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Phil Bronstein

Phil Bronstein

Posted: May 21, 2009 03:41 PM

Obama and Cheney Don't Play Safe in Battle Over Security...


I thought cockfighting was illegal in this country.

But there, right on TV and web stream, was the President of the US and his now archrival, the former Veep, in an unrestrained rooster pecking match over the most serious of topics, including enhanced interrogation (speaking of euphemisms, Mr. Cheney). That phrase always sounds like war Viagra no matter who uses it. If the dispute lasts more than four hours, call Eric Holder immediately.

The back-to-back speeches were both exercises in a certain kind of nostalgia despite the two men insisting that their thoughts were all on the future: Dick Cheney's waxing about the unique adrenaline of 9/11 and the ensuing public eagerness and his Administration's response for action, and Barack Obama's return to the Jimmy Carter projection of human rights and reason as an international missionary position.

So if the ex-Veep is the new Dick Nixon, does that make Mr. Obama the resurrected Man from Plains (except more likeable?)

"Obama will be a one term president," a staunch Republican friend told me the other day, "just like Jimmy Carter," though this guy was more concerned with POTUS' "redistribution of wealth" than his Al Qaeda policy. There were a lot of reasons Mr. Carter got tossed in 1980, but his attempts to be warm during the Cold War flew in the face of the old world order and didn't help him get four more years.

Facts on the ground in at least one war involving terror the last few days may be a hint that there's still a dynamic working against the new President's view of "moral authority" and "common sense." Two words for this enhanced interrogation debate: Sri Lanka.

The leader of that country went against many civilized rules of Democratic/Obama warfare in achieving what Mr. Obama, with all his fresh air spirit of friendly engagement has already been struggling with and dancing around in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Iran or almost anywhere else: flat-out victory.

I'm not advocating that any country ruthlessly bomb civilians and, as the New York Times wrote today about Sri Lanka, squelch dissent, block independent reporting, engage in assassinations, put civil liberties in the trunk, jail journalists, harass ethnic minorities or snub the West and buy weapons from China and Pakistan. But that's the formula that allowed Sri Lanka to bury the Tamil Tigers. This was one of the toughest, most enduring conflicts in the world, the Tigers having waged what the Times story called "a pitiless war of terror" for 25 years.

Today, Mr. Obama suggested that the conflict formerly known as the worldwide War on Terror could last at least 10 years. And he has a plan, which he laid out eloquently in his speech.

But right now, President Obama can't even stop the Repubs in his own town from naughty legislation earmarks giving crackpot campers the right to conceal handguns in public parks. (What's the threat, exactly, out there in nature? Next, PETA's going to fight for the right to arm bears, purely as self-defense.)

Hey, if being less CIA-black-bag works, who's going to complain other than maybe the unemployed black-bag professionals Dick Cheney saluted despite a lynch mob view of them elsewhere. If Gitmo is, as the President says, a "rallying cry for our enemies" (Jihad, Si! Guantanamo, No!), we should close it. While there's a NIMBY quality to legislators from maximum security prison states saying no way to a terrorist prisoner transfer, places like Pelican Bay seem tough enough to handle it. I'm sure the Aryan brotherhood is rubbing its hands in anticipation. We'll see if Mr. Obama's use of "our values as a moral compass" in war policy actually works. That's the compass Bush critics say he used as a ceiling fan.

The Obama-Cheney faceoff was gladiator vs. gladiator, a war of its own for the soul of national security policy and the judgment of history.

But there was one battle both men seemed to agree on: the war against the press. Talk about merciless! And Mr. Obama was more militant than Mr. Cheney on the topic.

"The New York Times didn't serve the interests of our country or the safety of our people," by printing national security wiretap stories, Dick Cheney said. But President Obama stomped on the media for going "silent" on the rush to war after 9/11. Then he said a contradiction in his own policies for releasing/not releasing sensitive material was "in the press' mind.." Then he accused our "media culture" of needlessly causing fights in the name of getting "good copy."

Ouch. Where's the humanity in kicking the press while it's down?

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