Obama's "False Choice" Is Designed to Evade Accountability

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Apr 25, 2009 3:08 PM
One of the truly thoughtful journalists out there, Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, points out how simplistic (and ultimately misleading) President Obama's framing of the torture issue is.

The President continues to decry "the false choice between our security and our ideals," but as Taylor points out, it's not so clear that the choice is a "false" one, as the President would have us believe.

For those who want to ban all forms of torture -- even if that policy decision ends up costing American lives, perhaps many of them -- it would be ideal if, indeed, all the evidence showed that the same (potentially lifesaving) information can and could be obtained through some gentler means.  The problem is that it now appears that rough treatment produced genuinely essential information that forestalled a second 9/11.  And that means that preemptively renouncing such measures may result in successful terrorist attacks on America in the future.

What's interesting about the President's insistence that security vs. ideals is always a "false choice" is the bad faith it assumes on the part of his predecessors.  It assumes that those in the Bush administration were either so stupid that they couldn't see what is so evident to the "enlightened" Obama administration -- or else, that they were evil, and deliberately decided to torture even when it was clearly unnecessary for national security purposes.

One can disagree with the decisions that were taken by the Bush administration.  But it strikes me as an act of profound cynicism -- and political posturing -- to behave as though those tough decisions were either completely thoughtless or deliberately cruel, especially when a multitude of memoes reflect the careful balancing and agonized deliberation that when into the decision-making process.

President Bush and his staff made tough calls that kept this country safe, even though no doubt they knew that some would pillory them for it.  Now, President Obama and his staff are being faced with the same tough calls -- but, in contrast, they are trying to evade all accountability by pretending that there is no potential downside to the course they are taking.

And that, in my book, is true moral cowardice.  If President Obama believes that not torturing at all costs is that important, he should be prepared to accept the consequences of that determination . . . as President Bush and those in his administration were obviously willing to accept the criticism and second-guessing that inevitably accompanied their decision that extreme measures were, regrettably, sometimes necessary to protect American lives.

I think the President and his team are making the wrong decision here, of course -- but hey, that's what elections are about.  They won, and now they make the policy (for better or for much, much worse).

But pretending that the choices here aren't hard is plain dishonest and does no one a service in the long run, especially if a terrorist attack occurs.  In the short run, though, it does allow the president to pretend that his far-reaching policy changes will have no adverse consequences.  It seems that defining the tough choices away is the name of the game now at The White House.