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Guantanamo McDonald's/Photo by Thomas Van Houtryve

Wasting the honeymoon

So far Bush has a better record for closing Guantanamo

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

By the looks of things at Guantanamo no one is shutting the place down. McDonald's this month has advertised a job opening at Gitmo: an assistant manager willing to relocate to the fast-food chain's only outlet on the communist island of Cuba, and one within sight of the razor-ribbon guarding the terror detainees' camp on the 45-square-mile U.S. naval base.

In case you're wondering, McDonald's brings in frozen fries and burgers by barge from Jacksonville, Fla., in spite of the lingering U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, and feeds not only military and civilian government personnel stationed there but the 215 or so war-on-terror captives, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who hatched back in 1993 his "planes operation" we now refer to as 9/11.

"Candidates must have restaurant management experience, possess a valid United States passport and be willing to relocate to Cuba," read the job ad. And there are added incentives, like having most or all of your living expenses picked up by taxpayers and potentially tax-free status for year-round residents. These and other perks also are extended to civilian employees of the U.S. government on tours of duty to Guantanamo to assist in the closure and transfer of detainees. The Bush administration transferred 550 detainees out of Guantanamo; the Obama administration since Jan. 21 has transferred 25.

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Some of those on government missions message friends via the internet about ocean fishing, dolphin watching, or earning a scuba certification. Food shortages pop up in these posts, but "it doesn't gitmo better than this" is a common tagline. And if the mosquitoes or the banana rats get a little annoying, there are U.S. transports waiting to the Florida coast for a little R & R.

This is the soft underbelly of policy decisions not matched to reality. Harsher reality is that White House Counsel Greg Craig has been ousted for his inability to carry through one of the first, and widely touted, promises of the Obama administration: to close Guantanamo's terrorist detention facility within one year of the president's taking office. Harshest reality to date is the decision to transfer the trial of KSM and his four 9/11 co-conspirators to lower Manhattan-a decision born of the political necessity to close Guantanamo sometime whatever the risk to New York City residents, and perhaps the nation.

This is how former Attorney General Michael Mukasey described the administration's modus operandi on Nov. 13, the day the KSM transfer was announced: "Policy is fashioned to fit antecedent rhetoric rather than being thought out in advance with arguments then formulated to support it."

You don't have to know he's a top conservative lawyer to know that he's right. (And one who, incidentally, served 18 years, six as chief judge, for the Southern District of New York that will try KSM.) And not only on KSM and Guantanamo.

"Today, I'm announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan," said the president-on March 27. We, and the Taliban, have been waiting.

On China, the president bargained away the Dalai Llama and vowed not to "impose" a U.S. version of human rights, yet walked away from China last week empty-handed, if not outright scolded over U.S. debt and currency valuation.

Obama vowed to press the "reset button" on relations with Russia that included scrapping a ballistic missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, only to learn that the Russians have shipped air defense systems to Iran.

On some issues-like delays in healthcare reform and ditching cap-and-trade provisions in Congress along with a major climate-change treaty at Copenhagen next month-the poor calculating has been serendipitous. But the first year of the Obama presidency-the easy part, mind you-has been fretted away by a president who can't shake the declamations of the campaign trail for the hard policy decisions of the Oval Office. An administration that didn't want to waste a serious crisis has instead wasted the one serious honeymoon it will get.
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