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Jewish World Review
March 11, 2011
/ 5 Adar II, 5771
Reality Begins to Dawn, Or: George W. Obama
When it comes to fighting the War on Terror, even though this administration doesn't call it that any more, you may have to shake yourself to remember that George W. Bush is no longer in the White House. Since his policies in that ongoing global conflict are being adopted, one after the other, by his successor.
In the latest example, the current occupant of the Oval Office has announced that the military prison at Guantanamo Bay won't be shut down after all, at least not any time soon, despite his repeated vows to do just that.
Barack Obama's learning curve in these matters has been remarkably gradual for so quick a study, but he's getting there. After all, nobody serious ever thought the country was getting an experienced leader when this relatively young man was elected president. Indeed, his youthful energy and fresh approach was one of his great attractions.
This president remains a community organizer rather than a leader, but the ruthlessness of our foe has matured his judgment in important respects. This decision to keep Gitmo open for business, including military trials, is an encouraging sign of his progress.
Some of the most dangerous terrorists in American custody are now to be tried at Gitmo by military courts after all -- even though Barack Obama used to insist, in the strongest terms, that civil trials would be used instead. But he's changed his mind. Maybe because he's come to realize there is no realistic alternative to following military law in the case of these military prisoners.
Much like the Cold War, this protracted conflict is going to be a long, shifting struggle with many twists and turns, and it's assuring to know the president -- and commander-in-chief -- can shift with them.
Naturally enough, Barack Obama is not about to admit he's following his predecessor's policies. Our politician-in-chief cloaks his change of course with some fancy verbiage (his specialty) about how his latest change of course will "broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees." All of which military law can do, and would have done a lot faster if this president and his attorney general hadn't tried to apply civil law to a military problem. Maybe now justice can be done as it should have been done years ago.
And in Afghanistan, too, the president and commander-in-chief is rethinking his hasty talk about early withdrawal in favor of more realistic policies. His (and his vice-president's) promise to withdraw combat troops from that country by the end of 2014 still holds but not really. Mr. Obama's -- and George W. Bush's -- secretary of defense, Robert Gates, now says Washington is interested in maintaining troops in that war-torn country beyond the deadline this administration (unwisely) set for withdrawal.
It seems to have dawned on the White House that those troops will be needed if the gains made against al-Qaida and its Taliban allies are not to be lost. Also, setting a firm date for our troops' departure only tells the enemy when it won't have to worry about the Americans any more.
Naturally, the combat troops that won't be withdrawn aren't being called combat troops. Few things are called what they are by this administration's experts at doublespeak. These troops may not even be called troops but civilian contractors. Their orders may flow not through the Pentagon but via the American embassy in Kabul, which by now must be the largest embassy in the known universe. (At last count it had a staff of more than a thousand and was steadily adding more.)
Nobody's going to be fooled by this sleight of nomenclature: Combat troops remain combat troops no matter what they're called, how much more they're paid than regular grunts, or what chain of command they're technically part of. Well, nobody except those who still take this president's word games seriously.
But let us now praise Barack Obama: Both these course corrections on his part are welcome. If this long, long war against terror is going to be won, it may take many more changes of course. These latest represent a welcome recognition of reality on the administration's part. Even if our president won't admit it.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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