Hope and Change?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 13, 2011

I suppose that the obvious question to ask here is “why does this White House have so much trouble tolerating dissent?” You know that would be the question of the day if the following had happened during the Bush Administration:

P.J. Crowley abruptly resigned Sunday as State Department spokesman over controversial comments he made about the Bradley Manning case.

Sources close to the matter said the resignation, first reported by CNN, came under pressure from the White House, where officials were furious about his suggestion that the Obama administration is mistreating Manning, the Army private who is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, under suspicion that he leaked highly classified State Department cables to the website Wikileaks.

Speaking to a small group at MIT last week, Crowley was asked about allegations that Manning is being tortured and kicked up a firestorm by answering that what is being done to Manning by Defense Department officials “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Crowley did add that “nonetheless, Bradley Manning is in the right place” because of his alleged crimes, according to a blog post by BBC reporter Philippa Thomas, who was present at Crowley’s talk.

“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law,” Crowley said in a statement Sunday. “My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership.

“The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values,” Crowley said. “Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation.”

Crowley has told friends that he is deeply concerned that mistreatment of Manning could undermine the legitimate prosecution of the young private. Crowley has also made clear he has the Obama administration’s best interests at heart because he thinks any mistreatment of Manning could be damaging around the world to President Obama, who has tried to end the perception that the U.S. tortures prisoners.

Nevertheless, Crowley’s political fate was sealed on Friday when Obama was asked at a White House news conference about his comments regarding Manning.

Obama revealed that he had asked Pentagon officials “whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of (Manning’s) confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.”

In a comment that drew howls of protest from liberals, Obama added that Pentagon officials “assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.”

The outrage on the Left is incandescent, as its members come to the realization that Barack Obama is not the Messiah. He’s just another politician; one willing to emulate the very same Bush Administration policies on detention, and Presidential power that he denounced during the 2008 campaign, and one willing to spite his base over the treatment of Manning. Glenn Greenwald, with whom I have plenty of disagreements, doubtless speaks for much of the Left when he points out–as I did in my first paragraph–that this Administration has opened itself to the charge that it cannot handle differing opinions all that well:

So, in Barack Obama’s administration, it’s perfectly acceptable to abuse an American citizen in detention who has been convicted of nothing by consigning him to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, barring him from exercising in his cell, punitively imposing “suicide watch” restrictions on him against the recommendations of brig psychiatrists, and subjecting him to prolonged, forced nudity designed to humiliate and degrade. But speaking out against that abuse is a firing offense. Good to know. As Matt Yglesias just put it: “Sad statement about America that P.J. Crowley is the one being forced to resign over Bradley Manning.” And as David Frum added: “Crowley firing: one more demonstration of my rule: Republican pols fear their base, Dem pols despise it.”

Of course, it’s also the case in Barack Obama’s world that those who instituted a worldwide torture and illegal eavesdropping regime are entitled to full-scale presidential immunity, while powerless individuals who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing and illegality are subjected to the most aggressive campaign of prosecution and persecution the country has ever seen. So protecting those who are abusing Manning, while firing Crowley for condemning the abuse, is perfectly consistent with the President’s sense of justice.

Also, remember how one frequent Democratic critique made of the Right generally and the Bush administration specifically was that they can’t and won’t tolerate dissent: everyone is required to march in lockstep? I wonder how that will be reconciled with this.

Jane Hamsher is, if anything, even more stark: “Let there be no question: with Crowley’s ouster, President Obama now owns the abuse and torture of Bradley Manning.”

When P.J. Crowley initially made his remarks, Mark Kleiman wrote approvingly that “I would have used stronger language, but I’m glad he said it.” He then went further:

And I very much doubt that he would have said it if his boss hadn’t wanted it said.

And if he’s not fired, that’s a hint that her boss more or less agrees. Which would be good to know.

Well, Crowley’s been fired, which means that his boss (Hillary Clinton) likely didn’t want his comments said. And even if she did, her boss–the guy living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, for those keeping score–more or less disagrees. With all of the dust that has been kicked up over this issue, and with the Obama Administration’s adoption of Bush Administration policies on detention and executive power, I could only respect the online Left if its members state en masse that Barack Obama deserves a challenge for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2012. But we all know that the online Left will never go that far.

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