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May 22nd, 2009
09:34 AM ET

Matalin: Obama's 'soft power' makes us weak

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Former aide to Dick Cheney Mary Matalin tells CNN's John Roberts that Obama's policies have made us less safe."]

President Obama wants to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He made that point clear yesterday during his speech at the National Archives.

“So the record’s clear - rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries.”

A short time after President Obama concluded his speech, former Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the American Enterprise Institute on national security and he offered some blistering rebuttals. He called the release of the Bush-era memos a reckless distraction and belittled Obama's decision to close Guantanamo "with little deliberation and no plan."

CNN Contributor Mary Matalin was an aide to the former vice president. She spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Friday.

John Roberts: The former vice president has said several times that the Obama administration's policies are making America less safe. Where's the evidence for that?

Mary Matalin: Common sense and history… It’s one thing to say all of the things Obama said on the campaign trail but within hours of being the actual commander in chief, he was suggesting the previous seven years marked by no attacks were policies that were ineffective, were immoral, were illegal. That broadcast to our enemies a weakness. Weakness invites provocation. Secondly, as he was clear in his speech yesterday, he wants to return to a 9/10 law enforcement policy rather than a prevention policy.

Three, the threshold and key tool for fighting this enemy is gathering intelligence. And he’s clearly demoralized and undermined those intelligence gatherers. Four, Gitmo, releasing the hardest of the hardened terrorists into some system, whatever system that might be, either would divulge classified material... if they put them in the prison population, they can hatch plots as was the case in New York. So I could go on and on. But some of these policies, by virtue of the former vice president speaking out, were stopped as in the release of the detainee photos.

Roberts: But is there any empirical evidence that America is less safe today? Has anything happened around the world to suggest that we are less safe? There are many people who believe that this administration's policy of engagement, in fact, will make this country more safe.

Matalin: Well there's no evidence of that either. In fact there's evidence to the contrary. This so-called “soft power” has resulted in Iran being more verbose, launching a missile this week. North Korea’s pulled out of any negotiating posture. Soft power isn't working. There's no evidence for that. And there's plenty of evidence to the contrary that weakness invites provocation. During the '90s, when we did not respond to six attacks in six years, the ranks of al Qaeda swelled by some 20,000. That was the recruitment tool. Weakness and successful attacks is the recruitment tool.

Roberts: Just to go back to what you said about Iran and North Korea - both of those countries did exactly the same thing during the Bush administration.

Matalin: This supposedly “let's sit down and talk,” was supposed to make them come to the table and talk. In fact, they've gotten more aggressive. So, he's doing what he said he would do, which would render them putty in his hands as he thinks is the case as sometimes appears to be the case in America in his own party. That's not what's happening. That's not real politics. So he's been in there a couple of 16 weeks, three months, whatever it's been. But if he were allowed to pursue un-debated, these sorts of policies that he's put on the table and heretofore, they have been un-debated, it’s been a one-sided argument, there’s no doubt, and history shows and common sense would dictate that we would be a less safe country than we were for the past seven or eight years.

Roberts: The president said yesterday he believes America is less safe because of the very existence of Guantanamo Bay, that it's probably created more terrorists worldwide than it's ever detained. Do you agree with that statement? Because the Bush administration, President Bush said he would like to close Guantanamo and just has to figure out how to do it.

Matalin: Yeah, John, I'll go to your construct. He offered no evidence for that. And it's a tautological argument, as I just noted. The ranks of al Qaeda were absolutely exponentially swollen during the '90s when we did not respond… This enemy existed way before Guantanamo. It makes no sense to say that fighting the terrorists makes the terrorist. That's a tautological argument. Yes, President Bush wanted to close it. Some of us disagreed with that. For the very reasons we're disagreeing with President Obama right now.

What are you going to do with these detainees? Even the ones that have been released, which were supposed to be the ones that could have been released, the D.O.D. and some suspect this is an under-estimate – one out of seven go back to the battlefield. The top operatives in Yemen, which is the new hot grounds, the top operatives in Waziristan, were released from Gitmo. It’s not good to close it down or release these into our population, certainly, or any population.

