The Gitmo closure, combined with a stand down on foreign detention centers and end to coercive interrogation, is dominating the first week of media coverage of the Obama administration. It has clearly pleased domestic civil libertarians, human rights advocates and international elites. But, as this story deepens and lengthens, Obama faces several vulnerabilities:
• While there is no Gitmo defense choir in the country, only 28 percent of Americans believe it a “very important issue.” It is at the bottom of the list dominated by economic issues (see Gallup Poll).
• There is at least one achievement the Bush administration was credited with: no terrorist attack for 7 years. Any attack will rapidly shift public opinion, which is currently supportive, or at least acquiescent to the new direction.
• And possibly the biggest danger for Obama is the congressional wing of his party that wants to use the criminal justice system to begin their version of the Clinton Impeachment trials and tribulations. If Obama let’s Speaker Pelosi or Chairman Conyers go down that road, the partisan war will begin (see Pew poll).
As the President said in his inaugural, he is dedicated to end “the petty grievances” and “recriminations.” That won’t be easy.