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Two recent speeches by administration officials—one by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and the other by President Obama himself—speak volumes about what’s wrong with the Obama team’s approach to issues related to foreign policy and national security.
First, let’s consider Crowley, who called the Pentagon’s handling of Private Bradley Manning, who illegally shared diplomatic and military secrets with WikiLeaks, “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
Crowley has since resigned, and rightly so.
While serving in Iraq, Manning downloaded classified videos, thousands of battlefield reports and 251,287 diplomatic cables. “I listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga,” he bragged in a text exchange, “while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.”
This wasn’t a “spillage.” It was an intentional, premeditated breach. What did Manning hand over? We don’t know exactly, but the WikiLeaks website proudly proclaims that it has published operations manuals for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; classified reports on the prison in Fallujah, Iraq, and on the Battle of Fallujah; detailed information on U.S. military equipment, by unit, in Iraq; gun-camera footage of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad; a U.S. Special Forces manual for bolstering unpopular allied governments; CIA strategies to shore up public support among allied populations for the war in Afghanistan; and, most notably, private and often-embarrassing diplomatic profiles about foreign heads of state. In addition, as USAToday reports, WikiLeaks has exposed U.S. efforts to remove nuclear materials from Pakistan, State Department plans to use diplomatic personnel as spies, quid-pro-quos offered by the Obama administration to persuade foreign governments to take on Gitmo detainees, cover-ups of missile attacks in Yemen, and support among Arab leaders to strike Iran.
Manning calls it “worldwide anarchy in CSV format,” a reference to the kind of files he surrendered to WikiLeaks.
As a result, Manning is now in custody at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia, faces 52 years in prison and is under 24-hour monitoring for fear that he could harm himself.
It’s difficult to understand what is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” about the military’s treatment of this criminal. What would Crowley recommend? Group therapy? An honorable discharge? A ticker-tape parade?
What’s really “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” is failing to recognize the threat posed by Manning and other latter-day anarchists to the American people.
Speaking of the ridiculous and counterproductive, the president’s statements on Libya make him sound more like the executive director of a D.C. think tank than the man in charge of U.S. foreign policy, let alone the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces.
“We’ve organized,” the president informed us late last week, “a series of conversations about a wide range of options that we can take.” It really does sound a lot like some symposium at RAND, Brookings or AEI.
Reasonable, thoughtful people can disagree about the merit of intervening in Libya’s civil war. Civil wars are grey areas when it comes to the use of U.S. force. The country has intervened in some that it shouldn’t have and not intervened in others that it probably should have.
What’s less debatable is the importance of what a president says and how he says it. When the right person is behind it, when the right words are spoken, the bully pulpit can be a powerful tool of American foreign policy. Regrettably, President Obama has yet to grasp this in relation to the anti-authoritarian revolutions roiling the Arab world.
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