One of the oddest aspects of Barack Obama's presidency is its sometimes quite strange mix of the ultra-politically correct and the anti-politically correct. They've led to some of the most crashingly boneheaded things this White House has done.
This odd combination has been on full display the past few days with the trial and conviction of Army Major Nidal Hassan in Fort Hood, Texas and the detention of David Miranda at London's Heathrow Airport.
Hasan, the psychiatrist(hah!)-turned-homegrown jihadist who by all accounts massacred his fellow soldiers in 2009 at Fort Hood while screaming "Allahu Akbar!" learned Friday that he's been convicted of murder and attempted murder in the killings of 13 of his fellow soldiers and wounding of another 31. He defended himself and essentially mounted no defense.
Strangely, the Obama administration had persisted in characterizing the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas as a workplace incident rather than a terrorist attack by a homegrown jihadist. Even with ample evidence of Hasan having become just that, from his shouting the jihadist war cry as he went about his lethal business against his unarmed comrades to his previous behavior and statements and repeated correspondence with a ranking Al Qaeda leader.
Contrast that overly sensitive behavior on the part of the administration with its remarkably politically incorrect -- and tone deaf -- behavior thousands of miles away in encouraging our British allies, who one expects to know better, to try to intimidate a troublesome journalist by detaining his domestic partner for nine hours.
The U.S., after some delay, backed away away from the British detention of the domestic partner of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald of Snowden affair fame Sunday at Heathrow Airport. Perhaps the administration should have backed away sooner, say when the Brits gave what is described after the fact -- so as to sustain the notion that it's an idea which originated in London -- a heads-up about the move to the White House before using their terrorism act to detain Brazilian citizen David Miranda for nine hours, questioning him repeatedly about the Snowden affair and seizing his computer, phone, and all other electronic devices.
He was charged with nothing, not surprisingly, and following nine hours of grilling sent on his way at the last moment allowed for under the law. Otherwise, he would have to have been formally arrested on some sort of charge.
Greenwald, of course, saying that all the questions were about the Snowden revelations, was unsurprisingly furious. He says the UK was simply playing the puppet for the U.S., especially given the line of questioning.
Miranda was passing through London and returning to Brazil, where he and Greenwald live, after visiting documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, another central journalistic figure in the Snowden affair, in Berlin.
A MacArthur Foundation Fellow repeatedly detained by U.S. security agents coming and going from the U.S. -- something chronicled recently by the New York Times magazine -- Poitras is working in Berlin to avoid interference.
I don't think these folks are going to be intimidated, and I have a feeling that the bad PR and overall backlash is certainly not worth the risk of whatever someone imagined might be gained by this move.The Brits finally announced that they are pursuing a criminal investigation, without getting any more specific. This after days of criticism in Britain and around the world, not least from Brazil.
While the intimidation factor of this move won't work on these folks, it might serve to deter others. (It also might serve as a challenge.) One effect it will have is to make it harder to use couriers. Because that is in effect what Miranda was, carrying materials which could not be sent electronically or by post. Making it harder for journalists to collaborate in order to do this sort of work at least slows things done.
Which is probably why the the Guardian, which also announced over the past few days that it was forced to destroy some Snowden materials by British security officers, is partnering with the New York Times, dividing some of the work in the process and taking advantage of more liberal American laws regarding freedom of speech and protections for the press.
Did the administration really want to bring the Times into the fray, lending the imprimatur and clout of America's most eminent newspaper to an effort previously marked by the estimable but undeniably lefty Brit operation of the Guardian.
That seems to me to be an unintended consequence of cowboy behavior.
Not unlike last month's cowboy move to force Bolivia's presidential jet -- returning from a new Russian-convened natural gas cartel conference in Moscow -- from the skies on the rumor that Snowden was aboard. Again, it wasn't the U.S. directly, it was America's NATO allies, suddenly moving in concert to close their airspace to the aircraft of Bolivian President Evo Morales.
