Friday, April 24, 2009

A Political Aside: Jiu-Jitsu

I've been following with fascination the debate about the torture of prisoners accused of terrorism (and if you're one of the people defending the practice, I urge you to take a moment to note the word "accused" in that sentence: not "convicted", not even "tried", but simply "accused" within a system that never holds the accusers accountable.)

On the surface it seems like Obama is being unusually clumsy. Didn't he anticipate that his supporters would be outraged that he isn't planning to prosecute anybody? And doesn't he realize what a great opportunity this is to go after Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that cabal?

Frankly I think that Obama knows exactly what he is doing. I'm coming to admire enormously his ability to shape the political battlefield before he engages the enemy (just like Colin Powell would do in a military conflict).

Think about this. If he had gone after the Bush/Cheney henchmen right away, the GOP and its proxies would wheel out the "Partisan witch-hunt!#@!!" talking points.

So what does Obama do? First he "upholds his promise of transparency" by releasing the documents. Then he says he's not planning to prosecute CIA officers who simply followed orders they'd been told were lawful [notice the implied contrast to the Bush regime's handling of Abu Ghraib...]. But he carefully leaves the door open. Then he waits...

...And pretty quickly there is an up-swelling of outrage from the public and the media demanding that somebody be held accountable, now that they have the details in the documents in front of them (yay transparency!). If not the CIA officers, then who? Well, I guess it has to be the people that authorized the torture. "I didn't want to appear partisan", says Obama, reluctantly, "but the American people demand accountability".

And of course, the increasingly ridiculous defense of these practices by Republicans plays right into his strategy. "It's not torture because... uh... we're Americans and Americans don't torture" wouldn't defeat an average high school debate team, let alone a master of political jiu-jitsu. Even funnier is watching them tie themselves in logical knots as they try to argue that Obama is endangering Americans by releasing these documents, while simultaneously demanding that he release more documents to prove that the torture worked and was therefore justified. It's only a matter of time before somebody's head explodes live on Fox News. (Please, God, let it be Sean Hannity.)

Oh and Rudy Giuliani: in case you're still wondering, this is what a "community organizer" does.

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