Friday, December 19, 2008

Perspective on Blago

Daniel Larison offers some much-needed perspective on the relative seriousness of the alleged Obama-Blagojevich ties. It's not clear what those ties were, although if they're as bad as they possibly could be (an unlikely scenario) they're still peanuts compared to the now apparently confirmed fact that the US government explicitly pursued an official policy of torture and lawbreaking at the highest levels of authority.
It’s all very well to insist that Obama be as forthcoming and transparent as possible concerning any connection between himself and his staff and the Blagojevich matter. Transparent, open government was an important part of what Obama promised as a candidate, and he should be held to his pledges. Even so, am I the only one who finds it absolutely crazy that anyone is this concerned about Obama’s answers on Blagojevich when we have just had a Senate report released that confirms that the highest levels of the current administration were implicated in and responsible for serious violations of the law? This is the sort of thing that some people have insisted not be investigated and prosecuted during the next administration’s tenure for various unpersuasive reasons, and not least because of the concern that it would appear to be a partisan witch-hunt. Obviously, we are not concerned about such appearances in Blagojevich’s case, because we think it important to enforce the law here, so why not enforce it when the crimes involved are far more serious and there are far greater breaches of the public trust? We are watching a strange spectacle, in which the entire country fixates on egregious corruption of one prominent public official while appearing to be largely indifferent to the systemic corruption and illegality of the highest officers in the executive branch of the federal government relating to matters of national security and prisoner abuse. To answer Prof. Cole, there is nothing mystifying in the timing of the report’s release–Congress’ desire to bury this issue and avoid doing the hard things necessary to defend the rule of law is evidently very strong.
The first comment on this post (posted by a conradg at 2:38 pm on 12/12) makes clearer how deep and systematic a problem this explicit policy of torture is for the US intelligence community:
One other neglected, related story is the trouble Obama is having finding a qualified CIA director who is not tainted by the practices of torture over the least eight years. Brennan was rejected because of his defenses of these practices, but finding someone who is clean is proving almost impossible. The real scandal here is not about who Obama ends up appointing, but that the entire intelligence-gathering community of the United States seems to have been so complicit in these crimes that there seem to be no high level officials, however, competent, who have not been a part of this regime of torture. This is astonishing. It clearly has not been the fault of a few rogue officers and low level officials, it has pervaded the entire intelligence community from top to bottom, and cleaning that rot out is going to take quite a lot of effort. It doesn’t even sound like it is going to be possible to ferret out those responsible, since everyone seems to have been complicit. It’s going to take some very stringent rules and disciplines, and we are going to have to count on many of the same people who broke the law to comply with and enforce it. Yikes.
It's going to be a while before we finish plumbing the depths of the damage Bush has done to America. I'm more convinced than ever that his presidency will go down with those of Wilson, Nixon, and Buchanan on the short list of the most terrible and harmful ever. I believe that Obama's policies will do real damage to America, but just by not being George W. Bush he's already in less danger of being a truly horrible president. How sad, tragic, and pathetic that is.

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