GOP vs. Obama: Have Republicans won on national security? 

Perhaps the most striking part of Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday was the degree to which some Republicans who had been expected to grill Holder on issues of national security instead moved on to other topics.

Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, one of Holder's most vocal opponents on a number of national security issues, spent much of his time questioning the attorney general about border security in the Southwest. Sen. John Cornyn, another critic, questioned Holder about the financial meltdown. Sen. Orrin Hatch covered a variety of non-security issues.

Many observers had expected the Holder hearing to be a showdown over terrorism, detainees, Guantanamo, Miranda rights, and the like. Yet while there was plenty of talk on those issues, there were fewer fireworks than expected. Why? "There is a view that we have made our points and have won the debate on national security," says one GOP aide. "We won in the court of public opinion because we're right on the policy." If all the Republicans on the committee pounded away on the same points, over and over, the belief went, it would be needlessly repetitive.

But in what way has the GOP won? The aide went through a number of topics. One, Republicans believe they have prevailed on the handling of Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the Mirandizing of captured terrorists. Two, the administration has retreated on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in civilian court in Manhattan. Three, the administration has failed, so far, to keep its pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility. Four, the GOP won on a number of issues surrounding the re-authorization of the Patriot Act. And five, Republicans believe they are winning on the question of whether military commissions are better places to deal with classified evidence than civilian courts.

Certainly Republicans have presented a more coherent and persuasive case than the Obama administration on those and other national security issues. But the GOP's victories could be temporary. The next captured terrorist might be handled much like Abdulmutallab. The KSM trial might well be in civilian court, although not in Manhattan. The administration still plans to close Guantanamo and is unlikely to abandon that goal. And many in the administration still support civilian trials for cases which Republicans believe military commissions would be more appropriate.

There is simply no reason to believe that Holder and his colleagues in the Justice Department and throughout the Obama administration will abandon their determination to reshape what used to be called the War on Terror. What appear to be Republican victories now might look very different in just a few months.

About The Author

Byron York

Bio:

Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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