While everyone was busy eulogizing the Republican Party, it reverted back to Rovian form and managed a huge PR victory on the Hill this week. Repeat a lie enough — and stridently enough — and it becomes the truth. The opposition, also true to form, buckles.
Democrats folded like two-dollar beach chairs over the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility on Tuesday, and effectively forced President Obama to pivot on one of his first official — and possibly bravest – revocations of Bush Administration policy since taking office. Setting into motion the closure of the troubled detainee camp, a legal thicket and human eyesore fraught with evidence of torture and abuse growing everyday, was as symbolic as it was practical. The symbolism of this political defeat, coupled with the resurrection military commissions, and the awkward flip-flop on releasing abuse photos last week, will hurt Obama’s mantle of transformative “change agent” more than anything he has done in the last 100+ days of his tenure.
In the end, Obama could not “transcend” — as was promised, endlessly — post-9/11 politics as usual in Washington, which is all about fear and manipulation, convincing everyone that there is a missing hijacker behind every bush on Mayberry Street. And repeating a lie enough to make it the truth.
Which is exactly what Republicans did to cow Obama and his weak sister Democrats on the Hill this week — by repeating the word “terrorist” at every chance regarding the Gitmo detainees, even when they know it doesn’t legally apply to even half of them. We know at this point that out of the 240 detainees currently on the island, 60 were cleared of any wrongdoing by the last administration and are just languishing there in a sort of limbo and 80 others have yet to be tried in whatever court the administration finally settles on. According to Sec. Def. Bob Gates, that leaves 50 to 100, who cannot be charged with terrorism but won’t be released because they are supposedly too much of a risk. That leaves how many convicted “terrorists”? Three.
But Republicans recognized early on that this was a winning issue and that Democrats would fall over with the slightest breeze. Turns out it didn’t take much –just some consistent windbaggery helped along by the pliant media who love to give A-team demagogues like Charles Krauthammer and Newt Gingrich a platform and wide berth on this and every other national security issue. Democrats even ceded their best card in the deck: the 17 Chinese Muslim separatists who were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Bush Administration and are now appealing to the Supreme Court for their release from Gitmo. They remain imprisoned because they cannot be sent back to a certain death sentence in China. They symbolize all that is wrong the the Bush-era prison camp. But Republicans on the Hill were effective in making them indistinguishable from al Qaeda.
“So the Obama administration has decided to set the Uighurs loose in America. Most likely, the lucky community that will soon be hosting the Uighurs is a neighborhood near you: Fairfax Country Virginia, where there is already a sizable (non-terrorist) Uighur community.But the Obama administration’s plan for the Uighurs doesn’t stop there. At Guantanamo Bay, the Uighurs are known for picking up television sets on which women with bared arms appear and hurling them across the room.Perhaps understandably, the Obama administration believes the Uighurs will need help getting adjusted to northern Virginia society, in which women with bared arms have been known to appear.”
Stop calling them terrorists. Take the word “terrorist” out of the equation and you level the playing field, with a chance the discussion might become a healthy and realistic legal debate, not a hyperbolic melee over wild-eyed evildoers breaking out of the local courthouse or worse, settling into the condo next door.
Instead, Republican senators upped the ante yesterday, introducing legislation prohibiting the release of any detainee – innocent or not — on American soil, because, as the sterling Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham pointed out, “immigration laws prohibit the release of a terrorist operative within the United States.”
Democrats reacted to this obvious stagecraft by denying Obama the $80 million he asked for to close the infamous facility by the end of year, employing the pathetic excuse that the administration didn’t have a “plan.” So they torpedoed the entire thing in one fell swoop. “The feeling was at this point we were defending the unknown,” [Democratic Sen.Richard] Durbin explained to the press. “We were being asked to defend a plan that isn’t announced.”
Go grab a tissue, Durbin, and a grip. This same crew has no problem handing over the rest of the $92 billion request for continued war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. How much has the administration been grilled about their plans for that? About as much as Democrats grilled President Bush every time he came calling for more war funding. Not much.
There you have it. Republicans winning by taking cheap shots, Democrats pathetically squeamish as ever. And Obama, transcending none of it, leaving the integrity and strength of the American spirit flagging, and compromised.