Too Harsh On Obama?

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By Ben Cohen

Glenn Greenwald thinks Obama was unusually brave in releasing the torture memos, and his argument is certainly convincing. I'm still of the opinion that without prosecution, the matter can never come to rest, but Obama should be given credit where credit is due. Says Greenwald:

Purely as an analytical matter, releasing the OLC memos and advocating

against prosecutions are two separate acts.It's perfectly coherent to

praise one and condemn the other. There is an unhealthy tendency to

want to make categorical, absolute judgments about the


of politicians generally and Obama especially ("I like him"/"I don't

like him"; "I trust him/I don't trust him") rather than case-by-case

judgments about his specific acts. "Like" and "trust" are sentiments

appropriate for one's friends and loved ones, not political leaders. A

politician who does something horrible yesterday can do something

praiseworthy tomorrow. Generally bad people can do good things (even

if for ignoble reasons)and generally good people can do bad things.

That's why Icare little about motives, which Ithink, in any event,

are impossible to know. Regardless of motives, good acts (releasing

the torture memos)should be praised, and bad acts (arguing against

prosecutions)should be condemned.

Greenwald points to the historical precedence Obama set as well:

In the United States, what Obama did yesterday is simply not done.

American Presidents do not disseminate to the world documents which

narrate in vivid, elaborate detail the dirty, illegal deeds done by the



not when the actions are very recent, were approved and


by thePresident of theUnitedStates, and the CIA is aggressively

demanding that the documents remain concealed and claiming that their

release will harm national security. When is the last time a President

did that?

While this is demonstrably true, I do think this is more a sign of how little we expect from our political leaders. Regardless, my earlier assessment of Obama's actions were harsh, perhaps too harsh given the limited framework he must operate within to remain politically viable. The transparency is certainly better than nothing, and for now, it will have to do.