National Security Network

Conservatives Take on Powell, Petraeus and Bush Administration

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Report 22 February 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Colin Powell General Petraeus Guantanamo Bay Torture


This weekend saw a continuation of two parallel trends.  First, Generals Colin Powell and David Petraeus continued the trend of America's top national security experts supporting the Obama administration's national security policies.  Powell and Petraeus expressed support for a range of policies including prosecuting terrorists through civilian trials, closing Guantanamo Bay, and ending the use of torture or "enhanced interrogation techniques." The annual meeting of the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference demonstrated the second trend: conservatives politicizing national security.  While the public, Petraeus and Powell, and even Bush appointees like John Ashcroft support the Administration's approach, conservatives now run to the right of the Bush administration.  These criticisms also ignore the facts and the results of the Obama administration's policies, as Powell, the former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, commented:  "I don't know where the claim comes that we are less safe."

Colin Powell and David Petraeus agree with Obama administration approach.  This weekend, two of America's most respected national security experts appeared on the Sunday Shows.  In their respective interviews, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell and the current CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus strongly supported key elements of the Obama administration's counterterrorism approach, elements that conservative critics have been railing against for weeks.

Using civilian trials to prosecute terrorists.  Powell, who has served as both America's top military officer and top diplomat, came out strongly for the use of civilian trials in combating terrorism.  He said Sunday: "The issue about sending people to military commissions, we-- we're not using military commissions like we should. Any time you lock somebody up or you catch a terrorist let's give them the military commission. In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail. Meanwhile, the federal courts, our Article III, regular legal court system, has put dozens of terrorists in jail and they're fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn't bo-- born out by the history of the military commissions." [Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/10]

Closing Guantanamo Bay as part of a counterterrorism strategy. Both men reiterated yesterday that the detention center needs to be closed.  Petraeus said "I've been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed."  And Powell further explained why it is so important to close the detention facility: "I think Guantanamo has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have at Guantanamo to justify their own-- their own positions... And so I think we ought to remove this incentive that exists in the presence of Guantanamo to encourage people and to give radicals an opportunity to say, you see, this is what America is all about. They're all about torture and detention centers." [Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/10. David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10]

Ending the use of torture.  When asked if he wished that the use of torture or "enhanced interrogation" was available as a tool during interrogations, Petraeus answered: "I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values.  And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside...   Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don't go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.  Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given, the force of law by Congress, that that works." [David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10]

At CPAC, GOP runs to the right of the Bush administration on national security. In addition to Powell and Petraeus, Bush Administration Attorney General John Ashcroft told Huffington Post last week that civilian trials of terrorist suspects had "has use and utility."  And new polling shows that the public supports the FBI's decision  to Mirandize underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 65-33 percent according to CNN, and prefers Obama's national security policy to Republicans, according to Newsweek.  But conservative politicians, winding down the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), displayed a far-right shift on national security.  While conference participants defended the Bush administration's domestic policies, they moved even further right on national security.

  • The Washington Post observed GOP Florida Senate Candidate Marc Rubio promising to "get useful information" from terrorists before bringing "them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo!"  "Celebrating the infamous military prison once would have been extraordinary -- even President George W. Bush said he wanted to close it -- but the delight about waterboarding and Gitmo served as a reminder of where the conservative movement has gone," said the Post. 
  • Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty delivered a "message for President more giving Miranda rights to terrorists."
  • Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney were unabashed in their accusations that the President was making America less safe.  Romney accused the president of reverting to a mentality that "that left America vulnerable to the attacks of September 11th," while Cheney relayed an anecdote involving telling her nine year old daughter that the President was bringing terrorists into the U.S.

[Washington Post, 2/19/10. Huffington Post, 2/18/10. CNN/Opinion Research, 2/15/10. Tim Pawlenty, 2/19/10. Newsweek Poll, via the Hill, 2/20/10. Mitt Romney, 2/18/10. Liz Cheney, via the Weekly Standard, 2/18/10]

Conservatives continue to ignore successes of Obama administration.  Despite recent successes vindicating the Administration's national security and counterterrorism approach, including the recent arrests of key Taliban leaders, conservatives continue to criticize the administration's approach.  During the CPAC conference, Politics Daily reported that Liz Cheney "never mentioned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did she speak about the arrests in recent weeks of two senior Taliban leaders -- Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan -- with American support in Pakistan. She also didn't note the capture last month of the insurgency's top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Abdul Salam and Mir Mohammed were senior, command-level organizers of resistance and insurgency operations for the Taliban." The oversight did not end with Cheney, however. The Politics Daily piece continued, "Cheney was far from being the only speaker who failed to mention the Taliban arrests, or even the Iraq and Afghan wars, in their criticisms of the president's record on national security. From Tim Pawlenty to Mitt Romney to John Ashcroft, Jim DeMint, Dick Armey and dozens of others, the full, complicated and sometimes conflicting story of the transition of national security policy from the Bush administration to the Obama administration was never discussed."  Such omissions represent a growing trend that is consistent with GOP messaging-ignore reality and stick to the talking points. [Politics Daily, 2/20/10]

What We're Reading

The NATO military campaign in Marja is as much about demonstrating resolve and momentum as it is about taking out Taliban targets. Meanwhile, civilians continue to be caught in the crosshairs - 27 were killed in an airstrike over the weekend.

A dispute over keeping troops in Afghanistan has caused the Dutch government to fall; the former prime minister expects Dutch troops to be removed before the end of the year.

Two human rights groups say the Polish government has provided official records for the first time confirming that planes used in the CIA secret detainee program landed in Poland.

Flash floods and mudslides in Portugal killed 42 people.

The government agency responsible for monitoring American reconstruction work in Iraq has proposed the creation of a single organization to oversee future rebuilding to avoid the fraud and waste that have marred this work in the past.

A top Sunni Arab lawmaker banned from running in Iraq's March 7 election withdrew his entire party from the campaign Saturday and called on other groups to join the boycott, a move that threatened to undermine the credibility of the vote and raise sectarian tensions.

The use of forged European passports by assassins who entered Dubai and killed a Hamas operative may lead the United Arab Emirates to review the open border policies that have made it a commercial and tourist hub.

A senior Iranian official said on Monday that his country planned to build 10 more nuclear enrichment plants - two of them within the next year - and had identified "close to" 20 sites for such facilities.

The military junta in Niger seems to enjoy widespread support and has promised diplomats that it will soon restore democracy, although it has not given a timeline.

Argentina looked to its neighbors for support in its dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands, winning immediate backing from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Commentary of the Day

Robert Wehrle explains why our efforts to train the Afghan national police are failing.

Fareed Zakaria discusses how to deter Iran without military strikes.

The WSJ editorial page continues to defend those who provided legal cover for torture.