So, who’s the real “enemy of the state,” anyway?
Over the past week we’ve seen an extraordinary display of discernment - - or lack of discernment, if you will - - from the President of the United States. It started with President Obama allowing himself to be photographed and recorded while glad-handing, back-slapping, and generally enjoying the company of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. It ended with the Obama Administration toying with the idea of attempting to prosecute members of the Bush Administration for being to mean to terrorists.
Let’s first consider Hugo Chavez, and President Obama’s public greeting of him. Chavez is a very troubling character, having helped lead an effort to overthrow his own nation’s government back in 1992. H ended up being sent to prison for the coup attempt, but after his release two years later in 1994, he was able to start his own political movement, and eventually win election to the presidency himself in December of 1998.
And what has happened to Venezuela’s government since Chavez became President? Among many other things, both judicial and legislative power has been concentrated in his hands. A nationwide, privately owned television network - - a network whose editorial stance happened to be quite critical of Chavez and his regime - - had its broadcast licenses revoked by Chavez, and the entire network was replaced by a state-run television network. Chavez himself even sought to change the nation’s constitution so as to abolish presidential term limits, an effort that was narrowly defeated by the nation’s voters by a vote of only 51%. In short, the President who once sought to overthrow his nation’s government has shown himself to have all the tendencies of a not-so-benevolent dictator, something that is inconsistent with democracy and human liberty.
After his warm greeting of Chavez, President Obama remarked that “it’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having polite conversation with Mr. Chavez, we are endangering the strategic interest of the United States.” This was a lame response to the criticism that Obama’s behavior had engendered, and worse yet, it completely missed the point.
Nobody has ever claimed that the Chavez government poses a danger to the strategic interests of the United States (this was yet another of Obama’s famous “straw man” arguments). Yet, there is a very good reason that both Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat President Bill Clinton both refused to be seen with Chavez. The reason is, simply, that for the President of the United States - - any President of the United States - - to be seen in the company of another head of state, is to automatically and immediately impart esteem and, at the very least, implicit approval, to that head of state. And whereas historically the United States has sought to advance the cause of freedom and democracy around the world (rather than undermine it), U.S. Presidents have refused to play into the propagandizing games of political leaders who are at odds with democracy.
But the days of the United States promoting liberty and democracy around the world seem to be over with, or, at the very least, have been suspended during this current era of Obama (certainly promoting liberty domestically is “on hold” right now). Similarly, the days of the U.S. Government taking seriously its own intelligence gathering efforts, and respecting those who do that work, appear to be on hiatus as well.
When early last week President Obama announced that the White House would release classified memos detailing the CIA’s interrogation of terror suspects from earlier this decade, he offered his assurance that there would be no attempts to prosecute those involved. Yet by weeks end, the President had suggested that maybe Congress should at least “investigate” the CIA’s interrogation tactics, and do so with a “bipartisan” commission at the helm. Further, the Administration appears ready to release at least some of the identities of CIA officials who had been involved in terrorist interrogations.
And note what is at stake: We’re talking here about people who work for our nation’s Central Intelligence Agency, people who do some of the most high-risk work in all the intelligence community, under clandestine agreements. President Obama now appears to be willing to reverse course, determine after the fact that their work is not clandestine, and subject these Americans to public scorn, at the very least, and grave threat, at the worst.
Yes, it’s an amazing week, when the President of the United States has a warm embrace for a dictator, and merciless condemnation for some of his fellow Americans.