Welcome to the American Revolution II

Welcome to the American Revolution II
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
"We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method..." and warned about what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and continued with a warning that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex... The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist... Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, May 25, 2009

Openness for Thee, but Not for Me Obama gives a whole new definition to 'transparency.'

Openness for Thee, but Not for Me

Obama gives a whole new definition to 'transparency.'
by Stephen F. Hayes
06/01/2009, Volume 014, Issue 35

"Iran for president promising transparency, and I meant what I said. And that is why, whenever possible, my administration will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable."

That was Barack Obama last Thursday morning at the National Archives.

We have heard this tune before. On January 21, his second day in office, Obama released a memorandum on government transparency. It quoted Louis Brandeis on sunlight. It directed executive agencies to operate with a strong "presumption in favor of disclosure." It spoke of our "national commitment" to open government and proclaimed, "at the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike."

It has been four months. In that time, President Obama has made it clear that he believes in transparency only when it serves his own interest. His administration has used the Freedom of Information Act as a shield, and in important ways his agencies are operating under a strong presumption in favor of secrecy.

The result? The American public has not seen three batches of documents that would better allow us to "make informed judgments" and hold our elected officials accountable. The still-classified documents are deemed sensitive--not because their release would compromise intelligence but because of their political implications.

For months, several news organizations--including THE WEEKLY STANDARD (see my "Second Thoughts," written with Thomas Joscelyn, in the March 16 issue)--have been trying to obtain a copy of the Pentagon's analysis of Guantánamo Bay detainee recidivism.

Despite the fact that we were told the report would be released in early February, and despite the fact that the Obama administration has proclaimed itself the most transparent administration in history, and despite a presidential memorandum ordering executive agencies and departments to treat Freedom of Information Act requests with a "presumption in favor of disclosure"--the Pentagon has actually taken additional steps to hide the report and keep it from both the public and lawmakers of both parties.

We were told on February 2 that the report would likely be posted on the Pentagon website that afternoon. When we followed up, we were instructed to check back "in a couple days." We made several additional attempts to obtain the report, and, on March 6, the Pentagon officially went into denial mode: "My understanding is that several requests have been received by our OSD FOIA office and it is being processed for a decision concerning release. If you would like to submit a FOIA request as well, below is a link for your convenience." Thanks to an unauthorized leak, the New York Times was able to write about the report last Thursday. According to the Times:

Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the report was being held up by Defense Department employees fearful of upsetting the White House, at a time when even Congressional Democrats have begun to show misgivings over Mr. Obama's plan to close Guantánamo. The report shows that 74 detainees released from Guantánamo have returned to jihad--some 14 percent. In his speech Thursday, Obama went to great lengths to blame the release of these detainees on the Bush administration. Fair enough. One suspects that this was just a convenient political argument. But if he was sincere, and he honestly believes the Bush administration was too lenient in its judgments about detainees, he should release the report and show us the error of their ways.

Second, the CIA denied a request from former Vice President Dick Cheney to declassify two CIA reports on the results of "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In his speech on Thursday, Obama said: "I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation."

Why should we believe him? What evidence did he cite to support this claim? Where are the facts? What do the professionals believe? What did contemporaneous reports tell us? What information did they produce? We are left to wonder.

The CIA, with the direct approval of the Obama White House, used a technicality to keep the documents secret and hidden from public view. "In researching the information in question, we have discovered that it is currently the subject of pending FOIA litigation (Bloche v. Department of Defense, Amnesty International v. Central Intelligence Agency). Therefore, the document is excluded from Mandatory Declassification Review."

But on April 16, Obama released four Bush-era Justice Department memos that could have been withheld for the same spurious reason. The difference? Obama believes those memos help his continuing case against the Bush administration's war on terror policies. But the Cheney memos, if we are to believe the former vice president and others familiar with their contents, undermine Obama's case.

So FOIA is being manipulated to keep documents secret. Hardly a "presumption in favor of disclosure."

Finally, in the wake of Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA "misled" Congress, Representative Pete Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, requested the declassification and release of materials used in the briefings of Pelosi. Was there a PowerPoint presentation used to explain the enhanced interrogation techniques? Let's see it. Hoekstra has also asked for any internal CIA documentation related to the congressional briefings--emails among CIA officers involved in preparing the briefings, perhaps. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, has said that he favors releasing as much documentation as possible related to the briefings, declaring that "what was said and when it was said, who said it .  .  . is probably what ought to be on the record as well." Even Pelosi said she'd be "happy" to have those materials made public.

