17 April 2009

Obama's Torturous Reasoning

Perhaps leadership is the art of pleasing nobody. This seems to be the President's approach when it comes to reckoning with his predecessor's legacy of torture. Liberals and Bushites alike are unhappy with his decision to release more memoranda detailing the country's collusion with torturing regimes while absolving the people involved of any liability for perpetrating or collaborating with torture. The reactionaries complain that exposure will make other countries less cooperative with us in the future, while the liberals are angry that there won't be trials of the purported perps. By default, Obama is steering a middle course. Is it the correct one? That depends on your standard. If you apply a moral standard, Obama is a trimmer or a coward by refusing to do justice though the heavens fall. If you apply a "realist" standard, he has probably talked too much already about things people are better off not knowing about. The President himself is most likely trying to balance principle and pragmatism. He strives to make clear that he considers torture wrong, but admits implicitly that the issue is political or more correctly partisan dynamite. The divide of opinion on the question is a partisan one, with Bushites on one side and everyone else (Democrats, liberals, libertarians, many conservatives) on the other. But Bushites remain a major force within the Republican party and are bound to say that any indictment of the Bush administration is partisan in nature. The point Obama has to consider isn't whether they're wrong, but whether any attempt to "criminalize politics" by prosecuting Bushite policymakers or perpetrators will tear the country apart along partisan lines.

Under the American Bipolarchy, partisanship distorts all political questions. It's easy for people without responsibilities to say "so what?" especially if they expect prosecutions to damage the Republican Party. But many people will believe the primary motive of any prosecution to be partisan because partisanship shapes their perceptions, and they'll never accept any verdict against their side as just. They'll see it as the other side abusing its power to oppress the opposition the way dubious leaders do around the world. If we didn't live under a Bipolarchy things would probably be different, because any leader then would represent only himself or at most a small personal faction whose complaints wouldn't matter as much as those of a great party that commands nearly half the electorate. But while the Bipolarchy prevails any attempt by one administration to prosecute its predecessor only invites the predecessor's party to plan a tit-for-tat prosecution on some pretext when they have power again. That thought probably deters Obama from doing what many would think is the right thing. In this environment the best we can do is hope for is a day when some force stands ready to prosecute people of both parties equally for offenses against the Constitution or statutory law without seeming to take a "side." Our goal should be a democratic republic whose representatives embody the nation as a whole rather than any faction or clique, and whose correction of any of their own will be seen as dispassionate, disinterested and objectively just. Until we have that, prosecuting the Bushites is likely to create at least as many problems as it solves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems that what he may be doing is attempting to discredit Bush/Cheney without discrediting the Republican party. To drive the more centrist or moderates to move away from the more fringe or, at least, hardcore right-wingers.