The actual results of the 2008 presidential election don’t bear it out, but, having friends and family out here, it’s easy to assume that everyone south of Los Angeles County – those in almost entirely Republican Orange County and in San Diego County with its military-based economy – voted for John McCain, on the general theory that were Barack Obama to become president we all would die.
People said that – not just the fools who decided long ago that Obama was, in spite of any facts of any kind, a Muslim, and also not just someone who once knew someone who had long ago been a sort of domestic terrorist, but was himself a terrorist, a secret member of al-Qaeda who, once elected, would reveal that and hand America to the bad guys. There was that flurry of nonsense when many decided Obama was a socialist, or even a communist, as Obama had suggested the massive tax breaks for the very rich should be just left to expire, so those who earned under a quarter-million a year might get a lower rate and might spend more and goose the economy – but that wasn’t an existential argument. No one would die, either way. But there was the fear, among those who figured out Obama was, in fact, a rather boring Christian, and that William Ayers had been a jerk in the sixties – when Obama was eight years old – and Old Bill hardly mattered now, that Obama was a mortal danger to America. They told you so.
The problem was clear. Obama said he’d stop our practice of grabbing anyone we wondered about and torturing them for information. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone south of Los Angeles who didn’t, each week, drop everything and watch Jack Bauer, on that Fox television drama, save the world by torturing the truth out of one bad guy or another. They knew – tell them it was fiction, and nonsense, and they’d say, yes, but it could be a documentary, if you think about it. Lay out all the experts, even the interrogators, saying torture just doesn’t work, and that it causes great harm of all sorts to the nation, and they’d said that’s not what they saw on television. Do you want to argue with a general at Fort Irwin who says that to you?
And then Obama said he would close Guantanamo. That would surely kill us all – these were the worst of the worst, and Obama would just let them go. Point out that there was no thought of letting them go, just sorting out the guys who were harmless jerks – or really, really unlucky – from the actual bad guys, and they’d roll their eyes at your naiveté. You’d say give the bad guys real trials, like at Nuremburg – all fair and open – and, if guilty, punish them appropriately, even execute them. They’d tell you that idea was crazy. You don’t let them talk in open court. You don’t let them say things – these guys have magical powers that beguile men’s minds, or something. And you don’t move them stateside to prisons here – they’d somehow escape, as these guys are unlike anyone else we’ve ever put in maximum security prisons – who seem to stay put – and they’d kill us all. Argue that we’ve kept some really, really bad folks in prison with no problem – like other convicted terrorists currently held in Florence, Colorado – Zacarias Moussaoui, Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheik” of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), Richard Reid (the famous “Shoe Bomber”), Jose Padilla, and so on – and you’re told these guys at Guantanamo are different, and they have to stay in Cuba, where they cannot kill us all.
There’s been a dialog about where to put the folks from Guantanamo, and about all this, over at the Atlantic. That’s been going like this:
“The options discussed so far are right next to a nuclear power plant in Southern California, right next to the facility for educational and training programs for foreign military students at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and right in the middle of northern Charleston, South Carolina, three miles or so from an airport.”
So let me get this straight: on the off chance that one of these terrorists somehow manages to escape from one of the most heavily guarded types of facilities in the country (a supermax prison), Geraghty is concerned that they then might mount an attack on one of the other most heavily guarded types of facilities? Are they going to storm a military training facility with homemade shivs? Or maybe he thinks TSA won’t notice their orange jumpsuits?
That was followed by this:
We can get them here. We can safely confine them here. We can try them here. We can find a place for the convicted and the exonerated. Logistics is not the issue and the opponents of closing Gitmo know it.
What they fear is reality. Right now we are detaining upwards of 300 people quasi-legally at best, but these people aren’t “real” to us. They are nameless and faceless for the most part, but all that will change once they enter our legal system. Some of them will be found innocent. Some will tell stories of torture and abuse.
Most of the people who went along did so thinking that these people would never, ever see the light of day to tell their story. They want the cat left tightly in the bag.
Detainees were taken to Gitmo for legal reasons – to declare detainees “enemy combatants” – not for security reasons. How many prisoners have ever escaped from a supermax prison? Yeah, that’s what I thought…
None of this makes much sense, but the fear is there. It’s become habitual.
And it continues, now that Obama has done both these things these folks feared he would do.
And the fear is being fed. Marc Thiessen, until recently George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter, offered an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post, arguing that if Barack Obama changes Bush’s national-security apparatus in any way at all, he’ll invite domestic terrorism, and Obama will shoulder the blame for many, many American deaths. The piece is titled “2,688 Days” – that’s the number of days between 9/11 and Bush’s final day in office, during which there were no terrorist attacks here. Thiessen argues that (1) since Obama is likely to deviate from Bush’s policies on Iraq and torture and wiretaps, (2) if and when we suffer a terrorist attack in the next four years, then (3) it will be Obama’s fault:
If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible – and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation. …
President Obama has inherited a set of tools that successfully protected the country for 2,688 days – and he cannot dismantle those tools without risking catastrophic consequences. On Tuesday, George W. Bush told a cheering crowd in Midland, Tex., that his administration had left office without another terrorist attack. When Barack Obama returns to Chicago at the end of his time in office, will he be able to say the same?
Jason Zengerle at the New Republic calls the piece “despicable” in its thinking:
Although conservatives like to complain about Bush Derangement Syndrome, I think it’s worth remembering that, in the aftermath of 9/11, Democrats were very supportive of Bush. There are a lot of images I recall from that time, but one that remains especially seared in my head is Tom Daschle wrapping Bush in an embrace that seemed more heart-felt and emotional than the typical politician man-hug after the president’s address to a Joint Session of Congress. America had come under attack, and Democrats weren’t just rallying behind the flag; they were rallying behind the president – even though that president was a Republican. …
You almost get the sense guys like Thiessen are hoping for an attack so that they can blame Obama when it happens. Like I said, despicable.
