Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 8, 2006
WAR/POLITICS: Questioning the Questioners, Part I
Jeff Goldstein discusses why it's a good thing that President Bush's Tuesday speech laying out the Administration's past successes in interrogating Al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody and proposing a new strategy for dealing with detainees in light of the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision represents a political strategy to put Democrats on the defensive and force them to take responsibility for either agreeing with the new policy or advocating a less aggressive approach to collecting intelligence from detainees. (Via Instapundit). (Ironically, of course, getting less information from detainees would only make us more reliant on our other best source of information, that being electronic surveillance). Goldstein focuses on the hypocrisy of critics like Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald (and they're not the only ones) who have been beating Bush over the head with the detainee issue for at least two and a half years now and have suddenly decided that it's not fair play for Bush to make a political issue of the standards for holding, questioning and trying detainees. Of course, Bush would have been perfectly happy to stick with the prior detainee-interrogation standards and keep them from the public eye, so it's absurd in the extreme to suggest that he chose to politicize this issue; all he's doing is taking an issue that's been used against him and making the best of it.
In fact, Bush is trying to replicate two of his signal accomplishments from four years ago. First, he's replicating his strategy in dealing with the Department of Homeland Security. You will recall that Bush initially opposed the creation of a massive, labrynthian new bureaucracy as part of the response to September 11. The Democrats thought they had the perfect strategy: advocating the new bureaucracy could, in one fell swoop, (1) put them to Bush's right, (2) without having to support more aggressive policies or give more power to their old foes the Defense Department, NSA and CIA, and potentially set up a countervailing power base to those agencies and (3) create lots of new job opportunities for their core constituency (government employees). But when Bush realized that opposing the new leviathan was politically untenable, he instead made demands (removing civil-service protections from DHS employees, a position anathema to the Democrats' union backers) that placed him once again on the side of greater emphasis on security, and in a way the Democrats couldn't support. The issue ended up helping sink a number of Democratic incumbents who put the interests of the unions first, most notably Max Cleland in Georgia. In short, Bush took up a battle he never wanted and found a way to turn it to his advantage.
Second, Bush is doing here what he did with the Iraq War vote in the fall of 2002: more than using national security for political purposes, Bush used partisan politics for national security purposes, counting on the fact that Democrats' principles were sufficiently pliable that they would vote for the war out of fear of being held accountable by the electorate for opposing it. And it's the Democrats whose partisan calculations are exposed by this maneuver, as Goldstein notes:
Sullivan characterizes this as a gambit to "legalize torture" and despairs that those who secretly wish they could vote against such legalization won't be able to now, because politically they would see doing so as a liability.