Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Reality Principle, or Lack of It

According to Sam Stein in The Huffington Post:

Officials inside the Obama administration have grown discouraged by the abruptness with which the news over the killing of Osama bin Laden has turned into a debate over the efficacy of harsh interrogation techniques and torture. Just days after the al Qaeda leader was killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the political conversation has shifted from the implications of the assassination to questions of whether the waterboarding of valuable detainees was crucial in gathering intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts.

But in this context, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) are a perfectly legitimate, and indeed an important, matter to discuss. After all, Barack Obama was a fierce critic of EITs during and after the 2008 campaign. In his speech at the National Archives, President Obama said about his predecessor: “Our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.”

A man of uncommon ideological rigidity, Obama must now know—at least on some level—that what President Bush did was based on foresight rather than fear. Obama is now reaping the rewards of the intelligence architecture put in place by his predecessor, and which Obama himself opposed. This appears to be a sore point within the administration. Obama seems to want all the credit for himself, even if it is undeserved.

How totally out of character for him.

In the same National Archives speech, Obama said this about EITs, “[T]hey did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts—they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.” Gosh, that doesn’t really seem to be the case now, does it? As Marc Thiessen writes, “[I]t turns out that the very CIA interrogators whose lives Obama turned upside down played a critical role in what the president rightly calls ‘the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.’ ”

The president seems to be having a hard time processing this reality, perhaps because it doesn’t appear to fit into his ideological predispositions.

Too bad.