By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 14, 2009
THE PRESIDENT’S INCREASINGLY ERRATIC HOMELAND SECURITY POLICIES just took another turn. President Obama announced yesterday that he will challenge the court-ordered release of 44 photos of interrogators abusing detainees after all. This comes just weeks after he announced he would release those photos, and up to 2,000 pictures in all, by May 28.
For once, the president is right: change is good. It is heartening to see the commander-in-chief of a nation embroiled in two wars and threatened with constant terrorist threats to our homeland listen to his military advisers and arrive at a decision any four-year-old would have found self-evident. That the leading military brass on both war fronts had to plead for his attention – time and again, on this front and others – discourages any observer and demands one ask if the president considers national security before making a decision. In this case alone, the president’s hesitation and breakneck reversal not only signal that a novice is at the helm, not only demoralize and confuse those laboring to keep us safe, but may have erected legal barriers to his ability to do the right thing.
The president’s flip-flop first calls into question his judgment – all the more so if his proffered reasons for the change are to be believed. His allies have presented Obama as the instigator in the decision to challenge the court case, claiming he called in his lawyers and laid out new legal arguments they could use. Between cell phone calls, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told the media yesterday, “The president believes that the specific case surrounding the damage that would be done to our troops and our national security has not fully been developed and put in front of the court to make.” [sic.]
If this is true, it means the president’s first reaction, after considered deliberation, was to “damage…our troops and our national security.” If he understood the grave threat releasing the photos would pose and perceived some neglected line of legal argumentation but meekly decided to throw in the towel before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals anyway, then his first decision was either malicious or incompetent. Either he did not believe the well-being of American soldiers merited the burden of a court challenge (which President Bush found tolerable), or he failed to examine the issue thoroughly before acting on a matter that could get U.S. service men and women – and, if al-Qaeda succeeds, perhaps a few thousand civilians – killed.
Obama acknowledged the stakes while announcing his welcome flip-flop on Wednesday. “The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” he admitted. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”
Two separate administration officials contradicted Gibbs’ claim that Obama led the administration’s change of heart by laying down the law to his legal team. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell revealed the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray “Odierno was really the one who persuaded” Defense Secretary Robert Gates “that this was one that had to be fought.” He also cited the opposition of General David McKiernan, who had led U.S. forces on the Afghan front. Also yesterday, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told The Washington Times, “Many leaders in the Defense Department and within the intelligence community urged President Obama to do the right thing. They were concerned, as well, that if the pictures were released they would serve as a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations…It could also incite violence.” Resultant violence would erupt despite the fact that the Pentagon took the photos in question during the course of 60 investigations of detainee abuse and has pursued more than 400 disciplinary actions against those involved, threatening them with everything from prison time and dishonorable discharge to pay reduction. The thought of pouring photographic gasoline on a terrorist fire concerned military brass.
The president’s allies on the Left had another reaction. The ACLU, which brought the 2003 suit and which was not given advance notice of the decision, accused Obama of “stonewalling tactics and opaque policies.” Executive Director Anthony D. Romero sulked, “This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department's failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration,” adding the ACLU would not rest “until we fully learn how this nation veered down the path of criminality and immorality.”Amnesty International also whined: “Human beings have been tortured and denied basic rights. The American people have been lied to, and government officials who authorized and justified abusive policies have been given a pass.” A diarist on DailyKos argued, “It's just as arguable that Al Qaeda and any other terrorist organization will be able to recruit if President Obama doesn't make a clean break with and repudiation of Bush/Cheney policies as it is that these photos will do further damage.”
The president first opted to listen to the second group. That he eventually heeded the first is a welcome development. However, Obama’s flirtation with world opinion may have placed unnecessary boundaries before his legal challenge. Politico.com notes,
[T]he Justice Department sent U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein a letter on April 23 saying that “the Government has now decided” not to seek review of the 2nd Circuit appeals court decision by the Supreme Court. “The parties have reached an agreement that the Department of Defense will produce all responsive images by May 28, 2009,” the letter said.
Comments that the White House made about the photos just last month could also undermine any legal attempts the administration will now pursue.
Whatever the result, Obama’s counterterrorism policy is increasingly described by one word: erratic. Last week, he changed his mind on military tribunals. Before that, Obama did a U-turn on prosecuting Bush administration lawyers who gave legal advice on enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs). Within 48 hours of Rahm Emmanuel and Robert Gibbs insisting no prosecutions would take place, Obama allowed the possibility – only to later leak that, on third thought, he’d like to step back from that suggestion, although the government may still push for the lawyers’ disbarment. (Got that?) He campaigned vowing to drastically change U.S. policy in Iraq; now “his” withdrawal policy is identical to that advanced by President Bush last December.
In all these cases, his changes were for the good – but one must ask if national security were so important to him, how did he develop his original plans in the first place, and why does he maintain some that undeniably harm our nation? Waterboarding yielded valuable intelligence and prevented a major terrorist attack. Obama canceled the practice and delivered a timeline for withdrawal – for al-Qaeda detainees from Guantanamo Bay. As a result, Robert Gates has announced some “50-100 [detainees], in that ballpark,” may be held indefinitely – on U.S. soil. Does that make Americans safer?
The president’s flip-flops are caused by the intersection of left-wing ideology and political reality. Obama seems to have spoken sincerely when he said he wanted to withdraw all troops from Iraq ASAP, close Gitmo, end EITs, apologize to all the perceived victims of U.S. policy (foreign and domestic), and redistribute the nation’s wealth to more needy recipients (foreign and domestic). He clearly believes the leftist lie that if Americans simply apologize enough for who we are, our implacable enemies will greet the penitent with an outstretched olive branch. David Horowitz and I describe this ideology, and its ascent from the New Left to the leadership of the Democratic Party, in our book Party of Defeat. It seems dubious that Obama, whom officials lobbied strongly before his original decision to release the photos, had an epiphany about the dangers of releasing ten times as many pictures as those that supercharged past al-Qaeda recruitment. He likely realized how the move would erode his standing in the polls. American soldiers deserve better than a commander-in-chief who occasionally makes the right decision after being mugged by political, military, or polling data reality – and then only after defying their advice, ignoring their pleas, and threatening to do something that will get them killed.
Whatever his rationale, his changes of heart have become so pronounced heart that a prominent Republican Congressman has declared: “This is just the latest in a series of shifting positions that [he] has taken on this issue and just about every issue…I don’t think we can afford that kind of erratic and uncertain leadership in these uncertain times. We need steady leadership in the White House. We need a president we can trust in times of crisis.” In fact, the RNC has already taken out an ad calling Obama “erratic in a crisis, out of touch.”
OK, both the quotation and ad came from candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, when he used the term “erratic” as an unsubtle reference to John McCain’s age. They now sound like part of Barack Obama’s third autobiography.
See Obama discuss his reasons for changing his mind:
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