Listening to President Obama this week as he tried to defend the decisions he's made on closing Guantanamo, you have to wonder what he would do without George W. Bush to kick around. Obama has yet to offer an acceptable plan to deal with the 240 remaining detainees at Guantanamo when he closes the doors on the detention facility. His fellow Democrats have been so frustrated with his lack of clarity that many of them have now voted, along with Republicans, to deny funding for closing Guantanamo until he comes up with a real plan. But he's hoping the rest of us will forgive his lack of a workable policy and remember; it's all Bush's fault anyway.
The longer President Obama is in office, the less presidential he appears. In a speech at the National Archives on Thursday, Obama wrapped himself in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but he spent much of his time playing politics. "We are cleaning up something that is -- quite simply -- a mess," Obama whined, describing the Bush policies as a "misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis."
The underlying message of the speech was: Don't blame me; blame Bush. "I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult and complex," he said. But where's his empathy for how difficult and complex a decision his predecessor faced in opening Guantanamo in the first place?
It's instructive to remember the conditions President Bush faced when he opened the detention facility. We were a nation at war with a stateless enemy committed to acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. Three thousand Americans had already been killed on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack against Americans in history, and we weren't sure when the next attack would come.
Guantanamo received its first detainees in 2002 when the U.S. was fighting a war in Afghanistan to rid that country of the terrorists responsible for training, planning, and financing the 9/11 attacks. The legal memoranda that laid out how these men would be interrogated, held, and prosecuted were drafted in the same atmosphere. President Obama now dismissively describes this process as "ad hoc" and accuses his predecessors of having made "decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions." But what he would have done in the fog of war had history put him in the Oval Office in that fateful period?
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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