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Dead Certain

10:02 PM, Apr 29, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Tonight President Obama said he was "absolutely convinced" that he had made the right decision in putting an end to the use of the harsh interrogation techniques employed by the Bush administration. After eight years of President Bush, it certainly is refreshing to have a leader who doesn't let himself become entangled by complexity and nuance but instead has absolute certainty in the righteousness of his own decisions. Obama said that "we could have gotten this information in other ways -- in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are." Maybe, but we'll never know. And if there is another attack on this country, we'll never know whether a more aggressive interrogation approach might have averted it.

Obama's supple mind is still capable of nuance and complexity though, as evidenced by his answer to a question about abortion. Obama said abortion is "a moral issue and an ethical issue" and that women "struggle with these decisions each and every day." Our president is clearly troubled by abortion, but not so troubled he would outlaw the practice. Instead the president wants "to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies."

There's a striking contrast between these two answers. Perhaps Obama ought to try and think of waterboarding like he thinks of abortion -- as something that ought to be kept safe, legal, and rare. A last resort when all else fails. Unfortunately, he's now painted himself into a corner on the issue. Polling seems to indicate that the American public believes waterboarding is torture and also that it was justifiable. The president doesn't have the luxury of holding such a contradictory position.

One thing that is certain: Obama's answers weren't nearly as weak as the questions that prompted them. Jeff Zeleny embarrassed himself and his paper when he asked Obama what was the most "enchanted" moment of his first 100 days. I was unable to see whether the question was read out of a My Little Unicorn notepad. Readers of the New York Times may wonder why the Obama administration approved a dramatic reenactment of the 9/11 attacks using real fighter planes and a lifesize 747. They won't find the answer in tomorrow's paper, though they'll be delighted to learn that "the ship of state is an ocean liner; it's not a speed boat."

In other words, Obama wants credit for closing Gitmo even though there's only one less prisoner there than when he was inaugurated and his administration has no good answer for what to do with the rest. Obama wants credit for his handling of the economy even though the economy contracted at a worse than expected 6.1% in the first quarter of this year. Obama wants credit for rejecting the false choice between our security and our ideals even though you only get credit for that if your policies keep the American people safe.

Update: Full transcript here.