Refusing To Get What You See

[A. Serwer]

National Review Writer Victor Davis Hanson is scratching his scalp raw trying to figure out the motivation behind Obama's national security strategies:

a) Obama really does (privately) believe that radical Islamists
wish to kill us, and apparently has decided the only effective means of
combating them is to copy the Bush strategy but drop the "smoke 'em
out" rhetoric and substitute hope-and-change therapeutic banalities as
we blow up suspected killers. The more conservatives rail about the KSM
trial, the more Obama gains trust with the Left, and the more he can
keep quietly killing suspected terrorists in Waziristan. (Dead men need
no Miranda rights.)

b) So at home, Obama's calculation is even
more cynical: He assumes that left-wing hatred of Bush's war on terror
was never principled, but was always about partisan politics, and that
left-wingers were far "angrier" about Bush's waterboarding of three
admitted terrorists than they ever will be about Obama's assassinating
suspected terrorists along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

c)Conservatives are then supposedly put in a bind: They may be angry that
Obama demagogued the issue for two years as a candidate, and they may
be upset that he so brazenly reversed course and emulated what he had
demonized, and they may be mad about the hypocrisy of the hard Left --
but they are also relieved that Obama is fighting terror and killing
terrorists, and might even be impressed that he is doing so as a Nobel
Peace laureate immune from the criticism that nearly destroyed Bush,
and as someone who quietly executes suspected terrorists by remote control but worries publicly about confessed detainees in Bush's gulag.

I think that sums up the present Obama policy, which is far more
cynical than confusing. I have no idea whether it is sustainable.

Look, only in the la-la land of National Review can you find someone so many galaxies away from planet Earth that they think a president who spent the entirety of his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech justifying the escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan as a necessary fight against those who "have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam" is someone who "privately" believes there are terrorists who "want to kill us."

Hanson wrote an entire book premised on a vision of Obama that he scraped from the right-wing cliche-encrusted pipes of his own imagination, that Obama has "imprinted his domestic ideology of victimhood onto a therapeutic, Carter-inspired foreign policy," and not anything Obama actually said or did. Now he's at a complete loss trying to reconcile the closely held caricature of Obama with who he actually is.

There's something of this on the left as well as on the right, a weird inability to view the president as anything other than a vessel for your own political beliefs, whether good or bad. My instinct tells me that this inability to see Obama beyond the set of assumptions projected upon him has something to do with race, but maybe that's only because these kinds of identity issues are the only other context in which I see people being so resistant to basic, easily identifiable facts.

As always, that has more to do with who we think we are than who other people happen to be--to understand what is actually happening, Hanson would have to do more than change an opinion, he'd have to surrender an entire worldview. I would only add that not all criticisms of Obama fit into this category--as Hanson gleefully notes, Obama has broken every promise to civil libertarians he ever made as a candidate.

A final point: Guantanamo is not full of "confessed detainees" whatever that means. (Are you a detainee? Aha! So you CONFESS!) But if it means that Gitmo is "full" of actual terrorists that's simply untrue. The vast majority of the more than 800 people who have been held at Gitmo have been released without charge, and even if you take the government's claim that  20% of releases have engaged in terrorist activities since being let go at face value (I don't) then Gitmo has still mostly imprisoned people who haven't been convicted of anything. Even now, the largest group of detainees currently at Guantanamo are those the Obama administration intends to release without charge.

Which is what makes the administration's announced policy--to continue to hold people based on mere suspicion of a crime, or worse--an arbitrary assumption of "dangerousness," so disgraceful. Obama's approach to national security certainly seems to be working--but that does not by definition excuse whatever path he chooses to take, any more than it did when Bush was in office.