Nothing hurts President Barack Obama with his base quite like reversing course after making a firm commitment. That’s why his latest flip flop, in moving to bar the release of photos documenting the torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan is sure to grate. Wasn’t it just recently the White House said wouldn’t fight the release of these same pictures?
We know the president’s rationale. as he’s articulated it. US military commanders expressed to Defense Secretary Gates a good deal of unease about the release because they fear it could inflame anti American sentiment and put soldiers at risk. Gates then went to the president and told him of those concerns. As valid as they may be, the reversal could stir up a hornet’s nest of problems for the Obama Administration.
There’s a court case here, involving the ACLU. They had prevailed both at the federal trial court and appeals court levels. The agreement to release the photos was crafted to end the litigation. It’s entirely possible that not only could Obama lose in the court of public opinion on this one, but in the courts as well. That combination would be a body blow politically as well.
How will the president respond to critics who say his “troops at risk” explanation is little more than a blind to mask a capitulation to the Dick Cheneys of the world? And isn’t he trying to take away one of the most powerful tools in making sure torture doesn’t happen again by letting the public see what it really looks like? And raising the red flag of national security sounds an awful lot like the president who just left office, doesn’t it?
No one, repeat, no one wants to put US soldiers at more risk than they face in their normal duties. However, something is getting lost. It is the act of torture, not the release of 2000 pictures, that creates anti-Americanism abroad. The act of releasing them ought to be seen as a symbolic purge of this type of intelligence gathering. Cheney can caterwaul all he wants about the valuable information torture provided. It is he who puts American troops in harm’s way with his constant attempts to defend the indefensible.
Now Obama is starting to look just like him to some of those who worked most passionately for his election. Some media reports say many of the Bush Administration’s fiercest critics felt betrayed and blindsided by Obama’s decision.
Should they be? You tell me?