Steve Benen reacts here:
Most of the arguments are tiresome and familiar: except for the catastrophic events of 9/11, and the anthrax attacks, and terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, and the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s record on counter-terrorism was top notch. As Thiessen sees it, Bush handed Obama a terrific national-security dynamic, which shouldn’t be tinkered with at all.
It reads like a laundry list of discredited talking points: torture works, warrantless-wiretaps are necessary, we can’t withdraw from Iraq or al Qaeda wins, etc. It’s the kind of inane demagoguery that a sensible person would be embarrassed to be associated with.
But Benen says it’s “the shameless scare tactics” that are truly offensive. But he also notes both the New York Times and Joe Scarborough supported Thiessen’s arguments, Bush successfully saved us all from certain death, without noting that this defines success in an odd way.
But the next day, writing for the National Review, Thiessen goes further, saying Obama is the most dangerous president “ever.” There’s just no question:
Less than 48 hours after taking office, Obama has begun dismantling those institutions without time for any such review. The CIA program he is effectively shutting down is the reason why America has not been attacked again after 9/11. He has removed the tool that is singularly responsible for stopping al-Qaeda from flying planes into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, Heathrow Airport, and London’s Canary Warf [sic], and blowing up apartment buildings in Chicago, among other plots. It’s not even the end of inauguration week, and Obama is already proving to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office.
Benen points out that this is not only a rather hysterical rant, but rather silly:
For example, a CIA program was not “singularly responsible for stopping al-Qaeda from flying planes into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.” What Thiessen neglects to mention is that the Library Tower plot was an idea that “had not gone much past the conceptual stage.” Many within the intelligence community eventually concluded that the Library Tower scheme was never much more than “talk.” We literally tortured this idea out of detainees, but that doesn’t make it a thwarted terrorist plot. What’s more, the evidence to bolster Thiessen’s other examples is no more compelling. (And this puts aside the notion that we might be able to get intelligence without torturing suspects.)
And Benen points to Greg Sargent, challenging Thiessen’s “most dangerous president ever” assertion:
Obama is already “the most dangerous” President ever?
Here’s the thing about this. You have here an assertion that crosses over from mere opinion into verifiable or disprovable assertion. If you’re going to say that someone has already proven himself to be dangerous, as opposed to merely being potentially dangerous, you need to point to empirical evidence of this, such as lives lost to foreign threats on your watch. There haven’t been any such lives lost under President Obama yet, unlike other past Presidents.
But Sargent says the real damage goes beyond shameless ranting:
That aside, whatever side of the arguments on torture and Guantanamo Bay you’re on, this is the sort of toxic rhetoric that is supposed to draw condemnation from the sort of non-partisan Beltway pundits that routinely call for “civility” and bipartisan comity in our political discourse. Yet we’re not hearing much of anything about this increasingly vitriolic attack campaign from those folks at all. And I’m not expecting too, either.
Well, there’s an industry of fear and loathing. As Benen says:
And as for Thiessen, maybe he’s gunning to be a guest host for Limbaugh or Hannity, but these ridiculous pieces aren’t doing him any favors.
Maybe they are. His career could be made at Fox News now. You just need to get the word out.
Over at the Atlantic, Patrick Appel, gets a note from a reader:
I heard Marc Thiessen on BBC radio last night, angrily denouncing Obama’s actions to the world. What struck me most was his dishonesty. He boldly asserted that waterboarding had saved lives because regular interrogation techniques weren’t working to uncover active plots. And he insisted that we need to be able to use waterboarding when all else fails. But he wouldn’t call it torture.
His argument was a utilitarian defense of torture, boldly – even proudly – made. It’s a fair argument (with which I disagree), but his refusal to call torture torture undermines everything he says. It shows how little the Bushies contemplated… well, anything. As far as they’re concerned, they acted and because they acted, their actions were right. Everyone else is wrong.
I suppose a principled defense of torture is possible, but Thiessen isn’t interested. He’s just angry.
That sells. And see Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog, with a note on Thiessen’s employment history:
So who is this Thiessen?
In the Post, he’s identified as someone “who served in senior positions at the White House and the Pentagon from 2001 to 2009, [and] was most recently chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.” At NR, we’re told that “Marc Thiessen was chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.”
But prior to the Bush years, Thiessen had a different job, which might help explain the tone of his rhetoric: Foreign Relations Committee spokesman for Senator Jesse Helms from 1995 to 2001.
Those were fun times. Among other things, on behalf of Ol’ Jess, Thiessen snapped at William Weld (“It’s another example of William Weld speaking before he thinks”) when Weld complained about Helms bottling up his nomination to be ambassador to Mexico; declared the International Criminal Court “the the most dangerous threat to sovereignty since the League of Nations”; and, bizarrely, defended Helms’s call for a Justice Department investigation of the Baltimore Orioles because the team maintained a policy of not signing Cuban defectors (“Unfortunately, for [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, being friends in this country with Fidel Castro doesn’t put you above the law”).
So if there’s an unneutered-pitbull quality to Thiessen’s rhetoric, well, he apprenticed with a master.
And the man wants a career in the fear and loathing industry. See this video clip – The Daily Show: Fox News Fears Imbalance. They really do say we’re all going to die. There’s a market for that out here in Southern California.