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Obama's Speech Exposed Shallow Rhetoric

By Byron York, DC Examiner - May 23, 2009

On Nov. 14, 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama met with employees of Google at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. After a discussion of the war in Iraq, he was asked to give his views on Iran, Pakistan and the U.S. terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama spoke at length about Iran. He spoke at length about Pakistan. And then he said, “Last point, Guantanamo. That’s easy. Close down Guantanamo.” The audience broke into applause.

A few days earlier, at the 2007 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, Obama said, “As president, I will end the war in Iraq. We will have our troops home in 16 months. I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus...” That wasn’t the first, or the last time he said that; Obama went down his national security laundry list hundreds of times during the campaign, rarely, if ever, giving Guantanamo more than a few words.

Indeed, looking over statements from Obama’s presidential campaign, what’s striking is the shallowness of his position on Guantanamo. But he said what he needed to say, first to win the Democratic nomination and then to win the White House.

Now, things have changed. Obama has issued an executive order that Guantanamo will be shut down no later than Jan 22, 2010. He has tried to charm and persuade our allies to accept some prisoners—and has gotten virtually nowhere. He still hasn’t settled on which procedures will be used to dispose of the cases involving the most hardened al Qaeda detainees. And now, the Senate has voted—by a 90-to-6 margin—to deny Obama the $80 million he sought to pay for closing down Guantanamo.

The easy campaign rhetoric no longer works. The Senate vote was a sign in a big, flashing letters: It’s time for a concrete plan. So on Thursday, Obama traveled to the National Archives to deliver a much-hyped speech on his intentions. And after a lot of speechifying—there’s still no concrete plan.

Holding terrorists at Guantanamo “set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world,” Obama said. “The existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” At the Archives, Obama gave a longer-winded and higher-minded version of his campaign speech. But he didn’t say what he is going to do with the terrorists at Guantanamo.

Suppose you were one of the 50 Democratic senators who voted to deny funds for closing Gitmo. You’re not against closing the prison, but you just couldn’t vote to approve the money before you saw Obama’s plan. Did you hear anything in the National Archives speech that would cause you to change your position?

You don’t have to answer. Shortly after Obama’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked that very question. His answer was no. “We’re all awaiting the details of the plan, and the president is going to come up with one,” Reid said. Just not yet.

It’s often said that Obama is learning what it means to be commander in chief, now that he bears the burden of the nation’s security. Governing, it is said, is different from campaigning. But do you really believe Obama didn’t know what was involved in closing Guantanamo back when he was giving all those campaign speeches? It is simply not credible to argue that Obama, during the campaign, didn’t know that our foreign allies would not take Gitmo prisoners, didn’t know that transferring them to our domestic prisons would involve significant risks and didn’t know that American communities would not welcome terrorists as neighbors.

But he glossed over it all. Now, he’s in office and he’s running out of time. The Senate’s ban on funding will remain in effect until Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. That means Obama can’t do anything before Oct. 1 and will have very little time to shut down Guantanamo before his self-imposed deadline of Jan. 22, 2010.

In 2007, Obama said, “That’s easy. Close down Guantanamo.” On Thursday, he said, “Let me be blunt: There are no neat or easy answers here.”

That’s progress. Now all the president has to do is come up with a plan.

Obama spoke at length about Iran. He spoke at length about Pakistan. And then he said, “Last point, Guantanamo. That’s easy. Close down Guantanamo.” The audience broke into applause.

A few days earlier, at the 2007 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, Obama said, “As president, I will end the war in Iraq. We will have our troops home in 16 months. I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus...” That wasn’t the first, or the last time he said that; Obama went down his national security laundry list hundreds of times during the campaign, rarely, if ever, giving Guantanamo more than a few words.

Indeed, looking over statements from Obama’s presidential campaign, what’s striking is the shallowness of his position on Guantanamo. But he said what he needed to say, first to win the Democratic nomination and then to win the White House.

Now, things have changed. Obama has issued an executive order that Guantanamo will be shut down no later than Jan 22, 2010. He has tried to charm and persuade our allies to accept some prisoners—and has gotten virtually nowhere. He still hasn’t settled on which procedures will be used to dispose of the cases involving the most hardened al Qaeda detainees. And now, the Senate has voted—by a 90-to-6 margin—to deny Obama the $80 million he sought to pay for closing down Guantanamo.

The easy campaign rhetoric no longer works. The Senate vote was a sign in a big, flashing letters: It’s time for a concrete plan. So on Thursday, Obama traveled to the National Archives to deliver a much-hyped speech on his intentions. And after a lot of speechifying—there’s still no concrete plan.

Holding terrorists at Guantanamo “set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world,” Obama said. “The existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” At the Archives, Obama gave a longer-winded and higher-minded version of his campaign speech. But he didn’t say what he is going to do with the terrorists at Guantanamo.

Suppose you were one of the 50 Democratic senators who voted to deny funds for closing Gitmo. You’re not against closing the prison, but you just couldn’t vote to approve the money before you saw Obama’s plan. Did you hear anything in the National Archives speech that would cause you to change your position?

You don’t have to answer. Shortly after Obama’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked that very question. His answer was no. “We’re all awaiting the details of the plan, and the president is going to come up with one,” Reid said. Just not yet.

It’s often said that Obama is learning what it means to be commander in chief, now that he bears the burden of the nation’s security. Governing, it is said, is different from campaigning. But do you really believe Obama didn’t know what was involved in closing Guantanamo back when he was giving all those campaign speeches? It is simply not credible to argue that Obama, during the campaign, didn’t know that our foreign allies would not take Gitmo prisoners, didn’t know that transferring them to our domestic prisons would involve significant risks and didn’t know that American communities would not welcome terrorists as neighbors.

But he glossed over it all. Now, he’s in office and he’s running out of time. The Senate’s ban on funding will remain in effect until Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. That means Obama can’t do anything before Oct. 1 and will have very little time to shut down Guantanamo before his self-imposed deadline of Jan. 22, 2010.

In 2007, Obama said, “That’s easy. Close down Guantanamo.” On Thursday, he said, “Let me be blunt: There are no neat or easy answers here.”

That’s progress. Now all the president has to do is come up with a plan.

Obama spoke at length about Iran. He spoke at length about Pakistan. And then he said, “Last point, Guantanamo. That’s easy. Close down Guantanamo.” The audience broke into applause.

A few days earlier, at the 2007 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, Obama said, “As president, I will end the war in Iraq. We will have our troops home in 16 months. I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus...” That wasn’t the first, or the last time he said that; Obama went down his national security laundry list hundreds of times during the campaign, rarely, if ever, giving Guantanamo more than a few words.

Indeed, looking over statements from Obama’s presidential campaign, what’s striking is the shallowness of his position on Guantanamo. But he said what he needed to say, first to win the Democratic nomination and then to win the White House.

Now, things have changed. Obama has issued an executive order that Guantanamo will be shut down no later than Jan 22, 2010. He has tried to charm and persuade our allies to accept some prisoners—and has gotten virtually nowhere. He still hasn’t settled on which procedures will be used to dispose of the cases involving the most hardened al Qaeda detainees. And now, the Senate has voted—by a 90-to-6 margin—to deny Obama the $80 million he sought to pay for closing down Guantanamo.

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