As expected, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama squared off on Gitmo and national security on Thursday. Obama focused on fleshing out his plan for the coming weeks, standing resolutely behind his decision to close Gitmo while acknowledging there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the inmate problem. ‘Obama the teacher’ was on display, as the president made the case for his decisions by appealing to reason and depending on facts. It is likely that his address reinforced in his voters the belief that closing Gitmo and ending torture is the right policy. Yet, Cheney’s continued crusade in favour of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and keeping Guantanamo has led to a substantial increase in the former vice-president’s popularity (up eight per cent to 37 per cent, according to CNN). Never mind that Bush and a significant number of Republicans—including John McCain—were leaning in the same direction as Obama on those issues.
Rising support among stalwart Republicans is likely behind Cheney’s increase in the polls. He is not certainly not prompting any widespread nostalgia for the Bush-Cheney years. However, the question now is whether Cheney might be motivating Obama’s policy on national security. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd seems to think so, and an increasing number of left-leaning Democrats are becoming concerned about some of Obama’s Gitmo-related policies. If Dowd is right, it would seem to have exposed a serious flaw in the White House’s planning process. There is an air of improvisation being detected by some observers. At first, it was Limbaugh, and it now seems to be Cheney that is driving the Obama agenda on national security.
This may be a simplistic analysis, as Obama’s decision to close Gitmo early became one of the most prominent symbols of change from his first 100 days. Granted, the issue has become more complicated since then. The Senate ‘s 90-6 vote against providing funds to manage the closing of Gitmo was a stinging rebuke of Obama “just give me the money and trust me” approach.. Even Senate Democrats want specifics and they showed some independence by sending the signal that they will simply rubber stamp any White House initiative. But Obama still remains in the driver’s seat .
As we speak, Cheney has become the most identifiable face of the GOP. And yet, he is a pro-torture, pro-Gitmo, fear-mongerer who left office with a 19% approval rating. If you were a Republican, would you see to it that the future of the party is a continuation of Cheney-type policies, supported by a blowhard demagogue like Rush Limbaugh? The Republican post-election disarray and the rejection of the policies perpetrated by the likes of Cheney are just what the Obama administration wants to see if they hope to advance their agenda. Obama needed the symbolic gesture of closing Gitmo to set the pace and anyone who followed the Obama campaign knows he is not an improviser. And Cheney’s real impact, rather than keeping Obama off-guard, may in fact be to help him consolidate his agenda .