Yesterday we learned that Congress's most powerful appropriator has decided not to grant President Obama the funds he requested to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo. Today Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey explained why:
"I personally favor what the administration's talking about doing, but so far as we can tell there is yet no concrete program for that," Obey said ahead of his panel's markup of the $94.2 billion supplemental Thursday. "And while I don't mind defending a concrete program, I'm not much interested in wasting my energy defending a theoretical program."
Obey points out that the Obama administration seemed more serious about closing the detention center at the start of the administration. The reason is obvious: closing Gitmo might have sounded nice on the campaign trail, but it's not as simple as Obama once pretended. There are no good options for many of these detainees - who would like nothing more than to kill Americans. Obama is seemingly committed to bringing them to the United States, rendering them to countries where they may face torture, or releasing them back to the battlefield. Faced with a series of terrible options, is it any wonder Obama has no plan?
Democrats in marginal seats would be happy not to vote on closing Gitmo. If it comes to a vote, they'll be forced with angering their liberal base, or taking responsibility for whatever these terrorists may do after Gitmo closes. And if you listen to Obey, it sounds like this tactic is designed to force Obama's hand. If so, the respite is short-lived, and Democrats will ultimately have to choose between the ACLU and the security of the American people.
Obey also seems likely to tie Obama's hands on going after terrorist havens in Asia - sooner or later:
In another split with the White House, Obey expressed serious doubt that Obama's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan will bring security to the region. Obey said he would give the administration a year to prove him wrong -- as he said he did on the Vietnam War at the outset of the Nixon administration. Obey was first elected in 1969.
"At the end of the year, he [President Nixon] did not move the policy and so I began to vote against the war," Obey said. "I'm doing the same thing in my recommendation to the full committee."
His bill would require the administration to submit a detailed plan on its progress in those two countries by next year. The bill does not set conditions on future funding, but Obey said he hoped the administration would report back with a "fish-or-cut-bait" assessment.
This is a fascinating and ironic shift from how things were under the Bush administration. When Democrats took over Congress, they were reluctant to tie Bush's hands on how he conducted the War on Terror. They wanted to reap the political gains that came from eschewing all responsibility. Now that Obama is in the White House, they seem downright eager to make up for lost time by dictating conduct of the War on Terror. Will Obama take his marching orders from David Obey? Time will tell.