The CIA rejected preliminary requests to release more information about Pelosi's briefings. Did the White House offer guidance to the agency about how to handle those requests? On the one hand, Obama and his spokesman have refused to defend the CIA from Pelosi's reckless charges, even as his CIA director, Leon Panetta, has forcefully done so. On the other, Obama seems willing to hide behind the CIA's decision to keep them secret.

So, where are the Pelosi documents? And where are the Cheney memos? And where is the Guantánamo report?

It is important to remember that the president has the ultimate declassification authority. So the only thing preventing the public from seeing these three batches of documents is Barack Obama.

"I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable," Obama said Thursday.


Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

But Enough About Me . . .
Does Obama understand that the office of the presidency is bigger--much bigger--than he is?
by William Kristol
06/01/2009, Volume 014, Issue 35

Barack Obama spoke at the National Archives last Thursday on the war on terror (not that he used that term). After paying tribute to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and before turning to a defense of his policies, the President of the United States said:

I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words--"to form a more perfect union." I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never--ever--turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.

Who cares? Who cares about Barack Obama's father, his mother, or his "own American journey"? Is his journey so noteworthy that it needs to be intruded into a presidential speech on weighty matters of constitutional law and public policy, of civil liberties and national security? After all, tens of millions of other Americans have ancestors who came to these shores in search of the promise of a better life. Tens of millions of other Americans have lived in a foreign land--and some of them were presumably awakened early by their mothers.

And so what? Are those Americans who didn't live abroad as youths any less attached to the principles of the Declaration? Didn't the rest of us study the Constitution as well? Haven't millions of other Americans also been bound by it as lawyers and legislators--to say nothing of tens of millions who have sworn oaths to it when serving in the military and other public and civic roles?

And isn't the point of the Declaration and the Constitution--and of the various oaths we swear, the pledges of allegiance we make--that our individual backgrounds should recede as we assume the duties of public office or when we exercise our rights as citizens? Perhaps not in the eyes of Barack Obama. Even by the standard of political types, he seems strikingly self-preoccupied and self-referential.

Doesn't Obama's self-regard sometimes seem greater than his regard for the position he occupies? Does he understand that the office of the presidency is bigger--much bigger--than he is? Or does Obama think of the presidency primarily as a vessel through which to exercise his political gifts and pursue his personal achievements?

In an interview for Richard Wolffe's new book, Renegade: The Making of a President, Obama told the Newsweek reporter he wants to hold a "Muslim summit."

If I had a Muslim summit, I think that I can speak credibly to them about the fact that I respect their culture, that I understand their religion, that I have lived in a Muslim country, and as a consequence I know it is possible to reconcile Islam with modernity and respect for human rights and a rejection of violence. And I think I can speak with added credibility.

Leave aside the foreign policy naïveté in this comment--the notion that foreign leaders will adjust their policy aims because of where in the world the president of the United States happened to live when he was in grade school. Consider what it says about Obama's self-understanding. The implication of his comment is that American leaders don't routinely respect others' culture or understand their religion. That is Obama's special gift. And to speak to foreign leaders merely with the credibility and authority inherent in being president of the United States isn't good enough. Does Obama grasp that his task is to advance U.S. interests in a lasting way, not his own personal approval rating in the world? As we saw on his earlier apology tour through Europe and his attendance at the Summit of the Americas, the attempt to advance his own standing can come at the expense of standing up for the nation he represents.

Politicians are of course allowed to allude to--even to make a big deal of--their personal qualities. As a candidate, Abraham Lincoln exploited his youth in a humble log cabin. But as president, he rarely dwelled on his personal background. When he did, it was to an opposite effect from Obama. When Lincoln told the soldiers of the 166th Ohio Regiment that "I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has," it was to emphasize that "I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House."

Barack Obama happens temporarily to occupy the White House. He is entitled to pride in his own achievement and confidence in his own abilities. But it would be good if he showed that he understood that he is now president of the United States first, and Barack Obama, admirer of his own journey, second.

--William Kristol

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