On the one hand, Obama seems eager to punish Bush political appointees for aggressively prosecuting the war on terror. On the other hand, he's nervous about doing anything that might provoke more violence against American troops, especially if it might redound to the detriment of his own reputation and that of his administration. If Obama acquiesces in the release of the photos and terrorist acts against American soldiers or civilians abroad follow, he knows he'll be blamed.
But the Obama decision also reflects the larger shift on the left from blaming soldiers for their involvement in a sometimes unpopular war to trying to show some respect for military personnel while still attacking the political leaders who sent them to war. Although Obama is not old enough to remember the Vietnam War personally, he's nonetheless learned some of the lessons from that era.
Anti-Vietnam War protestors spat on American soldiers, literally and figuratively. Many burned the American flag, urged the victory of the communist guerillas, and ignored the torture of American prisoners of war in North Vietnam. Some, like Obama friend and political ally William Ayers, went further, engaging in grotesque acts of violence against military installations in the U.S. and later against the police. The American people overwhelmingly rejected the excesses of these protestors, electing Richard M. Nixon twice.
With some exceptions -- notably Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who blamed American troops of committing atrocities in Haditha before investigations and courts martial cleared them, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who accused American troops of terrorizing Iraqi children -- most Democrats have tried to sound supportive of American soldiers. I'd like to think this support is sincere, that they appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women who serve this country so the rest of us can be safe. But even if President Obama's decision not to release the photos was simply a cold, political calculation, we should be glad he made it.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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