A thoroughly boneheaded move, especially considering that the Bolivian presidential plane took off from an airport on the opposite side of Moscow from the principal Sheremetyevo airport, at which Snowden was then stuck in the transit zone. Could the Russians, past masters of maskirovka, have moved Snowden across Moscow? Sure. But they obviously had not. One wonders about a top-level decision-making process based on obviously half-baked guesswork.
As with the detention of Greenwald's partner on the spurious basis of stopping terrorism, the forcing down of a presidential aircraft makes the U.S., also known as us, look like bullies. And not especially bright bullies, at that.
Forcing down presidential planes, harassing journalists and their spouses, it's all very politically incorrect.
The zeal with which the Obama administration has pursued Snowden has been quite striking. Rather than let him end up in Latin America, the administration has upped the ante at every turn and for now has "succeeded" in forcing Snowden to find at least temporary refuge in Russia. Thus providing the only real spymaster on this playing field, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a series of propaganda coups, not least the canceled mini-summit in Moscow. It was clear four years ago when Obama visited Moscow that Putin considers him to be something of a twerp, as I wrote here at the time. Putin even made Obama late for his big speech of the trip.
Forcing Snowden to Russia also gives Putin's skilled minions plenty of time to figure out how to get at Snowden's caches of secrets.
Why the stupidity?
I understand that the Snowden revelations must be mortifying for the government. And some of the players involved must really irritate government officials. It goes without saying that they despise Julian Assange. (Notice that Obama's replacement for the canned Moscow summit with Putin is a trip to Sweden, where Assange is wanted on somewhat murky sex charges.)
Then there is Glenn Greenwald, who seems so reflexively against the U.S. doing anything at all interventionist that reading him has set my teeth grinding on many occasions. But Greenwald and company are definitely on to a lot more than something here. And high-level government officials are supposed to act with a certain dispassionate professionalism, especially when putting the credibility of a great nation on the line.
When does Obama have his biggest disasters? When he's being ultra-PC or anti-PC?
Since we still don't really know what was going on the night of the Benghazi disaster -- Obama's now you see it/now you don't global terror alert, declared just after reports of dozens of previously unacknowledged CIA operatives fighting on the ground there that fateful night, distracted the shiny objects-oriented media from those reports -- it's hard to say for sure.
But the deeply stupid administration spin around the Benghazi disaster, which I've written about, ah, once or twice, might still claim the prize. Because no matter what was really going on in Benghazi that night, it's certainly not something that needs a perpetual flashing red light to appear whenever the word "Benghazi" is mentioned.
Claiming, as then UN Ambassador and now National Security Adviser Susan Rice did, on five separate Sunday chat shows, that the disaster occurred as a result of a political protest gone sour was ridiculous even before she said it and utterly ridiculous when she did say it. So ridiculous that she got into something of an argument about it with a top Libyan official on one of the shows.
But it was very PC to pretend that an obvious act of terrorism was something much less charged, just as the administration did with the attack on his fellow soldiers by Major Nidal Hasan.
It seems that Obama's ultra-PC stance is the most pointless, as pretending that Benghazi was not a terrorist attack, or that Hasan was not a homegrown jihadist ascending in the Army officer corps, quickly proved to be nothing more than foolishly flimsy pretenses.
It may be that Obama's anti-PC stance is the most damaging, because it gives the lie to his positioning in the world as a pragmatically benign figure. We know he's not George W. Bush; that's why he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Being not-Bush hasn't been good enough for quite awhile now. Especially when Obama sets things in motion that Bush probably would not.
Would George W. Bush have had the Bolivian presidential jet forced down? I seriously doubt it. He would have been all too aware of the immediate backlash. A cowboy president pulling a cowboy move.
Would George W. Bush have had Greenwald's partner detained in London? Maybe.
Hey, he's not a liberal.
But to even entertain the comparison shows how far Obama has wandered from his own political positioning. And for what?
To me, it seems inevitable that the effort to shut down the Snowden revelations will fail. And probably with more embarrassments ahead for the would-be "plumbers."
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