I’m not sure if David Brooks saw the same speech I did:
Obama has taken many of the same policies Bush ended up with, and he has made them credible to the country and the world. In his speech, Obama explained his decisions in a subtle and coherent way. He admitted that some problems are tough and allow no easy solution. He treated Americans as adults, and will have won their respect.
Do I wish he had been more gracious with and honest about the Bush administration officials whose policies he is benefiting from? Yes. But the bottom line is that Obama has taken a series of moderate and time-tested policy compromises. He has preserved and reformed them intelligently. He has fit them into a persuasive framework. By doing that, he has not made us less safe. He has made us more secure.
The remainder of Brooks’ column today can be best summarized as a bunch of hemming and hawing about how Obama’s policies are really quite similar to those in place when Bush left office coupled with justified praise for Obama’s rhetorical shift. Fair enough, but I’m pretty sure this passage from Obama’s speech addresses that head on.
The third decision that I made was to order a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo. I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch. We’re cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess — a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis, and it consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.
I know at some point people will tire of blaming Bush, but this is one of those instances where within the context of forward moving time, it’s really tough to build a compelling case against Obama. I mean, were it not for the Bush Administration’s system of willy-nilly extralegal detention, Obama could not possibly be confronting this problem.
On another related note, I know that as a progressive in good standing, I should be outraged that Obama isn’t working harder to break from Bush’s policies, but considering he has literally inherited a prison with a non-insignificant number of possible terrorists, I think the politics are stacked against him. That is, I’m not sure how Obama can simply let the subset of prisoners who are likely terrorists but also impossible to indict, simply return to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Of course, I understand that the policy of lawlessness epitomized by the Bush Administration animates anti-American extremism, but the literal connection between the release of likely terrorists and the damage they may cause in their recidivism makes the political sell all but impossible. I think a little sympathy from progressives on this point is warranted.