It should be no surprise to any even minimally politically aware citizen that if you have the audacity to aspire to, let alone, eventually accept the job as president of the United States, antagonists will come at you from all sides, taking shots at your ability, integrity, and performance. It is a part of the rights and privleges we have living in a society that is protected by our Constitution. Unlike life in a totalitarian regime, the act of challenging the leadership becomes a frequent and unremarkably normal part of a robust, free democracy. Criticism, given freely and openly, whether in an honest constructive manner or even with some other agenda never hurts an honest person operating with honorable intentions. Strong criticism today may or may not affect the future actions of an honorable person, may cause an honorable person to firm his or her resolve, or may result in that honorable person reconsidering past decisions and factoring those experiences when formulating new decisions.
That criticism will not harm an honorable person is a lesson that Barack Obama apparently learned early on in his intellectual and moral development, and early in his political career, and it is a lesson he has never forgotten. President Obama has taken, is taking and will continue to take a lot of heat for his decisions, and not just from those in diametric opposition from his political values, but even from various constituencies within his own political family. That is just a part of life in the Whitehouse.
What is setting President Obama apart, in my mind, from many of his predessors, in either political party, from many contemporary political opponents who would aspire to his office, is the fact that President Obama is conducting his office in an open, transparent manner, and by doing so he is “sticking his chin out there”, willing and able to withstand the “shots” from those who disagree with him, whether those shots are a “right cross” or a “left cross” aimed at his chin. He still juts his chin out there, taking the punches, but at the same time moving, moving inexorably forward with his agenda. He does not “back pedal”, he does not “dodge” or attempt to hide behind any veil of secrecy.
There has been a lot of discussion in the progressive blogosphere about the fact that the Obama administration has not demonstrated any intention to prosecute members of the previous administration for war crimes linked to the various memoranda released previously, and the memoranda released this week as a result of the ACLU law suit. The words from President Obama in this regard are not placating progressives and have led to President Obama being administered the ultimate “spanking”, a Special Comment (full transcript) by Keith Olbermann, who was responding specifically to President Obama’s April 16 statement on the last release of torture memos:
The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.
My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.
But that is not what compelled the release of these legal documents today. While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.
First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program and some of the practices associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an executive order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.
In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.
Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security. This is an extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States.
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
The United States is a nation of laws. My administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.
President Obama is demonstrating the pragmatic reasoning and calculated strategy that he seems to bring to everything he does in his administration. He is saying here, in my analysis, that he abhors torture, and recognizes that it is against the law and that he will not sanction any torture while he is in office. He is also saying that he has no appetite to launch any broad action to “throw a posse together to round up and hang every perceived miscreant” who might have been a government or military employee who might have acted in good faith, when at the time, they were told by their government provided legal advisers that what they were doing was in fact permitted under the law. Specifically he is thinking about those government employees below the politically appointed chain-of-command, those people who work year in, year out, selflessly to protect the security of the United States and that he has a duty to support their honest efforts. Nor will he do anything that might compromise the security of the United States. And the president is saying, now is not the time to divert ourselves for the sake of retribution, that he wants to use the resources available to him to move the country in a forward direction in terms of the economic, health care and security challenges us today.
Barack Obama has kept his word to the American people, by operating in an honest, transparent manner, by not standing in the way of the disclosure of the previously secret memos. He is acknowledging that rather than operate in a secretive manner as the previous administration, his decisions will be made in full light of the American people. President Obama is saying in essence, “like it or not, this is what I am doing and why I am doing it”, which is a very welcome change from the previous administration, who’s response would typically be “F*** you, I am the decider-in-chief and I don’t have to explain myself [which I am incapable of] to you”.
Barack Obama, through his words and actions is standing up in the ring and taking it on the chin, taking his lumps with alacrity, like a man and persevering in an agenda that he believes is in the best interests of all of us, and you have to respect the man for that.
Would I like to see President Obama appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the allegations of the facilitation of illegal torture by members of the previous administration, and then prosecute if there is sufficient evidence of culpability, absolutely, that also would be the morally right, pragmatic thing to do. Barack Obama has occupied the Oval Office for a mere 90 days, come next week, there is still plenty of time for him to continue to work towards a better future for our country, and there is still time to go back and redress some of the mistakes of our past, and that is a pragmatic strategy.