Alex Massie

Obama’s Test

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Hope has a short half-life. Right now most of the world is simply happy to see an end to the Bush years. Even so, there's no denying that Obama generates much more excitement internationally than, say, Hillary Clinton would have had she been elected President. Much, though not all, of this excitement is generated by Obama's personal story, not his policies. Nothing either wrong or surprising about that, though foreigners do like all the stuff about how Obama intends to restore America's standing in the world.

But there will come a time, not immediately but sometime, when flesh needs to be put on those rhetorical bones. A time when promises must be followed by action. A time for cheques to be cashed. And that means action on Guantanamo Bay and Extraordinary Rendition. Understandably, we haven't heard much about thos sort of thing on the campaign trail. Certainly, there's not much mention of these issues on Obama's website. Equally understandably, one appreciates the domestic political concerns that make any immediate action on these matters unlikely. To put it mildly, it's not a good idea to begin your presidency with actions that can, however absurdly, be misinterpreted as being "soft on terrorists".

Nonetheless, at some point something needs to be done. The Iraq War was, for sure, unpopular across much of the world, but its Guantanamo and rendition and secret CIA prisons around the world that have done far more damage to the United States' reputation. And, I'm afraid, rightly so.

Obama has talked about closing Guantanmo and opposing rendition. But of course that's easier to do on the campaign trail; rather harder once you're in the White House and pressed by all manner of institutional interests in favour of the status quo. Better to be safe than sorry, you know. So this is a test of character as well as of policy and something that will tell us quite a lot about the new president.

As I say, it's not too tricky opposing this ghastly stuff in opposition; rolling it back once you're in government is a different matter.

If there's been no announcement on the future of Guantanamo and rendition by, say, this time next year then, Washington, we're going to have a problem...

For more, see this usefulish James Rosen piece in the NYT. Also, Obama speech on habeas corpus.

UPDATE: Danny Finkelstein seems to agree with me.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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