Cliff May

The President now opposes the release of additional prisoner abuse photos, though he could do so more effectively by issuing an executive order, as former terrorism prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has noted.

So does all this make Obama a national security centrist? Are Vice President Dick Cheney and other national security hawks wrong when they warn that Obama is putting chinks in the armor America has worn since 9/11/01? Not necessarily.

The decision to close Guantanamo Bay without a viable plan for the combatants detained there was -- it now seems obvious -- a mistake. True, Gitmo has been a public relations nightmare, conflated in much of the media with the notorious Abu Ghraib. But dangerous terrorists are housed at Guantanamo. As former Justice Department attorney David Rivkin has pointed out, it could be both risky and unlawful to place these individuals in stateside prisons alongside ordinary convicted criminals.

Also: What might have been a serious debate over interrogation techniques has been mismanaged. Instead of balancing the need for intelligence on terrorist operations with the desire to respect civil liberties even in the most extreme cases, an attempt has been made to criminalize past policy decisions and demonize those who made them. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda operatives now sleep more soundly, secure in the knowledge that should they be captured, the worst that will happen is that some CIA agent of Satan will attempt to establish a "trusting" relationship with them.

Finally, it is becoming apparent that Obama's diplomatic "surge" to stop the nuclear weapons and missile development programs of Iran and North Korea is proving unproductive. Despite that, Obama is not yet pressing Congress to give him the tools he will need to squeeze Iran's rulers by cutting off their gasoline supplies -- the most promising of possible economic sanctions.

And the Obama administration is still asking Congress to reduce spending on comprehensive missile defense -- the only non-nuclear, non-violent and entirely defensive means available to render enemy missiles harmless and worthless.

The "Global War on Terror" is what the Bush administration called the conflict to which Americans - Ted Rall and his fellow travelers excepted -- belatedly awoke on September 11, 2001. It is an imprecise phrase: Terrorism is a weapon. Terror is the anticipated response to the use of this weapon. And both words beg the key question: Who is using terrorism to instill terror - and to what ends?

But the terms used by the new administration are worse. We're fighting "overseas contingency operations" to prevent "man-created disasters"? This is the kind of slovenly language that, as George Orwell once observed, "makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

And foolish thoughts lead to foolish policies. Obama's national security experience is thin. The advice he is receiving is almost certainly conflicting. If he does what is necessary to protect American lives, he will be attacked by Ted Rall and others who think only in cartoons. But if he does not, Americans will be inadequately defended. Obama is smart enough to understand what that would mean for him and for the nation he was chosen to lead.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.