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First they came for the communists,
but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists
and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they
came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they
came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoeller.
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|Obama's First Week - Thursday, January 29, 2009
Obama’s First Week
Grossly, It Doesn’t Look Promising
David C. Stolinsky, MD
When I was a medical student years ago, we had a class in preparing microscope slides. We had to slice the specimen very thinly, then put it on a slide and stain it. Our professor had a dry sense of humor. One day he stopped and picked up a slide I had prepared.
He held it up to the light, squinted and said, “Grossly, it doesn’t look promising.” He hadn’t yet put it under the microscope. But his experience told him that I had washed out most of the stain, and the whole thing was too weak and wishy-washy to be of much use. He was right. As a result, I learned to make the stain stronger, and eventually I got an “A” in the course.
President Obama has been in office only a week. Surely this is too short a time to make any definitive judgments. We haven’t had time to put his actions under the microscope. But like my old professor, our experience allows us to hold his first week up to the light and make a preliminary assessment.
Grossly, it doesn’t look promising.
Every year since 1953 when it was founded, every President has attended The Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball on inauguration night. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton and G. W. Bush all attended. Regardless of how many other inaugural celebrations were scheduled, every President elected since 1953 attended this ball − until now.
President Obama was too busy at the other affairs to come himself, so he sent Vice President Biden, who was warmly received. The President didn’t feel it important to attend − even briefly − an event honoring recipients of our nation’s highest award for bravery in combat, the Medal of Honor.
This year, 44 of the 99 living recipients of the Medal attended. Regrettably, none of the five recent recipients was there. They, like so many others, were awarded the Medal posthumously. Did you see their photos and stories in the papers? Did you see them on TV news? No? Then at least let me tell you their names: Ross McGinnis, Paul Smith, Jason Dunham, Michael Murphy and Michael Monsoor.
The ball is sponsored by the American Legion, as well as other veterans’ groups including the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart − which represents all those wounded or killed in action.
The President did find time to attend 10 other balls, many of which included show business and music personalities. President Obama, like his predecessors, felt he should thank those who helped him be elected. He felt they included those who had donated unprecedented sums of money, as well as show-business personalities who had praised him unreservedly.
But unlike his predecessors, the President did not feel it necessary to thank those who made it possible for him to live in freedom, or to live at all. The Medal of Honor was instituted during the Civil War, in which at least 618,000 died, and as a result the Union was preserved and the slaves freed. And what of World War II? If 405,399 Americans hadn’t died, and Hitler had won, what would have happened? Obama’s father would never have been allowed to come to America. But if he had, Obama’s mother would have been sent to a concentration camp as a “race traitor” for marrying a black man, and Obama himself would never have been born − or been promptly murdered.
But the President felt no obligation to those who fought and died to assure that homicidal fanatics didn’t control the world. Does he feel the same way about those who are fighting and dying for the same reason today?
Keeping dangerous terrorists at Gitmo?
President Obama lost no time in signing an executive order to close the detention center at Guantanamo within a year. He offered no plan to deal with the terrorists and suspected terrorists held there, but instead left this vital question open.
In addition, the President banned all interrogation methods not sanctioned for prisoners of war. Waterboarding, used in training our own troops to resist interrogation, is out. The “good cop, bad cop” technique used in every police station is out. So are sleep deprivation and emotional pressure. Suspected terrorists must be treated better than our own troops in training, and better than I was treated during internship and residency.
These actions demonstrate a typical feature of liberalism − comparing something not to actual alternatives, but to a theoretical ideal. Liberals condemned President Bush for keeping dangerous enemy combatants in Guantanamo. But what should we do with dangerous fanatics who would like nothing better than another chance to murder as many Americans as possible?
These impractical idealists are morally responsible for the attacks that will occur because they prevented us from obtaining information from detainees − information that might have allowed us to block those attacks. These people are, in the words of Medal of Honor recipient Jack Jacobs, “…intellectually constipated by large, indigestible hunks of dogma.”
These people never listened to Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson:
The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.
Jackson knew what he was talking about. He had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where the chief Nazis were tried for horrible war crimes. He saw first-hand what happens when democracies stand by idly, observing legal technicalities, and allow bloodthirsty fanatics to roam free.
During World War II, not the roughly 245 detainees now held in Guantanamo, but over 425,000 German and Italian prisoners of war were held in camps in America. Of these, 1013 died in captivity, most of natural causes, a few executed for crimes. They were in the custody of the Army, under authority of President Roosevelt. They were held until the war ended. No court interfered with the President’s right – and duty – to conduct the war as commander-in-chief. These prisoners were captured in uniform, so − unlike those at Guantanamo − they were covered by the Geneva Conventions.
But something else happened during World War II. In 1942 German submarines surfaced off Long Island and Florida, and eight saboteurs were put ashore. They were captured and tried in a secret military tribunal. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, one to 30 years, and six were sentenced to death. Two of these men were naturalized American citizens, one of whom was executed.
President Roosevelt made it clear that he would order the executions no matter how the Supreme Court ruled: “I won't give them up…I won't hand them over to any United States marshal armed with a writ of habeas corpus. Understand?” Back then, we knew that a war must be fought on a battlefield, not litigated in a courtroom.
Even under President Bush, at least 29 detainees were released who promptly rejoined the terrorists. What would you bet that none of the current detainees will do the same if they are released? Would you bet your life? You may have to.
This was Week One:
· Neglecting to honor heroes who risked everything to protect us from homicidal fanatics.
· Closing Gitmo, a safe place to keep homicidal fanatics.
· Apologizing for our anti-terror policies on Al Arabiya TV.
· Telling people not to listen to Rush Limbaugh.
The President boldly attacked a talk-show host, but went hat-in-hand attempting to appease our deadly enemies. This he calls “tough diplomacy.” One hesitates to imagine what timid diplomacy would look like.
A week is far too short a time to judge his methods, but we can make a preliminary estimate. Like the first slide I prepared in class, the whole thing looks too weak and wishy-washy to be of much use.
We can hope that this criticism will help the President to understand the dangers we face. We can hope that he will come to realize that he is no longer in law school, where success is measured by the cleverness of his arguments, but in the real world, where success is measured by actually keeping us safe from those who want to destroy our civilization. We can hope that this assessment will help the President to do better, and eventually to get an “A” in the course.
But grossly, it doesn’t look promising.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.