The Corner

Obama’s National Security Speech

It’s been a busy day, and I hope to have more to say about Vice President Cheney’s terrific speech at AEI, as well as President Obama’s not terrific speech at the National Archives. For now, I share with you my quick appraisal of the president’s remarks, which was just posted by the New York Times in its occasional “Room for Debate” series:

President Obama’s speech is the September 10th mindset trying to come to grips with September 11th reality. It is excruciating to watch as the brute facts of life under a jihadist threat, which the president is now accountable for confronting, compel him forever to climb out of holes dug by his high-minded campaign rhetoric — the reversals on military detention, commission trials, prisoner-abuse photos, and the like.

The need to castigate his predecessor, even as he substantially adopts the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy, is especially unbecoming in a president who purports to transcend our ideological divisions.

This was perhaps best exemplified by the president’s attack on the very military commission system he has just revived. The dig that the system only succeeded in convicting three terrorists in seven years conveniently omits the fact that the delay was largely attributed to legal challenges advanced by lawyers who now work in his own administration.

Those challenges, despite consuming years of litigation, failed to derail the commission system, which Congress simply re-authorized, substantially unchanged, after a thin Supreme Court majority erroneously struck it down in the 2006 Hamdan case. The commissions, moreover, are now being delayed several more months simply so Mr. Obama can make some cosmetic tweaks that work no real change in the commission process but will enable him to claim that they are somehow a departure from Bush commissions.

It is also not true, no matter how many times Mr. Obama and his supporters repeat it, that Guantanamo Bay and enhanced interrogation (or “torture” as they call it) are primary drivers of terrorist recruitment. The principal exacerbating factor in recruitment is successful terrorist attacks. That is what convinces the undecided to join jihadist movements, and that is what the Bush administration’s approach prevented. And if the president truly insists on “transparency,” he should stop suppressing memoranda that detail the effectiveness of the CIA interrogation program. Given his decision to reveal CIA tactics, is it too much to ask that the American people be informed about what intelligence the program yielded?

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