Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Another new low for The Best & Brightest?

with 3 comments

Is there any promise the Obama brain-trust isn’t prepared to break? I mean, I thought I had pretty successfully sworn off any lingering sense of wounded outrage at the discarded campaign pledges, the often abject, unaccountable pursuit of continuity with the policies of the previous administration (policies whose very unpopularity were in large measure responsible for Obama’s election). And even though my astonishment at the lack of political smarts was harder to let go, with practice, I was making progress. But now this: “Obama advisers set to recommend military tribunal for alleged 9/11 plotters.” (It’s nice, isn’t it, kind of a throwback to a more reasonable age, that the Post headline writer still felt obliged to stick in that “alleged”? Obama didn’t feel similarly constrained when discussing the case. I mean, I don’t have much reason to doubt KSM’s responsibility, but that’s not the issue, the rule of law is. But after eight years of Bush, I suppose we all get inured to such abuses of the presidential bully pulpit.) So, after weeks of preparing the ground, inching back ever so ignominiously from one of the few brave decisions the administration had managed, it seems the voices of unreason have won again, and KSM et al. won’t only not be tried in New York, they won’t be tried by a civilian court at all.

To put it mildly, this is a terrible decision. Let’s start with rendering justice to the perpetrators. If your concern is locking these guys up and throwing away the key – or having them executed by the state (though, like Camus, I’m appalled by your blood-thirst) – there is simply no non-demagogic case to be made that a military commission will have a better chance of producing a verdict closer to your liking. To the contrary, military commissions have no proven track record of performing such a task, and their use in such an instance would, from the get-go, be on deeply contestable legal ground. On the other hand, the US (and other countries around the world who keep sentencing terrorists left and right) has a long history of successfully prosecuting terrorists in civilian courts. (Indeed, I believe the US just did so – and in cowering New York of all places!)

So for you “death- to-the-terrorists” types, with your terrible prose and your muddled, hateful, paranoiac logic, I regret to inform you that the Rule of Law is unfortunately your way to go. That is, as a Rule of Law’er of the first order myself, we’re both forced to the same page – J/justice with both a small and large “J,” I guess. So, once ventured, this should have been a decision the Obama admin could reasonably defend. But they don’t, do they? As with health care, ye shall know them by their weak, or absent, defense.

Such gutlessness is surely strategic, but isn’t it becoming increasingly clear that it’s a self-defeating strategy? I mean, let’s leave justice (large and small) to one side for the moment. To be crass, to put on our hateful pundits’ hats: what position have the Rahm-led, Lindsey-Graham-fearing, Joe-Lieberman-pandering Best & Brightest navigated themselves to now? Whom do they imagine this latest epic, public climb-down will win over to their side? (Indeed, isn’t part of the “messaging” problem of the Obama admin that the public is increasingly less certain if they even have a “side,” I mean one they’ll actually screw their courage to the sticking-place for?)

I’m sure you recall hearing the clip of Eric Holder announcing the civilian trial for the 9-11 plotters (alleged!) – the media played it again and again, no doubt as surprised as the rest of us – and the odd, and seemingly triumphant, manner in which Holder repeated, and emphasized, the trial’s location: “in New York, New York.” It was as if he was signalling his own internal victory (never mind that the A-G is supposed to be free from political interference; it’s pretty clear – and, again, eight years of Bush/Rove inured everyone to this reality – that political hands have been all over this decision from the get-go). Yet first comes the embarrassing retreat over holding the trial in New York – at the behest of condo developers and downtowners concerned over a lack of parking – and now they look to be preparing to abandon the idea altogether.

Again, I’d like to say it’s the lack of backbone that shocks & awes me, but then I never assumed the Obama B&B had much of a backbone – at least not for the kind of policies I would support, or even for the kind of policies they purported to endorse during the now-so-distant days of “Si se puede“. But what does still shock me is the lack of political smarts. I mean, here’s Obama making his principled case for civilian trials four months ago, and now here’s the seeming nail in the coffin of such principles strategically leaked – think of it as the endgame of the softening-up process – to The WP. Beyond what we might quaintly call the ethics and morality of it all, it makes for terrible strategy, reinforcing the very myth of weakness and lack of conviction Obama et al. are so very clearly cowed by in the first place.


Written by (wotty)

March 5, 2010 at 20:44

3 Responses

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  1. love the post. love the camus reference.


    March 5, 2010 at 20:48

  2. It’s true that Obama has made some mistakes and missteps, and taken positions that are wrong, but please keep things in perspective. What do you think President McCain and Vice-President Palin would be doing now? Things could be much much worse in this country.


    March 7, 2010 at 11:23

  3. Steve, Thanks for the support! Have you read Camus’ The First Man? Nothing to do with the questions at hand, but it’s an incredible experience.

    MEVD, Thanks as well for the comment. Let me just say, I’ve never been among those – and I don’t think there are many – who claim Obama/Biden has made no difference from what McCain/Palin would have been. In many ways, the differences are inestimable. But, that said, two points:

    a) saying “it could have been worse” is setting the bar pretty low, and certainly a lot lower than most people who voted for O were imagining the future on election night.

    b) solely on the national (in)security issues discussed in the post, the fact is there simply isn’t a lot of daylight between Obama and the last couple of years of the Bush regime (that is, Bush in 2006 was very different from Bush in 2002 – even Bush by the end was forced to outlaw waterboarding and make noises about closing Gitmo). I don’t want to get into the game of predicting what McCain might have done – a genuine wingnut and have a look at the bill he’s co-sponsoring with Lieberman to ban the use of civilian trials for foreign terrorists – but compared to fin de régime Bush, I’d ask you to point out where O has made some kind of clean, important break. Indeed, as opposed to Cheney’s loud denunciations – which do provide the O admin something of an alibi when you think about it – other Bush nat’l security people for months have been quietly praising O and expressing surprise at his “moderation.” (There was an NYT magazine cover piece on this sometime in the last two months.)

    Indeed, on this issue, i.e. not globally, there is an insidious way in which the Obama admin is worse than its predecessor, in that, “right-thinking” Obama supporters are now supporting policies they vigorously denounced under Bush, simply because it’s Obama who’s doing them. This is a terrible development when you stop and think about it. Moreover, as Obama made clear in his really quite breathtakingly cynical Nat’l Archives speech, he thinks a policy of indefinite detention without trial can be made consonant with the constitution, and should be written into law. This would normalize lawlessness one step further than even Bush ever attempted. I guess what I’m saying is: it’s possible that the consolation “things could have been worse” puts one on something of a slippery slope.

    In any event, here’s the ACLU’s recent take (which, as a dues-paying member, I support wholeheartedly):


    March 9, 2010 at 14:49

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