Add another failure to the list that the Obama national-security team is racking up: its Guantanamo policy. The Washington Post reports that the Obama team really didn’t know what they were doing:
With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress.
Even before the inauguration, President Obama’s top advisers settled on a course of action they were counseled against: announcing that they would close the facility within one year. Today, officials are acknowledging that they will be hard-pressed to meet that goal.
The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge not devising a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress.
Greg Craig is taking the blame and getting the boot. (“I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives.”) Craig, who some had fingered as the mastermind behind the since-reversed decision to release the detainee-abuse photos, may deserve to get canned. But the blame rests with the president.
It was Obama who made closing Guantanamo the cornerstone of his national-security agenda. It was he who, with great fanfare, announced the decision to close the facility before all the data had been gathered. It was he who again and again derided his predecessor’s administration and the arguments against shuttering Guantanamo (it was only a “false” choice between our values and security, he lectured us). It was Obama who couldn’t resist the urge to debate the former vice president–and then lost the confidence of the American people. And indeed, just this week, he was preening at the UN:
On my first day in office, I prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.
Well now we’re back to square one. It seems that, yes, it isn’t so easy to close Guantanamo. Just like the Bush team said.
What next? Well maybe we should learn something from this about-face and apply the lessons elsewhere. After all, if they got Guantanamo wrong, very wrong, and embarrassingly wrong, what’s to say that these other calls (e.g., limiting interrogations to the Army Field Manual, reinvestigating CIA operatives whom career prosecutors already declined to prosecute) weren’t similarly flawed? Maybe what’s in order is a top-to-bottom review of the administration’s national-security decision-making process. After all, former Vice President Cheney graciously offered to come anytime to share his wisdom as to how the Bush team kept America safe for seven-plus years. Given that he was right on Guantanamo, he has more credibility than any other figure in the administration. Maybe it’s time to start tapping into that expertise.
And in the meantime, Obama should cut the Guantanamo spiel from his speeches. It might only serve to remind everyone just how inexperienced, inept, and arrogant this administration has been.