Having watched President Obama’s weird 100th-day-in-office press conference celebration, it is becoming increasingly self-evident that this young man is in over his head. Mr. Obama began his speech by reminding Americans to “cover your mouth when you cough” and “keep your hands washed” — silly recommendations more apt from the mother on Lassie than the commander-in-chief. Then he was asked about torture and things got interesting.
The question came from Mark Knoller of CBS and the transcript goes as follows:
Knoller: Thank you, sir. … Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others saying that the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” not only protected the nation but saved lives?
And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?
Obama: I have read the documents. Now they have not been officially declassified and released. And so I don’t want to go to the details of them. But here’s what I can tell you: that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques, doesn’t answer the core question.
Which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn’t answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?
So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team, and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged as commander-in-chief on how safe I’m keeping the American people.
That’s the responsibility I wake up with and it’s the responsibility I go to sleep with. And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe. But I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking short cuts that undermine who we are.
And there have been no circumstances during the course of this first 100 days in which I have seen information that would make me second guess the decision that I have made.
There are a few things worth noting here. First, the only reason these documents have not been “declassified and released” is that President Obama refuses to declassify and release them. Obama released the memos that described the methods used, but blacked out the pages that describe their effectiveness. Who’s politicizing intelligence now?
Second, Obama does not “want to go to the details of them” because they would likely prove precisely what Dick Cheney is saying they would prove: that these methods saved American skyscrapers and American lives.
Third, when Obama says these memos do not answer “the core question” of whether or not “we got information from these individuals” and then contends the core questions are whether or not we “could … have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques” and whether or not “[we are] safer as a consequence,” he is wrong on three counts: 1) the core question is what information we received from these individuals and it is frightening that he doesn’t realize this; 2) the memos explain in great detail that waterboarding was done to three people as a last resort; and 3) the answer to the true “core question” — what did we learn and what did we thwart? — already answers Obama’s “broader question” of whether or not these methods made us safer. This is the height of disingenuousness.
This display of carelessness from President Obama transcends all arguments regarding the legality and morality of these methods. Yes, there is certainly a place to discuss the legal, moral, political, and cultural ramifications of becoming a society that tolerates or promotes “harsh interrogation,” but we cannot get there if the president of the United States stonewalls all discussion over the efficacy of these methods by first refusing to release the memos describing said efficacy and then saying, with a straight face, that he would do “whatever is required” to protect this country — when he just explained in great detail how he would not!
Let’s play devil’s advocate and grant Obama all of his pretenses and premises: waterboarding is torture and the United States should never torture. Fine. But Obama still does not seem to understand the point of the American presidency. It is not to go abroad and apologize for our 150-year-old sins. It is not to ingratiate yourself to tyrants. It is not to run private industry. It is not to be on our television screens every waking hour. It is not to pose shirtless for magazines. It is not to dance with Ellen DeGeneres. It is not to serve one man’s narcissism. It is not to remind us to wash our hands before supper.
It is to protect the populace and pose as a vanguard for the citizenry, during the four or eight years that the office is temporarily in your hands. To do whatever it takes — even if it means Obama himself risks violating his own conscience and subjects himself to the possible whims of a foreign war crimes court. His solemn responsibility and obligation is to sacrifice his reputation, his career, his job, his political ambitions, his values, his preferences, his inclinations — even his life — to protect the American people. That is what we trusted him to do. That is what we elected him to do.
That is not what he is prepared to do.
One must wonder: how far would Mr. Obama go to save Sasha and Malia? What if, by some devastating travesty, President Obama’s daughters were to fall captive to al-Qaeda neck-slicers and an operative already in our custody knew the precise location of the two little girls? How far would Barack Obama — the man himself, as a terrified father — go to extract information from the detainee before him? Would he play loud music in his cell? Would he put him into an uncomfortable yoga position for a few hours? Would he pour water down his nose? And more importantly, wouldn’t he want to know the content of the memos that described which methods effectively worked against this particular detainee?
For if President Obama applies a different moral code to saving the lives of his loved ones than he does to protecting the country, he is undermining both the rationale for which the executive branch exists as well as his own intellectual honesty.
People of all political persuasions should be able to agree on three irrefutable geopolitical realities: 1) there are tens of thousands of people across this world who consider it a theological duty to destroy American cities; 2) these people are not going away soon and cannot be deterred, dissuaded, or bought off; 3) one way or another, these people will soon have the means to achieve their ends — probably within the decade, certainly within our lifetimes. This isn’t merely a possibility. It’s a probability. The only thing stopping this outcome is extracting information and quickly responding to actionable intelligence.
Let’s get serious, please. We cannot have a sincere discussion about what we should and should not be doing until we can weigh the pros and cons of a particular technique’s effectiveness. President Obama should allow the public to see what methods worked and then look into the camera and promise never to replicate those methods under any circumstances.
Only then will Obama’s pledge of being “judged as commander-in-chief on how safe [he is] keeping the American people” consist of political courage and backbone.