Jewish World Review May 30, 2013/ 21 Sivan 5773
What was that he said?
By Paul Greenberg
Just what is the country supposed to make of our president's rambling stream-of-consciousness billed as a Major Policy Address at the
To try to summarize:
The war on terror, a term this president avoids, is now winding down even if it keeps showing up -- on the sidewalks of
At such moments it occurs how simple it would have been to end the Cold War (which had its hot moments) if only some president had declared it over long before its source imploded with the collapse of the Evil Empire. Unfortunately, reality kept intervening. For decades. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the big problem with declaring a unilateral peace is that it may be observed only unilaterally.
Nevertheless, this president is going to further limit the grounds for those drone attacks abroad -- they've been so effective the military and CIA are running out of targets anyway -- in order to limit what's come to be called "collateral damage," which is still the euphemism du jour for the horrors inflicted on innocent civilians in any war.
The president made it clear that he is shocked, shocked! to discover that war, even one he declares a just war, is unjust to the innocents caught up in it. So he's going to restrict these drone attacks to only those that can be conducted with near certainty, virtual certainty, or almost certainty that no innocents will be offed, too. Neat. A lot neater than reality.
What are the requirements for ordering a drone attack now -- being only kind of certain nothing will go wrong? Unfortunately, kind-of-certain or even almost-certain is not certain, any more than being virtually certain is a sound basis for decisions in war or even, as any cub reporter soon discovers, in journalism.
The president is also going to call off his war on
And the president is still going to close the military prison at Guantanamo. Where's he going to move the prisoners now being held there? To borrow an old lyric from Cab Calloway back in the midst of another war, he don't know where and he don't know when.
Is he just going to build an exact duplicate of Gitmo on the American mainland and, like the war on terror, say the problem is winding down? Just release all these illegal combatants and wait for them to attack again? Revive the practice of sending these clear and present dangers to their host countries, where they can be tortured without raising messy legal questions? Naturally, this practice has a nice euphemism, too: rendition.
Or should we transfer these hardest cases to the mainland but, rather than entrust them to a criminal justice system that might release them, hold them in Preventive Detention indefinitely, whatever the Constitution and the Bill of Rights might have to say about that? Happily, there is a whole body of law that deals specifically with the topic of unlawful combatants in wartime: military law. Presidents since
The president's answer to all those questions? He's going to leave such matters to
To quote the same response the president made to a heckler at this empty performance of his at the
Of all the president's glib generalities in a speech that seemed to consist of nothing but, my favorite in a crowded field was this: "This war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises." There's no arguing with that. Indeed, the president would have been on equally firm ground if he had noted that "this peace, like any peace, must end." For that's what history advises, too. Certainly the history of the last century does.
Few other statesmen can rival our president for making a banality sound like a discovery.
So just what is the country supposed to make of all this? My best guess: not much. The president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of
Call it a Socratic dialogue -- and it would be if
There is one thing clear from the president's speech: He doesn't want to be a wartime president. He'd much rather be able to concentrate on domestic affairs. Which is understandable.
Wise as his words were, the second President Adams did not say what course Americans should adopt when the monsters come in search of us. As on
Will he, or we, ever learn?
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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