Well, we hope everyone enjoyed today's foreign policy showdown! Because that's what it was, apparently! At least that's what the media's been saying. Who knows? It's so hard to know what to believe anymore! Why, before today, I was under the distinct impression that Barack Obama was going to be discussing foreign policy as a popular elected leader, charged with the duty of running that policy, whereas Dick Cheney was a retiree speaking for a fee in front of a room full of cronies. The two do not seem to be, well...equivalent! And yet, here is how Chuck Todd greeted fellow newsman David Gregory today, after this mano-a-mano had concluded:
TODD: David, this seemed like this is the ultimate debate! That if you love American politics, American government, you got the most credible people you could have arguing each side. President Obama, former Vice President Cheney.
I'm not sure what sort of labor the word "credible" is tasked with, in that sentence. I'm not sure I want to know. Delving too much might lead inevitably to the conclusion that Chuck Todd has been replaced by some idiot-zombie. After all, Dick Cheney's foreign policies were pretty far from credible: unless of course, he INTENDED to spur an unprecedented wave of deadly jihadism, intended to appease al Qaeda by allowing them the time and space to escape from harm and reconstitute themselves, intended to allow an intransigent Iran to expand it's regional influence -- I could go on and on! Bang up, job, Mr. Vice President!
There you have it. The most credible person that was available to argue the side of Obama's predecessor was a guy esteemed almost, but not quite, as highly as Cuba.
Here's a child's compendium of reaction to today's "ultimate debate."
Spencer Ackerman flags Dick Cheney saying:
Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a "recruitment tool" for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It's another version of that same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves."
But Ackerman points out that Cheney is on the wrong side of Air Force Colonel Donald Bacon and CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus.
Ackerman also raps Obama for asserting that "ad hoc legal approaches" to trying terrorists are somehow better just because he's the one at the helm:
Here the Bushies really do have a case that the Obama administration is approaching them with intellectual dishonesty. The rap on the military commissions for years from civil libertarians was that rather than use the system of court martials -- with established procedures for the disputation of justice -- the Bush administration was creating an entirely new apparatus with dubious process requirements, evidently designed to engineer a conviction. Here Obama is talking about a system outside the military commissions and outside the justice system that will hold people indefinitely (or "prolongued" detention, in Obama's euphemism), that he'll design... from scratch. The evident difference is that this time, Obama will consult with a Democratic-controlled congress so cowered by demagoguery that it'll shut down funding for closing Guantanamo. Change we can believe in.
Steve Benen says Cheney's speech was among the noun-verb-9/11iest things he'd read in a long time. "It was enough to make Rudy Giuliani blush."
Michael Crowley of The New Republic says Obama's speech was "characteristically thoughtful and elegant," but nevertheless, while "Democrats have dramatically narrowed their longstanding national security gap with Republicans...they clearly remain deeply insecure about the issue." I guess this means that what Obama needs are weaponized teleprompters, to fight terrorists.
No love from Greenwalds. Abe Greenwald rapped Obama thusly: "Barack Obama's tone at the National Archives was so defensive as to be nearly adversarial. But whose wouldn't be if they were trying to convince the country that having no plan is better than using the plan that kept them safe for nearly eight years?"
I think the word "safe" is infintely debatable, and "nearly" is doing a lot to cover up a multitude of sins.
Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald found Obama's words to be a hollow container for a dearth of actions:
Obama's speech this morning, like most Obama speeches, made pretty points in rhetorically effective ways about the Constitution, our values, transparency, oversight, the state secrets privilege, and the rule of law. But his actions, in many critical cases, have repeatedly run afoul of those words. And while his well-crafted speech can have a positive impact on our debate and contained some welcome and rare arguments from a high-level political leader -- changes in the terms of the debate are prerequisites to changes in policy and the value of rhetoric shouldn't be understated -- they're still just words until his actions become consistent with them.
Peter Kirsanow of the National Review Online says that Cheney was the "adult":
As a friend succinctly puts it, "When that big asteroid finally heads toward Earth, who's the person you'd most want to be in charge?" I suspect Cheney would score at or near the top.
Yes. Adult. If the Hounds Of Planet Sorloth invade from their moonbase on Jupiter, who should be president? Sounds like Dick Cheney would make a great Dungeon Master.
Time's Joe Klein was brutal in his critique of Cheney:
From the very first--the notion that those who oppose his policies saw 9/11 as a "one-off"--Cheney proceeded to mischaracterize, oversimplify and distort the views of those who saw his policies as extreme and unconstitutional, to say nothing of the views of the current Administration. This is the habit of demagogues. Cheney's snarling performance was revelatory and valuable: it showed exactly the sort of man Cheney is, and the sort of advice he gave, when his location was disclosed. I hope he continues to speak out. We need his voice to remind us what we've happily escaped.
Bill Kristol helped to pimp the Cheney=Adult talking point, but I had to admit he had a point, here:
This sentence was revealing: "On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004." "Opposed the release"? Doesn't he mean "decided not to permit the release"? He's president. He's not just a guy participating in a debate.
Kristol's right. That construction clearly indicates that Obama had accepted the contention that he was, in fact, "debating" Dick Cheney.
Jay Nordlinger jumps up to defend U.S. Exceptionalism in the Field Of Torture:
Obama said the following about what he called America's "brutal methods" of interrogation: "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 my view, the first part of that statement is arguable -- "They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle." But the second part is flat-out false. Qaedists determine how they treat Americans by how Americans treat Qaeda detainees? Ridiculous.
I'll allow that the extent to which our torture of other human beings makes it more likely our own troops will be tortured has not, to the best of my knowledge, been scientifically measured. One thing is for sure, however, the fact that we torture robs me of my right to be outraged when an American soldier is waterboarded. So long as America tortures others, America shall have to grin and bear it when others torture our own. That's the price of making the abhorrent acceptable. If Nordlinger is the sort of wretch who can countenance that, well, my advise to decent people everywhere is to cross the street when you see him coming down the sidewalk.
Benjy Sarlin of Talking Points Memo told Matt Yglesias: "Dick Cheney, who brought us the phrase 'enhanced interrogation methods,' is currently railing against those who use 'euphemisms' to obscure the debate over national security."
Anyway, that's your "great debate." We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.