Half Cocked

Posted by lex, on September 25, 2009

The administration’s much ballyhooed plan to close the detainee center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is in something of a shambles:

With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress.

Even before the inauguration, President Obama’s top advisers settled on a course of action they were counseled against: announcing that they would close the facility within one year. Today, officials are acknowledging that they will be hard-pressed to meet that goal…

White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who initially guided the effort to close the prison and who was an advocate of setting the deadline, is no longer in charge of the project, two senior administration officials said this week.

Craig said Thursday that some of his early assumptions were based on miscalculations, in part because Bush administration officials and senior Republicans in Congress had spoken publicly about closing the facility. “I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives,” he said.

In May, one of the senior officials said, Obama tapped Pete Rouse — a top adviser and former congressional aide who is not an expert on national security but is often called in to fix significant problems — to oversee the process. Senior adviser David Axelrod and deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer were brought in to craft a more effective message around detainee policy, the official said.

If any of this was easy, as my old maintenance master chief used to say, the Air Force could have done it. The White House made a serious mistake – against all advice from career civil servants – to set a deadline before they had noodled through the policy implications of housing GWOT detainees here in the homeland. There’s an element of blame fixing involved – rather than paper files on each detainee that the incoming administration had expected to find, staffers had to access a “mainframe database”, the horror. But by placing political “fixers” and communications people in charge going forward, the White House is doubling down on the original error by assuming it is one of message framing rather than substance.

It’d be nice if official Washington could take a deep breath on all of this, admit that the goal – while laudable – entails unforeseen complications and announce a plan to perform a more comprehensive review driven by events rather than a timeline. That, unfortunately, would go against the eternal campaign’s message of presidential infallibility. Lacking that doctrine, the president becomes merely another in a series of politicians occupying difficult positions and having to choose between unpalatable options.  Which in turn would mean that opponents to his broader policy of radical national reform are not morons or demons, but may actually have a point. And that Bush might have been right about something.

Which, I think we can all agree, would be unacceptable.

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, GWOT

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