Friday, May 22, 2009

The Obama Speech (Pt. I)

In his speech yesterday outlining his rationale for embarking on a "new direction" in the fight to keep us safe from "man-caused disasterism" (by the way, what does it mean to set off in a new direction given that the last direction has kept us safe for almost eight years?) President Obama said this:

I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more," Obama continued. "As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. 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 short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts - they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.

I'm sure President Obama believes all these claims, but I don't know why. He certainly offers no reasons why anyone else should believe them. He refuses to release the relevant CIA memos Dick Cheney has asked him to make public that would show us how effective these measures really were. He simply tells us that they were counterproductive and expects us to take his word for it. He declines to tell us which methods he's referring to when he says that there are more effective ways of getting information from terrorists. He cites no evidence for his assertion that waterboarding or confinement at Guantanamo serves as an effective recruitment tool for jihadis or increases their will to fight us - a claim, by the way, which I find particularly risible since every Arab in the world knows that compared to the brutalities his own government inflicts on its enemies, being captured by the U.S. is like being taken into custody by a bunch of Amishmen. Nor is there any reason whatsoever to accept his naive belief that the Islamists would treat captured American soldiers kindly if only we hadn't waterboarded Kalid Sheik Mohammed.

In other words, the President's entire paragraph is little more than a recital of left-wing myths which no one ever really challenges and everyone just "knows" to be true. Well, I don't know that any of them are true, and I'd like to hear just once from someone who advances these myths a little bit of evidence in their behalf.

But this paragraph wasn't the only instance of the vacuity of yesterday's address. See the following post for more examples.


The Obama Speech (Pt. II)

In his address yesterday on American foreign policy, President Obama said this:

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

He said this after having spent almost the entire speech faulting the Bush administration for all manner of failings. If anyone exhibits the Washington tendency to point fingers, surely it's the President. It's worthwhile noting, I think, that his much maligned predecessor never once indulged what must have been an enormous temptation to blame his own predecessor for the problems facing the country in 2001. Obama frequently insults and demeans the Bush administration and makes himself look small every time he does it.

And then there's this:

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants - provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense.

This is a fine example of Barack Obama's adroit employment of the straw man technique. There is no one, at least as far as I'm aware, who is an absolutist on torture except those, like the President himself, who insist that it's always wrong. Those who support the use of waterboarding do so only in certain very restricted circumstances and only if it's administered in certain highly restrictive ways. To suggest that the proponents of "harsh interrogation" believe that "anything goes" is a misrepresentation of their position that is as hyperbolic as it is unfair.

It's not unusual for the President to make allegations which ascribe to unnamed persons positions that no one really holds, but he diminishes his credibility further every time he does it.