Filed under: Guantanamo • Terrorism
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Neilz

    Matalin forgets it was "soft power" that brought down the Berlin Wall. Generational warfare and torture are relatively new to the American political scene. It is the politics of defeat, the rhetoric of cowards, Ms. Matalin would see us adopt as policy. We were kept safe in spite of the Bush Administration's efforts, not because of them. If we truly believe we're better than everybody else, we have to start acting that way.

    May 25, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  2. Steve

    Mary Matalin has been skating on thin ice ever since she sigvned onto the Cheney War Party. In fact, she may be in danger of being declared a war cirminal for her role in this latest Bush/Cheney/Neocon War against Iraq by the Spanish judge who had another war criminal, Chile's Gen. Pinochet, under house arrest in the U.K. when he went there for health care. It is believe Henry Kissinger (who played a major role in the Pinochet era) has been extremely cautious concerning his travel plans. Steve, USN, World War 2.

    May 25, 2009 at 7:36 am |
  3. MickoHere

    Hey Matlin, Give our soft power a chance, your big power did not work, its what brought us into this mess.

    May 24, 2009 at 10:38 am |
  4. Margaret

    I'm also concerned about what this Admin station, will do with the Gitmo detains. However, I don't believe that keeping Gitmo in operation, makes our country any safer, then we were prior to 9/11. If you recall, the attack on 9/11, came almost 11 years after the first attempt, to bring down the twin towers. Our enemies, have learned to attack us in our weaken state, hence the Bush Administration!! It was proven, that our intelligence agencies had prior knowledge of an attack on our country but there was no one "on our watch" to take notice! I believe that a new attack on the US, is eminent! Our country is now more venerable, then we've ever been. The world knows of the division between our government parties, so what better time to attack, when we're so divided!! Our government, needs to now more then ever, unite, and appear to have a strong homeland and global front!

    May 24, 2009 at 10:03 am |
  5. BJ

    Consider this, if we close Gitmo, bring detainees to our soil, and then we must be able to defend against efforts by terrorists to free them. They are already postured within the US to conduct operations. Gitmo is defended by all branches of the military. If we bring detainees to our soil, then we must be able to defend the facilities against efforts by terrorists to defeat the security systems. Who will do this? Local and State security personnel? I think not. They will need upgraded security ($$), training ($$) intelligence ($$) weapons ($$). As of now, we are unable to control the prison systems against gang activity, drug use, contraband, and crime. Prisoners are in control of the prison system. Terrorists will take full control of our systems.
    Will the branches of the military have to defend the prisons? This is against POSSE COMA TATAS; an old law that has far out lived its purpose. This Act will need to be changed. What will be the cost of guarding federal prisons against terrorist attacks on US soil as opposed to guarding Gitmo?
    We cannot allow, or facilitate, suspected terrorists in recruiting and conducting operations within our prison systems here on American Soil! Iraqi and Afghanistan detention facilities were a prime example of how they conduct operations while detained.
    We have worked too hard to rid America of suspected terrorists in the previous administration. I the eyes of the Dems…. If there is no attack, then we don’t need the security. This is a very naïve view and not based from experience. (If there is no attack then the intelligence and security is working!)
    Bill Clinton sought to dismantle much of our military with the Reduction of Force; believing the threat was destroyed. Many uniformed personnel were over worked doing many jobs other than what they were trained for. This left us weak and vulnerable. It takes time to gather intelligence, train uniformed personnel, and build a security posture that would thwart a terrorist attack.
    If it isn’t broke….don’t fix it!

    May 24, 2009 at 6:54 am |
  6. Ava Adams

    Other countries take issue with America for precisely this form of belligerency: we can't admit when we've made a mistake about anything, and therefore maintain ignorant and harmful policies (such as the defense policies of the Bush/Cheney terms). Obama is trying to change that, whereas this woman is desperately trying to defend her political legacy for working with Dick Cheney which will follow her for the rest of her career as an utter failure of personal ethics and defense intelligence.

