That’s the question Politico’s forum is asking this morning. Yes, if you have to ask, it’s not a good sign for the administration. The forum participants do not pull their punches. A Princeton professor warns: “President Obama has not been able to articulate a clear national security agenda and on several issues, including Guantanamo and the NYC trials, the White House did not seem to have all their political ducks lined up before announcing a policy.” James Carafano of Heritage addresses the president: “Your detention, interrogation, and terrorist trial strategy has unraveled faster than an old sock. This is the perfect issue for you and the Republicans to sit down and craft a true bipartisan plan. Here is why 1) clearly this is the best interest of the nation if there is one issue where policy should trump politics this is it. 2) We know what the realistic options are.” A conservative advises: “Holding the terror trials in civilian courts could doom this Administration in a way that makes the health care cacophony seem like a Christmas choral performance.”
Moreover, there is already a widespread consensus and a ready-made model for what we can do. Leave Guantanamo open. Try KSM and his associates in military tribunals. Have terrorist suspects interrogated by trained intelligence personnel and don’t allow them to lawyer up before we get all available information. It’s not hard to figure out how to get this right. But it would entail an about-face and a rather humiliating admission that the Bush-era policies were instituted for good reasons and were well designed to combat the enemy we face.
In this case, the problem is not strictly speaking “political,” because it is Obama’s current policies that are unpopular and bringing him daily criticism. But a reversal would nevertheless be the subject of much hollering on the Left, which is already disillusioned with the president, who they imagined would have the political skills and the will to deliver on their ultra-liberal wish list. (I think the Lilly Ledbetter legislation is about it, unless you count a mediocre Supreme Court justice.) Rather, it would be a personal admission of failure and of poor judgment, a concession that the campaign rhetoric based on “not George Bush” was effective only as a club to whack the prior administration but not as a blueprint for governance.
It would, moreover, reveal as a lie the argument that we had strayed from out “values” or “lost our way” in the Bush years. It is Obama who has strayed. If he is to end the swirl of controversy and, more important, devise a rational national-security policy, he should dump his ill-fated and rather juvenile rejection of the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years. And then he can rethink his engagement of the “Muslim world” and begin to explain in candid terms the nature of our enemy and their ideological underpinnings. But first things first. Let’s start with simply dumping the “not Bush” anti-terror strategy.