Commentary Magazine


Re: He Who Shouts Loudest

Jennifer, the question of President Obama’s inner compass is a vital one. Let us not forget all the fawning evaluations of his fundamentally non-ideological nature. Pragmatism, remember, was his guiding principle.

Of course, pragmatism isn’t a principle at all; it’s a renouncement of principle — and that’s the problem. Even before Obama tried to block the release of the detainee photos, there was a spectacular paradox at work. On the one hand he goes before the Turkish parliament and intones, “Let me say this as clearly as I can, the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.” Then he returns to American soil to tell the (Muslim) world, in painstaking detail, about all the ways in which the U.S. “tortures” Muslims (so much for his attempt at clarity). Should the memo stunt lose something in translation in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a picture menu gets slated for release.

Hey, it’s pragmatic. In Ankara, leaders want to hear that the U.S. is not singling out Muslims; in the U.S., the Left wants to hear that the U.S. has been singling out Muslims. But Obama’s pragmatism is so absolute that every news cycle is approached on a case-by-case basis, and the pending release of the pictures poses new challenges. So now he’s giving military commanders what they want: no pictures.

Next pragmatism trainwreck — Guantanamo Bay posturing: “US President Barack Obama is due to announce ‘this week’ that he is reviving controversial military trials for suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, US officials said Tuesday.”

Not incidentally, Obama has had the hardest time being “pragmatic” when attempting to dismantle the Bush national security apparatus. Maybe that’s because ideology is sometimes what’s needed after all.