Barack Obama — May 25, 2013 at 11:45 am

Hate Guantánamo Bay and drone strikes? Blame the American people, too


Why it’s harder to end a war than begin one.

8735986914_cc7e924562This week we found out that President Obama’s policies on drone strikes are tighter than libertarian, anti-drone hero Rand Paul. We also heard a president of the United States make a nuanced, adult and — to many — an unsatisfying case for a course correction on the global war on terror.

Critics from the right immediately bashed the president’s speech. Republican former-Simpsons character Saxby Chambliss called it a “victory” for the terrorists.

Critics on the left didn’t wait for the president to end his speech to start their criticizing.

Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin heckled the president demanding that he close the Guantánamo Bay prison detention camp now as he was explaining his plan to close the Guantánamo Bay prison detention camp.

Benjamin was unabashedly disrespectful as you’d expect anyone who thinks her country is committing crimes might be. But if she’s justified to do what she did, pro-lifers who earnestly feel pro-choicers are abetting genocide would have the same right.

Still, Benjamin’s critique and the constant critiques of those including Glenn Greenwald  are invaluable, especially if — the universe forbid — a Republican ever gets into the White House. Consistent moral voices like Greenwald and the intrepid Jeremy Scahill, possess a weight that every president should be forced to contend with, though evidence shows that no American president — except perhaps Jimmy Carter — has lived up to their standards.

An irony of this debate is that those who are most opposed to broad executive power also feel that the president can single–handedly fix a military-industrial complex that is enforced by at least two of our three branches of government.

You know president signed an order to close Guantánamo Bay on his second day in office. He was blocked by a Democratic Congress and a Senate that voted 90-6 to prevent such a closure.

In our democracy, there are two ways to make things happen. Sway or scare enough legislators to vote your way no matter what, the NRA method. Or create an actual movement that elects people who will do what you want.

In this case, the military-industrial complex loves Guantánamo Bay and so does the American public, with about 70% generally saying that they’d like the prison to remain open.

The president calling to close the prison is calling for something incredibly unpopular. Something his critics give him no credit for because he isn’t calling for the end of indefinite detention or targeted drone strikes.

Well over 50% of Americans support drone strikes. I can’t find polls on indefinite detention but if you asked Americans if terrorist suspects should be held indefinitely, I’d be shocked if a big majority didn’t say yes.

That doesn’t make it right. I think the military should be running drone strikes and courts should be involved if any American is ever targeted. I think Guantánamo Bay should be closed and indefinite detention ended, even if prisoners have to be freed because there’s no case against them or the case was tainted by torture.

Of course, freeing these prisoners and giving them the chance to commit an atrocity could irreparably harm the president’s party indefinitely, which could end up putting right wingers intent on destroying our social safety net in the White House. Everything in this “war” has risks and costs.

I support this president because his agenda has been transparently and obviously geared toward ending and avoiding war. His candidacy ensured the end of the Iraq War, which he personally oversaw, leaving no U.S. soldiers in a country we never invaded. His surge in Afghanistan was far from successful but was the backdrop for the killing of Osama bin Laden, which had helped provide the justification for reigning in the war on terror and getting as many troops as possible out of the Middle East. The one military intervention he launched saved hundreds of thousands of civilians in Libya, with the support of the UN.

Medea Benjamin thinks the president should free dozens of prisoners from Guantánamo today and Glenn Greenwald thinks the president has committed acts of terrorism. The public doesn’t seem to agree.

And that — as much as the president — is their problem.