    May 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  7. Richie M

    Cheney is right Obama is Really making america less safe ...! what the hell is he thinking shutting gitmo is rather stupid where will the detainees go?

    May 22, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  8. Linda

    In response to Dick Cheney and his issues about the terrorists and Gitmo – why can't the military hold the Gitmo detainees in our military prisons? I am so sick of Cheney!!! He and his attorneys twisted constitutional language and broke Geneva convention law. They should be prosecuted, all of them – Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and those Whitehouse attorneys who have done almost irreprehensible damage to this country. The criminal element in the Bush administration if amazing and Obama is the only one who will stand up for our country and stand up to Cheney. Why is everyone so intimidated by him? Oh, and by the way, Congress still makes me sick. They're as corrupt as ever in my book.

    I hope the investigations keep going into the torture issues and Congress must hold these people accountable. I do not agree with the thought that this will damage our country more to punish those who broke the constitutional law and what America stands for in our values. I do not support the torture and still would not even if it meant American lives in this country were in danger. Who knows what the CIA does anyway. There is so much propaganda going on.

    The Army is in Iraq and there is a sector of our Army handing out Bibles and New Testaments for God's sake!!! We wonder why Muslims hate us?

    Cheney is spinning all that he can to discredit Obama. I love the way that President Obama handles himself and can put that bully in his place. Obama is not intimidated. I think he gets angry and handles it so very well.

    Thank you for listening.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  9. Milton Jackson

    I'd like to know who determines the level of moral gray that is allowed in politics as it relates to this topic. Is torture moral? NO. There is no moral standing that allows for torture to be "right". Yet, during the Bush administration, they sought to justify the use of torture, equating the level of safety in the country to water boarding, electrocution and other forms of inhumane treatment.

    If there is any image that makes our allies cringe, it would be that of a combatant laying in a see saw like position and forced to simulate the act of drowning. 'Soft power' is an allusion to our President not having a firm hand. Well I oppose that thought. Our President is approaching those whom we have differences in a diplomatic way. We are already involved in two wars, how would our use of "Hard power" ignite flames that could send more of our soldiers into harms way? Answer that Mary Matalin. Soft power, what a joke!

    May 22, 2009 at 10:01 am |
  10. Dave

    Soft power makes us weak? I'm not so sure about that.

    I would say that treating due process and human rights as disposable niceties rather than as fundamental values makes us weak.

    If you want to talk about weak: The argument that there are secrets so critical to our security that they justify holding people without charges, without evidence, without legal counsel, without visitation rights, and without any limitations on the duration of their incarceration or on their treatment while incarcerated is surely weak.

    If some of the detainees really are terrorists, then there must be some basis for it. The only reason I can think of to withhold evidence is that there isn't any evidence.

    May 22, 2009 at 10:00 am |
  11. Lana

    Leaving politics aside, does anyone honestly believe we can win war on terror with arms? And keeping terrorist in G-tmo ? Do you read history? For how long USSR was trying to win in Afghanistan? Does not history teach us something? “ It looks like Afghanistan it’s going to be for President Obama what Iraq was for Pres.Bush…
    Demonstration against US in Kabul was made by afghan students, not by terrorists with arms…they do not want anyone to “save” them, they used to their way of life for generations…and want us to go home…Let’s be realistic, I do not think they will ever give up on fighting against us, as long as we will be in their Country telling them how to live, the only way to win in this situation, is to help them rebuild what was destroyed and leave them alone, focusing on our security and prosperity at homeland. Terrorists do not recruit with gun to someone’s head, they tell their people how” bad, immoral, and destroying the “Big Devil” (us) is”, so in big picture, we should find the peaceful way to show people we are not. Does anyone remember what happened when taliban got back to power in Afghanistan,” Najibullah & company” rings any bell? It is different mentality, different world, and it looks like people with Master’s and PhD’s do not want to take this fact in consideration…

    May 22, 2009 at 9:48 am |