highly entertaining exchange that helpfully spotlighted the candidates’ differences on issues. An ugly, angry exchange? Well, at least it looked like America. If you ... Read More
Elections

Actually, The Debate Was About Issues

I know. A lot of folks are saying the debate was an ugly, insult-filled shouting match that barely got down to cases. Actually, I thought it was a highly entertaining exchange that helpfully spotlighted the candidates’ differences on issues. An ugly, angry exchange? Well, at least it looked like America. If you ... Read More
Elections

Everybody Loses, Which Helps Biden

Reactions to tonight's debate will likely be deeply polarized, as everything else is. There are a few things that are clear. One, this was probably the worst presidential debate in American history. There was a ton of cross-talk and shouting down, there were many bald-faced lies and obvious evasions, a former ... Read More
Elections

Everybody Loses, Which Helps Biden

Reactions to tonight's debate will likely be deeply polarized, as everything else is. There are a few things that are clear. One, this was probably the worst presidential debate in American history. There was a ton of cross-talk and shouting down, there were many bald-faced lies and obvious evasions, a former ... Read More
Elections

Who Wins an Unwatchable Debate?

Over coffee this morning I read a fascinating interview with Martin Gurri, the former CIA analyst who first noticed the seismic impact of social media on world politics. The author of The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, Gurri studies the fracturing of discourse and the ... Read More
Elections

Who Wins an Unwatchable Debate?

Over coffee this morning I read a fascinating interview with Martin Gurri, the former CIA analyst who first noticed the seismic impact of social media on world politics. The author of The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, Gurri studies the fracturing of discourse and the ... Read More