Sunday, May 17, 2009

Keeping the Country Secure

This has been a week of tortuous arguments in public, and on This Week there was an interesting juxtaposition of the one person totally agreeing with ex-Darth, Liz ex-Darth, and Katrina VanDen Heuvel, a really outspoken clear thinker. Beginning their discussion, host George Stephanopolous questioned the panel about President Obama's decision not to release the torture photos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... How significant are these shifts and are they the right moves?

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST: Well, they come after he essentially affirmed warrantless wiretapping and escalated in Afghanistan. So you can see why a certain faction of the Democratic Party is unhappy.

On the other hand, he has changed his mind on the photographs, but he’s changed his mind by keeping a promise. The promise he made during the campaign was I will always consult with my commanders. He consulted with the commanders who said among other things, the 10 days after the Abu Ghraib photos were released, there was a spike of violence in Iraq. They strongly urged him not to release these and he won’t.

Now there is a court involved in this and the court has so far said that under the Freedom of Information Act, they have to be released. He can appeal that, he can lose, and he can then say I did my best and the photos come out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That good enough?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, “THE NATION”: Obama was elected in part to correct the illegal shameful policies of these last eight years. I’m interested in the military commission’s decision. Because he sided ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you support him on the photos?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I want to press one thing there, because there was a report -- no, but you (LIZ CHENEY) explained one part of it. I just want to ask you to explain another part of it. The report, though, that the vice president’s office did ask specifically to have information about Iraq-Al Qaida connections presented to this detainee, do you deny that?

CHENEY: I think that it’s important for us to have all the facts out. And the first and more important fact is that the vice president has been absolutely clear that he supported this program, this was an important program, it saved American lives.

Now, the way this policy worked internally was once the policy was determined and decided, the CIA, you know, made the judgments about how each individual detainee would be treated. And the vice president would not substitute his own judgment for the professionals...

STEPHANOPOULOS: No one in his office either?

CHENEY: ... at the CIA. So I think it’s very important for us to look at exactly what the facts are. And the facts are that three people were waterboarded. The people that, you know, claimed to have been waterboarded in these articles are not any of those people. And I think, frankly, you’ve also got to look at the source of some of these allegations, and one of the big sources is Colonel Wilkerson. Now, Colonel Wilkerson gets coverage because of his associations with General Powell.

STEPHANOPOULOS: His former chief of staff.

CHENEY: And has made a cottage industry of out, you know, fantasies about the vice president...

The issue of torture being wrong has been kept pretty sidelined during all the discussions, but Wilkerson obviously has struck a raw nerve in insisting that the obsession with torture was part and parcel with the politicizing of the basic functions of government. What the former vice president insists was keeping it secure has reduced our security. Reducing government's function in the past maladministration to blasting away at our principles is increasingly evident as a major cause of our insecurity, growing disaffection on the major part of the Middle East.

From John Dean whose testimony helped save the country from the Nixon criminality comes an analysis that VenDen Heuvel should be familiar with.

From generals and admirals at the Pentagon to Foreign Service officers in Foggy Bottom, along with untold thousands of the nameless and unknown career civil servants who soldier on to protect our national security, there is anger and resentment. Most of these people are not political in the partisan sense; rather, they work in and for our government to keep the nation safe, and take pride in their work.

For the past eight years, the Bush Administration has marginalized them, manipulated them, and beaten them down. Dick Cheney, in particular, worked to keep the national security professionals submissive, and to ignore their good advice. In a move that was unheard of for a Vice President, Cheney created his own National Security Council...Cheney cost the nation blood and treasure with his preemptive Iraq war. He embarrassed the United States the world over by demanding (and continuing to demand) that we use torture.
Rather than risk alienation, Obama has given in to them, at the expense of his natural constituency, the political progressives who find it appalling that the Bush/Cheney torture is not being fully exposed (and prosecuted) to prevent it from happening again -- and sooner, rather than later.

I would encourage those who are demanding exposure and prosecution to keep pounding their drums. Clearly, they are on the right side of this issue, and Obama knows it. While he is going to placate the national security bureaucrats from time to time in order to lead them effectively, hopefully the pressure for him to deal with the atrocious behavior of Bush and Cheney is only just getting started.

The president has a bumpy ride before him, and its purpose is to get the country functional again. So much destruction went into making the mess, it's going to take a long time to get the chaff sorted out from the good.

The president's talent in community organization will be sorely needed, in a community that has been so violated as this government. Reining in the abuses has been accomplished by defeat of the criminal element. Bringing the executive branch back into compliance with the law will take a concerted effort on all of our parts.

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