The President once again confounded his critics and rose to the occasion last night to deliver an informative and at times inspiring speech in defense of his war policies.
It’s nothing less than what we’ve come to expect. Bush masterfully wove the 9/11 thread into the Iraq thread, something that always drives his critics through the roof because they know Bush’s support jumps whenever he brings up that horrible day in relation to the Iraq war. It’s something he’s gotten away from in the months since the election and it was well past time for him to draw the pictures and connect the dots once again.
In short, it was a great speech, one of his best. But now I’d like to see the President give the next speech, the speech that will cover what everyone is talking about and thinking about.
Let’s call it “The Torture Speech.”
I can understand that the speech last night was not the time nor the place to bring up prisoner abuse. But it’s an issue that the President himself must start addressing. Assurances from Rumsfeld and the Pentagon brass just isn’t good enough. Simply saying that the detainees are being treated well isn’t good enough. Ignoring an issue that the rest of the world is concerned about, that the Arab press is skewering us with and undermining our war effort, and that even many of the President’s strongest supporters are talking about isn’t good enough.
The issue demands Presidential leadership. It cries out for Presidential reassurances. And it requires an executive department accounting, something that only the President can give.
There are investigations, reviews, prosecutions, court martials, and allegations from detainees and their lawyers that are all out there, dragging down our image abroad and sapping the will to fight of our people at home. Only the President, using the power and prestige of his office, can sort out the wheat from the chaff, the lies from the truth, in order to assure the world and the American people that everything is being done to correct a situation where the vast majority of the world believes the United States military is systematically and deliberately committing heinous war crimes.
Clearly there has been abuse, perhaps even widespread mistreatment of prisoners. Just as certainly, there have been isolated incidents of torture and even murder. For the President to remain silent and not get out front of this issue and lead may be politically the right thing to do but it is morally wrong. If the President were to acknowledge wrongdoing – with a specificity that’s been lacking up to this point – as well as outline the remedies already in place and reiterate American policy toward detainees, it would go a long way toward reassuring the American people and silencing some of the arguments of his critics.
Yes, his critics will still use the issue as a political club. But some of the power of their arguments will dissipate in the face of the President’s resolve to not only fix the situation as it currently stands but also work to see that such practices do not happen in the future. In short, he could cutoff the legs from underneath his critics arguments and diffuse a lot of unnecessary criticism. And, it would reassure his supporters who have been wavering over these last several weeks.
Finally, some resolution to the legal limbo many of the detainees are held in must occur. The President must first acknowledge this problem, something the Justice Department and the Pentagon have been unwilling to do up to this point. Then, common decency and the rule of law demand that we solve this issue. Many of the terrorists have been held for more than 3 years without a resolution of their status. “Enemy combatants” was an easy label to hang on the terrorists while the fighting was going on but now it’s time to find some designation more permanent. Whether it will be Congress who decides or the Pentagon or even the Department of Justice is of little consequence as long as the determination is made to solve this problem soon. And only the President should be making these kinds of decisions.
I have no doubt this will be the hardest speech the President will ever have to make. But it’s a speech that must be given. Until he does, all the hard work, all the sacrifices by our men and women and their families will be for naught. The fact is, this issue is a monkey wrench that’s mucking up the machinery of war. Only the President can convince the world that the United States really is serious about this issue and is doing its best to solve it.
The reputation of the United States and our armed forces demand no less.
Cross Posted at Blogger News Network