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Thoughts on Obama

2:11 PM, May 21, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Four random thoughts about Barack Obama's speech today.

*Obama repeatedly complained about "fear-mongering" and a "climate of fear" and unnamed people making unspecified arguments designed to arouse the irrational fears of the American public. The White House doesn't get it. Terrorism is scary. There is no need to create such a climate - it already exists, even if people don't spend every day thinking about these threats. And this climate exists not because of anything Dick Cheney has said but because al Qaeda killed 3,000 people on 9/11 and its terrorists are committed to doing more.

*Obama's speech seemed to blame the Bush administration and aggressive lawyering and Guantanamo and enhanced interrogation for, well, everything. "Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are; if we forge tough and durable approaches to fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals."

But terrorists swelled their ranks during the Clinton years, sending some 20,000 terrorists through al Qaeda training camps alone. This happened at a time when Obama presumably believes we were being true to who we are and before the dark days of the Bush administration alienated America from its allies. This is true of much of Obama's rhetoric on terrorism. It's as if he thinks anti-American terrorism started with the Bush administration and if we are only more mindful of "American values" these terrorists will leave us alone.

*Obama lamented the "return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years." One might argue that Obama has politicized these issues as much as anyone in American public life over the past several years. He campaigned against Bush administration policies that, in several cases, he now embraces. And last month he declassified and released Bush-era memos on enhanced interrogation while refusing to declassify and release Bush-era CIA documents that include the results of those interrogations. That, it seems to me, is a classic example of politicizing intelligence or national security or "these issues."

*Obama courageously challenged those believe in the "anything goes" philosophy of fighting terrorists. Only he never actually named any of its adherents. He couldn't of course, because no serious participant in these debates advocates such an approach.

This is Obama at his laziest and most intellectually dishonest - constructing and knocking down straw-man arguments so absurd that they don't even serve the purpose of straw men in the first place. In this case, one of the most important revelations of the OLC memos was that the most aggressive, forward-leaning policymakers were unwilling to sanction an "anything goes" approach to interrogation. Even those who disagree with the legal reasoning in those memos or disagree with the use of waterboarding have to concede that an "anything goes" approach would include tactics and techniques that make US-style "enhanced interrogations" seem positively quaint.