A reader writes:
I may be Pollyanna here, but I wonder if Obama is again playing the long game. There is a legitimate national security argument for not investigating Cheney's war crimes while we have troops in combat in the Middle East. If Pastor Jones can inflame Muslim public opinion and endanger our soldiers, think what a detailed probe of Cheney's torture regime might do -- not to mention the political blowback. And there's the terrible problem of our intelligence operatives who were ordered to do unspeakable things, and whom to hold accountable for that. If Obama intends to end combat for all U.S. troops by the end of his first term, and I believe he does, I think we might then see prosecutions for murder, the crime for which the statute of limitations will not run out. And I think that possibility will get much stronger if Obama is elected to a second term. He is pragmatic, yes. And while we're at war, he's caught between a rock and a very hard place. But I don't think he's a moral coward.
I don't think that Bush created this new direction out of whole cloth, though, and that Obama has chosen to endorse it and preserve its existence. I think you are wrong to give these two Presidents all of the blame for what's going on.
The shadowy, secret, national security infrastructure has been with us since the end of the Second World War. Getting rid of it, or even just trying to reign it in a little, is a very hard and complicated problem.
A lot of the nuts and bolts business of running the empire is flowing through these secret parts of the system. You can't just flip a switch and turn if off. It's the problem of closing Gitmo multiplied by 100,000.
Bush and Cheney didn't so much create the system as they made it impossible for the rest of us to pretend it didn't exist. They were so aggressive, and so contemptuous about maintaining even the illusion of decency and lawfulness that they forced us to think about what was really going on. Obama can't put that back in the bottle. Morally, things like torture represent the core problems that must be solved. But on a practical level, the problem is secrecy. Secrecy makes the national security apparatus invulnerable -- if we can't talk about it, can't criticize it, can't suggest changes, how can we do anything at all?
The secrecy argument, of course, is what the latest case is about. Secrecy not to protect genuine and important aspects of national security, but secrecy to immunize criminals in government. On this topic in general, I have been engrossed by Andrew Bacevich's new book, "Washington Rules." I hope to have something to say about it soon.