Obama’s National Security Speech

Yep, President Obama and Dark Lord…I mean…Former Vice President Cheney went head to head today to speak about

Image by newscom/upi via talkingpointsmemo.com

Image by newscom/upi via talkingpointsmemo.com

national security.  I already took a look at Cheney’s speech, and now I’m checking out Obama’s.

I can’t help but feel that this:

For the first time since 2002, we are providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

is a dig at the previous administration’s decision to get bogged down in a war in Iraq, which did not attack us on 9/11 nor have connections to those who did until after we invaded their country, distracting that administration from the necessary conflicts in Afghanistan-spilling-into-Pakistan.

This:

We are building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. And we have renewed American diplomacy so that we once again have the strength and standing to truly lead the world.

is also a nod to the previous 8 years whose diplomacy manual seemed to be “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” Despite all the handwringing that talking or shaking hands with people with whom we disagree is making us less safe, diplomacy is a smart and essential national security strategy, and it makes us safer.

But this:

I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never – ever – turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.

is where we get to the good stuff. Cheney recently misquoted his own Oath of Office saying he swore to protect and defend the American people, rather than the Constitution of the United States.  This, I believe, belies a fundamental misunderstanding on Cheney’s part about our democracy and our leaders’ role in it: their job is not first and foremost to protect us from outside threats, but to protect our system from threats, both from within, by those seeking to compromise our laws and freedoms for the sake of safety, and from without, by those seeking to compromise our safety perhaps because of how they feel about our laws and freedoms.  You can’t compromise the system in order to keep it safe.

Obama references our proud history as a nation that does not torture, that treats even our enemies with dignity:

From Europe to the Pacific, we have been a nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology.

As always, Obama is unwilling to question the motives of his predecessors. He credits them with a sincere desire to protect our nation, but he does not as a result give them a free pass for everything they did in the name of that desire. And he does not entirely blame his predecessors, but also his former colleagues in Congress:

Our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us – Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens – fell silent.

He also flat out disagrees with Cheney, who said that “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” made us safer and were effective, and he takes responsibility to ensure that those techniques are no longer used:

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.

He also directly takes on the “Closing Gitmo means Releasing Terrorists into the US” fearmongering:

Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders – highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal “supermax” prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said: “The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.”

He rightly points to the many terrorists who have been tried, convicted, and imprisoned within our borders, and explains that when possible, terrorists currently detained at Gitmo will be tried in the US criminal justice system. He explains the Military Commissions in a way that makes them sound a lot less awful than some of the folks in the liberal blogosphere had me believing.

He goes on to defend his release of the torture memos, and refutes Cheney’s arguments quite deftly:

The argument that somehow by releasing those memos, we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated is unfounded – we will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach, because that approach is now prohibited.

PROHIBITED! Yay!

He even seemed to indicate that he will not stand in the way of Congressional investigation into the Bush torture policies and those who crafted them, nor will he keep the Justice Depatment from prosecuting where laws are found to have been broken:

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

Overall, I think it was a good speech. He answered his critics from both the left and the right, and of course neither will be fully satisfied. I hope that Congress will choose to act and start an investigation. I hope that the Justice Department will also investigate. I hope that this hope is not too audacious.

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