Forcing Obama's Hand on Guantanamo

The Obama team no doubt expected to slide by the entire issue with a rather disingenuous executive order and hyped public signing ceremony. The president was going to "close" Guantanamo. But like so much of his campaign-styled events, that declaration lacked specificity and, most importantly, a willingness to make hard choices. The closing doesn't occur immediately, the alternatives are subject to study, and the downsides of moving the detainees are not candidly discussed with the American people. As Rich Lowry wrote, this is becoming the formula for the Obama administration:

Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party's base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it's the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult.

Well, this leaves open the possibility, as McConnell urges, that the Obama administration will leave the worst-of-the-worst prisoners at Guantanamo. True, in this case the Obama team certainly has made it more difficult for themselves by declaring their policy of "closing" Guantanamo before Eric Holder traveled there and proclaimed it a professionally run facility. And they have a rabid left-wing base ready to pounce should the president relent and make the sane policy call -- leave the terrorists where they are, stationary bicycles and all.

Now, the Obama administration is nothing if not rhetorically clever. If they need to, they should be able to wriggle out of their self-created predicament. Rename Guantanamo or invite regular tours by Congressional oversight committees. Declare that the "new Guantanamo" is nothing like the "old Guantanamo" with enhanced transparency. Whatever. If the Obama team understands that alternatives to Guantanamo will be scrutinized and the Republicans will rally the public if the detainees are transferred either to the U.S. or to other locations less secure than Guantanamo for the sake of mollifying Obama's netroot base, perhaps the administration will think twice about actually closing Guantanamo.

So Republicans should keep on the case, forcing the administration to confront the hard facts and the reality behind their sanctimonious rhetoric. Whether by public comment or Congressional oversight, they would be wise to keep the Obama team's feet to the fire. If they do, the Obama administration may in the end wind up exactly at the position which Republicans reached long ago: there really is no good alternative to Guantanamo.