OBAMA’s 100 DAYS OF ENCHANTMENT press conference WILL BE REMEMBERED for one’s reporters fawning question: What has “Enchanted you the most from [sic.] serving in this office?” Jeff Zeleny, who writes for the – wait for it – New York Times, buried hard news by becoming part of the story. However, the ho-hum presser featured important revelations on three foreign policy issues: “torture,” Iraq, and releasing state secrets. Obama’s comments on abortion and illegal immigration should have raised eyebrows, as should a series of statements that would have gotten Dan Quayle or George W. Bush crucified.
The Real Churchill Record
To defend his banning CIA interrogators from using harsh interrogation techniques against al-Qaeda operatives, Obama claimed:
I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, ‘We don't torture,’ when the entire British – all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
This tidbit was presumably gleaned from Niall Ferguson’s 2006 piece “Why Churchill Opposed Torture” in the Los Angeles Times, or Andrew Sullivan’s recent blog on a topic he’s exploited for months. However, as Charles Johnson has long since pointed out, it’s absolutely false. At the outset of World War II, the Chamberlain government passed Defence Regulation 18B, which allowed for the internment of anyone dubbed to be of “hostile origin or associations.” Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert records how within a year Churchill detained “tens of thousands” of “enemy aliens,” and some “were German anti-Nazi refugees…including many German and Austrian Jews.” These detainees could be held indefinitely, without benefit of habeas corpus, and the ranks soon expanded to include native Britons of suspect political views. Shortly, Sir (yes, Sir!) Oswald Mosley would be carted off, along with most of the membership of the British Union of Fascists.
Nor did Churchill hold all uniformed German soldiers in placid dignity. Many were taken to a prison known as the “London Cage,” a long-kept wartime secret, which operated from July 1940 to September 1948. Its commander, Lt. Col. Alexander P. Scotland, remarked how he would tell himself each day upon entering, “‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here.’ For if any German had any information we wanted, it was invariably extracted from him in the long run.” The (UK) Guardian reported the Cage’s “prisoners had been forced to kneel while being beaten about the head; forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours; threatened with execution; or threatened with ‘an unnecessary operation.’” (You can read more on the London Cage here.)
Not only did Conservative icon Winston Churchill support the measure, there is every reason to believe his socialist successor, Clement Atlee, approved of Regulation 18B (which he helped implement) and presided over even worse tortures of Germans.
Needless to say, Ferguson’s conclusions are as wrong as his “facts.” Niall wrote, “Few, if any, American soldiers currently find themselves in enemy hands. But in the long war on which Bush has embarked, that may not always be the case. The bottom line about mistreating captive foes is simple: It is that what goes around comes around.” Yet even when he wrote this article, there had been two conspicuous examples of Americans “in enemy hands”: the four American contractors in Fallujah, whom they tortured, killed, charred, and then put on display; and Nicholas Berg, whom they beheaded, specifically in retaliation for the photos of Abu Ghraib.
Torture, Iraq, and State Secrets
…On which theme, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked Obama the most penetrating question of the evening: if the Bush administration approved waterboarding, and Obama believes “waterboarding...is torture,” does this mean “the previous administration sanctioned torture?” Obama’s answer, in box-step fashion, was yes; the Bush administration approved of – and uniformed U.S. officials carried out – acts of torture against Muslims. While Obama tipped his hat to “information that was yielded” from waterboarding, he thinks “we could have gotten this information in other ways...that were consistent with our values.” He acknowledged, “In some cases, it may be harder,” but as he said in his speech before the CIA, doing his best Stuart Smalley impression, “That’s O.K.” After all, he theorized last night, ending the practice “takes away a critical recruitment tool that al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians.” His assertion that Americans perpetrated torture will itself stir anti-American sentiment, not least as it follows his recently order for the Defense Department to release hundreds of photos of detainee abuse. Apparently Obama believes this al-Qaeda recruitment package can be waved away with an assurance that (wink, wink) we no longer do those things – and by the way, Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak!
The release of these photos, accompanied by memos detailing “torture,” took a more important tone as the president told Time magazine’s Michael Scherer he plans to reveal more state secrets of this sort. “I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it's overbroad,” he said. He then revealed, “Eric Holder and Greg Craig, my White House counsel, and others are working on that as we speak.” The selection of Holder – and Craig, whose commitment to the rule of law led him to assist Bill Clinton’s evasion of it – makes one worry Obama plans to make “a foreign-aid program out of American secrets.”
However, the foreign policy aspect of the conference was not all naïve promises. He explained “his” long-range Iraq withdrawal policy, which is identical to President Bush’s withdrawal policy, saying, “more work needs to be done on the political side to further isolate whatever remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq still exist.” But if Iraq was a fraud, a “war of choice” as the Left insists, why must we win it? In one phrase, he admits al-Qaeda is in Iraq; that it remains a threat; that Bush’s troop surge was the right policy (though Obama opposed it as late as last July); that Nancy Pelosi was wrong to insist, “If we leave Iraq, then the insurgents will leave Iraq, the terrorists will leave Iraq”; and the immediate withdrawal his entire party counseled for years was the wrong policy formulated either out of stupidity or with something other than the nation’s best interests in mind.
Obama also made minor headlines on social issues like abortion and illegal immigration. Summarizing the pro-abortion point of view he said, “I don't want to create straw men here.” There’s a first. Then he announced, “The Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority.” Which means he’s either a liar now or he was a liar on the campaign trail when he told Planned Parenthood, “[T]he first thing I'd do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do.” (Even the Left's Messiah lies.) The word “highest” is also troubling, as it means rolling back the vox populi in every state in the union that demands sensible restrictions is still a part of his (anti-)Democratic agenda.
On immigration, he told Lori Montenegro of the Spanish-language network Telemundo he planned to continue his push for “immigration reform,” though he stopped shy of endorsing her one-year time frame. He referred to illegal immigrants as “undocumented workers,” but he also mentioned the tragic reality of their position in the economy: “they can be exploited at the same time as they're depressing U.S. wages.” He proceeded to call for “a more thoughtful approach than just raids of a handful of workers.” Not that he wants to create a straw man or anything....
The Iowa Primary?
The majority of the press conference consisted, as most press conferences do, of self-congratulations and nonsense. He continued his penchant for Carteresque just-plain-folks solutions to global problems: “keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough,” inflate your tires….
However, he made two statements no Republican could have gotten away with. When CBS’s Chip Reid tossed him the second softest softball of the evening – “What do you think [Arlen Specter’s party] switch says about the state of the Republican Party?” – Obama replied, “You're talking to a guy who was 30 points down in the polls during a primary in Iowa.” Iowa doesn’t have a primary. It has caucuses, as do some of the other 56 states.
On the softest softball, he said he felt “humbled” that he “can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want.” In President Bush, this would have been denounced as cowboy “hubris.” For ObaMessiah, a lack of power breeds humility.
May he be richly rewarded with that virtue in his remaining 1,361 days in office.