The Campaign Spot

Obama’s Speech Could Only Be Given on a Sunny Spring Day

I’ve just gotten online; Caribou Coffee tried to sabotage me by not having their advertised free wireless. What’s more, I was BlackBerry-less and unable to Tweet while sitting in the audience for former Vice President Cheney’s speech at AEI.

It will be fascinating to see what everyone else thinks, but for now, my unvarnished reaction, uninfluenced by any others . . .

Particularly in the beginning, Obama’s remarks were typically eloquent, soaring, poetic, flowery, blah blah blah. I kept waiting for a quote from Seneca or Obama’s mother. It was another campaign speech. (Early on he mentioned his father coming to this country, seeking promise and freedom and such; I awaited the line, “after finding what he was looking for in America, he left, never to return.”)

Obama’s policy changes are a promise, and a vague one. He thinks the new policies can work better than what we’ve been doing, but he doesn’t know for sure; he can’t know for sure. Both he and Cheney used the phrase “hard choices” or “hard calls” which suggests that this debate ought to be proceeding with a bit more modesty. If the calls are so hard, then it’s difficult to argue that the Bush-Cheney approach was reckless, no? If the call is so hard, then the competing view must have a compelling case with a lot of supporting evidence.

Obama mentioned the conviction of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, but did not mention his sentence. Upon hearing that an admitted al-Qaeda sleeper-cell member who studied chemical weapons is free to leave prison in 9 to 15 years, this “try them all if we can” may not sound so reassuring to the American people.

Beyond that, there was this glaring contradiction in Obama’s speech. He lamented the past decisions — even half-sneering that the previous administration had left “a mess” — but then said that when all the reviews were finished, there would be some prisoners who could not be tried, who could not be shipped to another country, and who could never be released. And they . . . will be detained indefinitely, he admitted.  So it is okay to hold some people for the rest of their lives without trial, but only if the president has determined that they are a serious threat to U.S. national security. Thank goodness this administration’s approach is so different from Bush’s!

Also really central to Obama’s argument is his assertion that Guantanamo Bay “likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” How do we know this? Where do we get figures? Though I am a skeptic, I’m willing to recognize the possibility that this is true, but how does one even go about proving this? Is there some secret census of al-Qaeda members?

Obama’s speech was about theory, and even in this circumstance, where a foiled plot to blow up synagogues in the Bronx isn’t even the biggest news of the day, it felt professorial, esoteric, abstract, and strikingly lacking in specifics. I can only imagine how this will sound when there are bodies in the streets.


The Latest