Obama using the CIA to re-shuffle the political deck
It's time for some honesty in the current debate over the CIA's interrogation methods of terrorists. The argument isn't really over whether we were too harsh, given that even Obama has said we would continue turning terrorists over to other governments, knowing full well that those guys play rougher than we do.
It's all about politics.
Soon after his inauguration as President, Obama stated that he didn't want to re-open an investigation into CIA interrogations of terrorists because he knew that it would become a tremendous, political distraction - which is exactly why he's changed his mind.
Normally, the last thing a guy with Obama's messianic ambition would want is for all of Washington to become sidetracked with such a divisive issue, much less one that exposes the political weaknesses of his own party.
For years, national security, or "keeping the country safe", has been one of the few issues where polls have fairly consistently shown Republicans with an edge over Democrats, and it's an issue that would be highlighted by a divisive over how the CIA went about its business in the aftermath of September 11th.
In such a debate, the burden of proof (politically) would be with CIA opponents, a point underlined even further by the recent release of the Inspector General's report, which demonstrated that "how" the CIA did its thing provided valuable intelligence on the Al Qaeda network. Not the least of which was what amounted to 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's "rolodex" of terrorist contacts. All in all, pretty useful information.
So what's changed Obama's mind about a new investigation? Two words: health care. Specifically, the fact that the liberal ambition of a single-payer, government run program is politically dead - and its potential forerunner, the proposed "public option", is dying due to massive grassroots opposition among Republicans, conservatives, moderates, independents and even some Democrats.
The more Obama and the nation have focused on his health care reform plans, the more massive the opposition has become, the lower his approval ratings have gone and the greater his need for a distraction.
Over half the country opposes his health care plan, and those with "strong" feelings one way or another oppose it by two to one. And Obama's own public approval numbers just hit a new low of fifty percent in the latest Gallup poll, the third fastest drop in presidential approval in the poll's history.
Even political handicapper Charlie Cook, (who usually sees donkey's in his sleep), admitted in a recent political report that "the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats".
Despite accusations to the contrary, the grassroots opposition has been just that, "grassroots". Its mere size and intensity underlines the fact that no Republican conspiracy is driving this train. It's too big, and if they were this capable where the heck were they last November?
And isn't Obama supposed to be the guy with the massive grassroots structure, capable of virtual push-button organizing? The failure to effectively counterpunch says that a lot of his supporters aren't buying what he's selling, which indicates not many of them knew what he was selling to begin with. They just knew he wasn't they guy that they had been conditioned to hate.
Which brings us back to Obama's decision to let Attorney General Eric Holder start investigating the CIA.
Obama figures that he's already won one race against George Bush, (considering the fact that he "wasn't Bush" was the primary reason he won), so why not re-open the Bush files with all that stuff that got the people who supported him so worked up to begin with and get them reenergized?
In other words, it's time to re-shuffle the deck.
He figures that in the current political dynamic health care will be a bust, so he has to change it and then try to salvage health care reform in the new environment. And then hope that he can use the next year to deal with the political fallout before the 2010 elections.
In the end, Democrats will probably come to regret going after CIA officers doing their jobs defending Americans. Politically it leaves them open to the charge of being weak on national security, not to mention the risks to our country's ability to gather valuable intelligence, (a concern that reportedly has new CIA Director Leon Panetta on the verge of quitting after just half a year on the job).
It's a risky gamble. There's a reason why "24" has been one of the most popular shows on TV for eight years.
But it's a gamble Obama's willing to take in order to re-shuffle the deck.