Obama, Cheney and the bright shiny thing
By Frank Salvato
web posted May 25, 2009
It couldn't have been planed more perfectly. President Barack Obama uses the power of the presidential bully pulpit to show his dismay with anyone and everyone who dares to question his version of morality where the war on terrorism is concerned. Just moments later, former Vice President Dick Cheney effectively rebuts the president and dismantles several of the president's talking points. The "impromptu" tele-debate made for great television. What it didn't do was move anyone to question what they believe on the issues that were presented. In fact, it simply ensconced each to his or her position.
The American public has long suffered from what I call a sitcom attention span (I blame Norman Lear but I digress). Truth be told, the limited attention span of the American people goes back to well before the invention of television, having become an increasing problem ever since the American Revolution. Politicians recognized this malady – or opportunity as they see it – right off the bat and have been taking incredible advantage of the public's limited attention span for almost as long as our country has been sovereign. It is for this reason that troublesome reports, testimonies and declarations are usually released after 2pm on Friday as Americans turn their brains off in preparation for the weekend. Where they may be outraged at something on Friday at 2pm – if in fact they even become aware of it then – by Monday it is just one more reason why all politicians can't be trusted and anyway, what are you going to do about it, right?
The politicians understanding of the capabilities of the American attention span is also the reason why savvy politicians employ ex-media operatives in their cabinets and administrations. It wasn't an accident that President Obama chose former Chicago political writer David Axelrod as a senior advisor. As a product of the Chicago Democrat Machine (The Daley Machine), Barack Obama understood the importance of controlling the message. It is all important for a politician. If you control the information that creates a news cycle then you control that news cycle. If you control the news cycle then you can always frame yourself in a light that is most flattering and that turns into elevated approval ratings and that turns into votes.
This is where the "bright shiny thing" comes into play. What is the bright shiny thing, you ask? Simple. It's a distraction; a diversion. Any slight-of-hand artist, any illusionist will tell you, the bright shiny thing makes all tricks, all illusions possible. While the audience is looking at the bright shiny thing, the illusionist is performing the tasks that makes the trick look like something magical has happened..."Nothing up my sleeve, presto!" Truth be told, the bright shiny thing tactic also works in politics and politically opportunist government and every savvy politician knows it.
As President Obama stood in front of a display of the US Constitution at the National Archives to perform his speech on terrorism, interrogation techniques, American morality and Guantanamo Bay, the grand nature of the setting and the emphasis he put on his preferred talking points helped to distract from several things:
▪ The debate over whether the United States employed "torture" in the waterboarding of three high-value al Qaeda detainees is an on-going one. Many believe that classifying a harsh interrogation technique that is also a part of our military survival training for pilots marginalizes the claim that the procedure qualifies as "torture." As I stated in a prior article, worse things than waterboarding happen at the public pool between roughhousing teenagers and at fraternity hazing rituals. For the neo-Marxist Left, the anti-war crowd and the Liberal Democrats to simply expect everyone to acquiesce to their definition of torture simply because they "won the election" disqualifies their argument of being correct when they were in the minority.
▪ President Obama, while stating "I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America," continues to reserve the prerogative for employing enhanced interrogation techniques by virtue of the fact that his orders were issued exclusively to the intelligence community. No executive order was issued that prohibits elements of the total of the Executive Branch from employing enhanced interrogation techniques.
▪ While President Obama held the bright shiny thing of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in one hand, he vaguely brushed on the fact that he will continue to use military tribunals to try enemy combatants captured on the field of battle, tribunals that will – for the most part – be conducted sequestered from public view. This is in direct contradiction of his campaign promise to have all enemy combatants captured on the field of battle tried in the US legal system.
▪ As President Obama railed against the Bush Administration for establishing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in the first place, as he spoke of the intense damage the existence of the facility has done to the US's reputation around the world, he failed to admit that the original criticism of the Guantanamo Bay facility did not originate overseas, rather, it originated with the American anti-war movement and was picked-up on as a political tool by the disingenuous political Left (remember that goal of controlling the message?). Further, the contention that "torture" was taking place at Gitmo was debunked by one of President Obama's most ardent allies, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) who after his 2006 visit to the detention facility said:
"...the men and women in uniform who are serving us in Guantanamo have been the best – steadfast, professional, often heroic, working in a very difficult place – bleak and barren, hotter than the hinges of hell. They go to work every day to watch these detainees and try to derive information...They're not using torture."
To acknowledge these truths is to acknowledge that anti-war Democrats and Democrat political opportunists politicized the Guantanamo Bay facility in an effort to score political points with the electorate and, in doing so, marketed the United States as morally deficient to the world community. The reputation of the United States was not besmirched by the activities that took place at Gitmo, it was besmirched by the political opportunism of the Left coupled with an insane hatred for George W. Bush.
▪ And as President Obama advanced the bright shiny illusion that the implementation of harsh interrogation techniques served as a "recruitment tool" for jihadis worldwide, well, former Vice President Dick Cheney said it best:
"This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It's another version of that same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves."
"It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so. Nor are terrorists or those who see them as victims exactly the best judges of America's moral standards, one way or the other.
"Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them."
So, as the mainstream media fawns over President Obama's performance – and that's what his grandstanding teleprompter events amounts to – and as Bob Beckel fumes about former Vice President Cheney's "slanderous, disgraceful performance," remember, all the staging, all the punditry, all the grandiose pomp-and-circumstance is all meant to distract you from the facts as they exist, and the facts are these:
▪ We are at war with an enemy – radical Islamist jihadis and the organizations that fund, train and employ them – that has declared war on the United States and Western Civilization, having declared it not once but twice.
▪ President Obama has done little to deviate from the national security practices of the Bush Administration where the war on terrorism is concerned because now that he is privileged to the most guarded of intelligence he realizes there is little else he can do.
▪ While President Obama talks a great game, with regard to his intentions, he fails regularly in actually putting those intentions into practice and establishing them as reality.
Yes, the tele-debate today, as it was produced by the Obama team, was great political theater. But it failed to persuade anyone to take-up Mr. Obama's position. Instead, it fed the base its daily requirement of talking-point propaganda achieving only the status quo: Those who think that waterboarding is torture still do; those who believe Guantanamo Bay was a torture chamber remain convinced; and those certain that George W. Bush is the anti-Christ still believe so.
I, on the other hand, find more truth, more substance and more reality in what former Vice President Cheney had to offer. I believe we are smack-dab in the middle of a struggle for the survival of our country and Western Civilization. In the event that the former vice president and I are wrong, well, I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried to my funeral plot by six.
Frank Salvato is the Executive Director and Director of Terrorism Research for BasicsProject.org a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) research and education initiative. His writing has been recognized by the US House International Relations Committee and the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention. His organization, BasicsProject.org, partnered in producing the original national symposium series addressing the root causes of radical Islamist terrorism. He is a member of the International Analyst Network. He also serves as the managing editor for The New Media Journal. Mr. Salvato has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News Channel and is a regular guest on talk radio including on The Right Balance with Greg Allen on the Accent Radio Network and on The Captain's America Radio Show catering to the US Armed Forces around the world. His opinion-editorials have been published by The American Enterprise Institute, The Washington Times & Human Events and are syndicated nationally. He is occasionally quoted in The Federalist. Mr. Salvato is available for public speaking engagements. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send a link to this story
Get weekly updates about new issues