GOP vs. Obama: The Gloves Come Off
Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, held a press conference call with a small group of bloggers. If he is representative of the GOP caucus, it appears that the Republicans are in fighting form -- ready to take on the president on his approach (or lack thereof) to the war on terror and on key portions of his domestic agenda.
The topic of the day was the release of the interrogation memos and the president's vacillating position on a so-called truth commission to investigate potential illegal conduct by Bush administration officials in the war on terror.
Bond declared that after last week the administration is "in disarray" and accused the Obama team of making decisions "on the basis of politics and not national security." But he emphasized that a series of discrete actions by the president (e.g., announcing the closure of Guantanamo, releasing the CIA memos, deciding to release photos of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan) should not be looked at in isolation. Rather, he said, Americans should be asking how these are making us safer. He asked, "What is this administration's strategy?"
In response to questions on the impact of the memos release on the CIA, he said, "The president sent the message to CIA: it's time to CYA." And he queried whether the president "has their back or will stab them in the back." He asserted that detainees now know that they can be expected to endure no harsher questioning than a new Army or SEAL recruit.
I asked what he could tell us about congressional oversight and awareness of the interrogation program. He was emphatic that the "Gang of Four," which included Nancy Pelosi, "was briefed by the CIA." He contends that they "understood what the CIA was doing and gave bipartisan support and funding." He noted that the activities were fully funded in 2006, although Congress did make a request for more information. He pointed out that if Pelosi found the program objectionable, "there was plenty she could have done," including cutting CIA funding, demanding a closed session of Congress, writing a letter, or meeting with other members. "She didn't do anything," he explained.
Later I inquired about the plan to potentially release Guantanamo prisoners into the U.S. He was quick to reply that "Missourians would not stand for terrorists released [into the U.S.]," nor would people from other states. He again asked what the Obama administration's plan to "make us safer" could be if the president was contemplating the release of dangerous detainees. He reiterated that at least 18 and perhaps as many as 43 "Guantanamo graduates" had returned to the battlefield.
Pressed again to explain the administration's approach, he said, "Looking backwards is the wrong direction." And as for Congress' motivations he declared, "A lot of people are still suffering from Bush derangement syndrome."
Bond disclosed that he has had conversations with Obama administration officials including Attorney General Holder and Director of National Intelligence Admiral Blair, expressing his dismay about releasing the memos. But aside from speaking out privately and publicly, he suggested there was little the Republicans in the minority could do to slow down or alter the Democrats' plan to investigate the prior administration.
He did, however, have some choice words for his colleague Sen. Carl Levin, who on the Sunday talk show circuit once again suggested a connection between the enhanced interrogation techniques and the abuse at Abu Ghraib. He was blunt: "That is the big lie that is being perpetrated." He explained that the CIA memos, until recently of course, were classified and the extent of the CIA program would not have even been known to military personnel operating in Iraq.
Moving on to the domestic agenda, Bond also had some choice words for cap-and-trade. He declared that it would "cripple jobs in the Midwest and south." And he brushed off the notion that that "green jobs" were a panacea for our current or future economic needs, pointing out that they must be "heavily subsidized." Nor did he seem much impressed with former Vice President Al Gore's testimony last week. "I was sorting my sock drawer, " he cracked, when asked what his reaction was to Gore's comments.
If Bond is any indication, it seems that the recent controversy over the CIA memos has incinerated what remaining goodwill might have existed for a bipartisan approach on the war on terror and perhaps the rest of the Obama agenda. To say that the gloves are coming off in their political battle with the president would be to understate the palpable disappointment and even anger which has been triggered by the Democrats' decision to carry out what Republicans see as a purely politically motivated vendetta against the Bush administration, instigated at the behest of the netroot elements in the Democratic Party.
Indeed, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed some of Bond's words on the Senate floor today:
Weakening our tools of intelligence through an investigation of the intelligence community and other key decision makers would, by definition, make that pledge impossible to fulfill. It would also serve to divide us, I fear, at a time when we must continue to present a united and determined front to our enemies. ... In my view, the commander in chief has an obligation to unify the country while we are at war and at risk. Looked at in this context, attacking each other on these issues is not only counterproductive, it's dangerous.
Regardless of their motivations, the Democrats' decision to raise the specter of criminal prosecution of the previous administration and the president's willingness to release memos and photos that may hand our enemies a propaganda victory have now earned the enmity of their Republican colleagues. The stage is set for what is sure to be a blistering fight over the past and future conduct of the war on terror.
And if Bond and McConnell have their way, the focus will be on the Obama team and a simple question: What does all this have to do with keeping Americans safe? If the Obama team cannot respond adequately (or if the unimaginable happens and Americans are once again attacked), they can expect little support from the Republicans in Congress.
So much, then, for an era of post-partisanship.