Thursday, December 17, 2009

The politics behind the reverse on principles

We may have some answers now as to why the Obama administration has reversed course on several campaign promises. Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weiskopf wrote a revealing article for TIME magazine a few weeks ago. In it, they detail some of the events leading up to and following President Obama and members of his staff deciding to end the use of torture techniques against suspected terrorists, suspend the constitutionally dubious practice of indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists without charge or trial, to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, to release photos and memos of the abuse of suspected terrorists by U.S. agents, and to hold trials of several suspected terrorists in a conventional court of law in New York.

Some of these decisions have been reversed since the administration took more principled stands, like releasing the torture photos, ending military tribunals and suspending indefinite detainment without charge or trial. Others just simply haven't been fulfilled yet, like the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility.

While some of these decisions may have been practical, like the photos and military tribunals, others appear to be simply political. I find this seriously disappointing. Our country is not showing leadership, or "leading by example" as President Obama dubs it, when it comes to human rights and civil liberties by continuing or even embracing the same sort of unconstitutional methods that the Bush administration had relied on for years. This is not what many of those who voted for Mr. Obama, myself included, expected when we cast our votes and it's certainly not what we were promised.

Some are choosing to defend the administration on the grounds that Mr. Obama had made promises that, once given a more complete view of all the details and consequences of such decisions, were deemed too impractical or risky to do from a national security standpoint. Even assuming this were true, then he never should have made such principled arguments and promises in the first place. This claim would also illustrate that he possessed a lack of experience and breadth of knowledge of these situations. Which in turn would strongly suggest, considering that he spoke out so assuredly in spite of his inadequate awareness, a real lack of responsibility on his part.

There was one thing about the article I found particularly misleading:
"The President was moving away from some promises he had made during the campaign and toward more moderate positions, some favored by George W. Bush. At the same time, he quietly shifted responsibility for the legal framework for counterterrorism from [former top White House lawyer, Greg] Craig to political advisers overseen by [chief of staff, Rahm] Emanuel, who was more inclined to strike a balance between left and right."
Correction, anyone who has made even a cursory examination of Rahm Emanuel's past practices in politics would know that he is more inclined to make his decisions based solely on political expediency. It has nothing to do with striking ideological balances.

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