Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Obama versus Congress on Guantanamo

Nicholas Wapshott
May 3, 2013 16:07 UTC

A young girl holds a picture of Bobby Sands in a republican march to mark the 20th anniversary of the IRA hunger strike at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland May 27. REUTERS/Archive

Barely a week after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London, her ghost is stalking the corridors of power. At his press conference on Tuesday in Washington, President Barack Obama was asked about Guantánamo Bay prisoners refusing to eat. In doing so, the veteran CBS reporter Bill Plante, who asked the question, exposed a running sore in the Obama administration. He also invited direct comparison between Obama and Lady Thatcher – who faced a similar dilemma in 1981.

As a candidate in 2008, Obama, a distinguished Harvard-educated legal scholar known in the Senate for his common sense and humanity, promised to quickly close the prison for 166 terrorist suspects in the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The existence of a U.S. detention center that ignores the basic legal right of habeas corpus and the failure to bring prisoners to trial after so many years “erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles,” he said. He went on to repeat his pledge, yet five years on, Gitmo is still open for business.

The president’s embarrassment can be blamed, in part, on his naïveté. For a while after his inauguration in 2009 he appeared to be under the impression he had been elected the most powerful man on earth. It has taken four painful years for him to realize that the division of government guaranteed by the Constitution prevents him from doing not only what he wishes but what a majority of Americans have mandated.

Under the guise of saving money, Congress has stymied the president’s plan to try those believed guilty of terrorist offenses on U.S. soil and to release the 86 innocents who have been held without trial for years. Despite their insistence that they believe in America’s system of justice, it appears that many congressmen have little faith in it.

When Thatcher met Reagan

Nicholas Wapshott
Apr 8, 2013 18:14 UTC

 When Margaret Thatcher met Ronald Reagan in April 1975, neither was in their first flush of youth. She was 50 and he 65. She was the leader of Britain’s opposition; he a former governor of California. It was by no means obvious that either would win power. They bonded instantly.

Although born almost a generation and an ocean and continent apart, they found they were completing each other’s sentences. Both instinctive politicians rather than taught ideologues, they discovered they had both found validation for their convictions in the works of Friedrich Hayek, at that time a long-forgotten theorist even among conservatives.

From that sure beginning began a working partnership, or political marriage, that solidified the alliance between the United States and Britain at a crucial time when the Soviet Union was facing collapse and the democratic forces in Eastern Europe were pressing to be freed. There have been other Anglo-American alliances. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill eventually became friends, though FDR never let the English bulldog forget that America had overtaken Britain as the world’s most powerful nation and that Churchill was a supplicant.

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