[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/22/intv.matalin.art.jpg 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.