The limits of Lindsey Graham praise

THE LIMITS OF LINDSEY GRAHAM PRAISE…. By most accounts, the White House has been in talks with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) about striking some kind of deal — the administration would try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and some 9/11 co-conspirators in military tribunals instead of civilian courts, and in exchange, Graham would try to help get congressional approval for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

The “compromise” is problematic for a wide variety of reasons, but Dana Milbank writes a rather glowing column today, praising Graham for his willingness to engage in the discussion, despite derision from his far-right party.

I’ll concede that Graham has largely ignored the right-wing catcalls. His talks with the administration have been slammed by House and Senate Republicans, Fox News personalities, and the GOP base in general, but Graham nevertheless believes he can play a constructive role in striking a deal. When evaluating today’s Republicans with the soft bigotry of low expectations, the South Carolinian may well deserve a modicum of credit.

But it’s Milbank’s analysis of the deal itself that I don’t quite get.

Graham has provided Obama a way out of this standoff: Send KSM to a military tribunal in exchange for Congress abandoning legislation that would deny funding to close Gitmo. […]

It will take some courage for Obama to defy his liberal base — but nothing like the courage Graham will need to take on the Republican purity enforcers. “I’d be glad to argue with my colleagues in the Republican Party about the problems with Guantanamo Bay,” he boasted. […]

Most Republicans are too job-scared to join him, but there’s still hope for Obama.

This doesn’t quite add up. For one thing, the White House isn’t exactly debating the left on this — the president’s reluctance to try KSM and his cohorts in military tribunals has more to with the fact that the commissions aren’t an especially effective vehicle, and relying on them in this context may very well be inconsistent with the law.

For another, Milbank concedes that Republicans aren’t inclined to “join” Graham on this. But if that’s true — and it is — then what’s the point of the talks? The “compromise” is that Obama gives Graham the tribunals, Graham gives Obama support for Gitmo closure. But Republicans aren’t going to go along with Graham’s deal, making the negotiations themselves rather pointless. The president can live up to his end of the bargain; Graham, regardless of his intentions, can’t.

So to characterize this legally dubious deal as “a way out of this standoff” is, at best, wishful thinking.