OK, I’m officially disappointed in my President.
It was bad enough that he failed to decisively end Bush’s extraordinary rendition program (claiming he’ll only make sure it’s no longer abused); and that he blocked prosecutions for top-level officials who authorized torture. Now, Obama has decided to block the release photos depicting US troops engaging in brutal acts against detainees:
President Obama said on Wednesday that he is seeking to block the release of photographs that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, worrying that the images could “further inflame anti-American opinion.”
Look, it’s not pictures that inflame anti-American opinion. Brutality has done that already. And trying to cover up that bad behavior only makes it look as if the new Administration is complicit. In short, this is the worst tactical decision I’ve seen Obama make so far, and I fear the grave consequences of associating his administration with the worst excesses of the past eight years.
The explanation given by the White House is no better than the decision itself:
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the president met last week “with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the D.O.D. photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops.”
This logic makes so little sense I cannot believe it is the genuine rationale. First of all, as Gary Bass has exhaustively documented, the appearance of punishing those who are actually guilty is the best way to forestall collective punishment: it’s doing the reverse, obstructing genuine justice, that encourages vigilantism against all US soldiers. Second of all, even if they are put in even greater danger by their comrades’ ill-deeds, won’t this be the best possible deterrent for war crimes in the future? Studies of variation in war crimes demonstrate that militaries who commit the fewest abuses are those where there is strong peer pressure within fighting units to behave properly, and the best way I can think of to create this kind of culture is to allow all US troops to worry about the indirect consequences of being associated with those “few bad apples.”
So what is the actual logic here? Someone, enlighten me, because apparently our “rule of law” President would like to keep us all in the dark.
Given the near certainty that Barack Obama will announce the complete communization of the United States in his inaugural address, it would be irresponsible not to spend all morning at Circuit City buying discounted flat screen tvs and Blu-Ray players.
Eve Fairbanks and I diavlogged yesterday on, among other things, the critical issue of whether Barack Obama or George W. Bush more resembles Prince Hal of Henry IV parts 1 and 2:
What Adam and Matt and Digby and everyone else said. The presence of Rick Warren is inexcusable; the guy is more dangerous than James Dobson, and at least six times as annoying.
This op-ed lists William Ayers as the author of “Fugitive Days” and “Race Course”, but not of “Dreams of My Father”; that can’t be right…
I think Ezra gets this right. Obama’s primary campaign, in particular, was clearheaded, methodical and rational, focusing on delegates rather than “media cycles” and other mystical nonsense. With the Clinton campaign, the frightening thing was not merely their “voters/states that vote for us count more even if it’s a minority coalition” spin — when doomed campaigns are spinning, they have to by definition say things that aren’t true — but that they acted as if it was true.
None of this is to say, of course, that Obama’s win was inevitable. Resources and institutional advantanges matter; you can get away with hiring a Mark Penn or a Ned Colletti if your opponnent is a Bob Dole or a Brian Sabean. If Edwards had been Clinton’s major opponent, her old-school campaign/attractive candidate combination would have been enough. And Obama’s ability to get funds from online donors is a rare instance of the internet really having a major impact on a campaign. Even Billy Beane can’t win consistently with nothing to work with, and without the ability to tap enough small donors to make his campaign clearly viable the Obama’s vastly superior tactics wouldn’t have been enough. Same thing in the general — although I rarely say such things, I think McCain’s campaign really was abysmal, but under the right structural circumstances he could have won. (And conversely, under these structural circumstances he had virtually no chance; we can quibble about margins, but I don’t think there’s any serious question that Clinton/Penn would have also beaten them pretty badly.)
But, then, sabermetric analysis is always about probabilities, not certainties. Obama’s smart decisions increased his odds, and in both cases it was enough.
Kevin Drum suggests that “Obama has a notable streak of temperamental caution that serves him well, but it could also betray him. Maybe he could have turned the tide against Proposition 8 in California if he’d been willing to take a risk on its behalf.” In this case, it’s a fair knock.
I can understand the difficulty of the problem. Injecting new issues into a campaign is a loser’s strategy; when the most salient issues favor you, you don’t rock the boat. Obama’s primary and general election campaigns were superbly disciplined and stayed consistently on message, and I can understand wanting to avoid the same-sex marriage issue.
But, ultimately, in the last week or two of the campaign it was overwhelmingly clear that Obama was going to win, it was clear that Prop 8 was going to be close, and it was also clear that same-sex marriage was going to be an extremely marginal issue in the federal election. Obama had already come out against it; if the McCain campaign was planning to exploit it they would have already done so. Making a statement (however cautious) against Prop 8 in the last week of the campaign could have made a major contribution to human rights without threatening Obama’s lock on the electoral college. Even to a risk-averse politician, that should have been a no-brainer, and it’s fair to criticize Obama for failing to do the right thing.
Race in America has always seemed to me like the terrible secret at the end of Chinatown, that isn’t really a secret at all. Forget it, Jake . . .
Obama’s grandmother passes. I never tend to think it’s a tragedy when someone dies at the age of 86; we should all be so lucky. But the day before her grandson is likely to be elected President… no words for that.