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Obama Keeps Growing in Office

2:32 PM, May 13, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Obama's made a habit of reversing himself on key national security issues when the politics shift. He flipped on telecom immunity after promising to filibuster the provision. He flipped on military commissions for detainees -- or at least reports in the Washington Post and New York Times indicate that he soon will. He's flipped even on the right to due process, which will now be withheld from as many as 100 detainees who the administration has said will be held without a trial of any kind. Now Obama has flipped on releasing some 44 photos that allegedly show the abuse of detainees by U.S. forces.

In each instance, Obama won praise from his critics, who were rightly pleased to see the president's much-hyped pragmatism win out over the ideological promises he made during the campaign. The left has for years argued that the war on terror polices of the last administration drove young Muslims to al Qaeda, that the sight of detainees being held without trial served only to help the jihadists with recruitment. Whether there is any evidence for this is unclear, but it is a real argument. What cannot be argued, what is incontrovertible, is that the photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib did aid our enemies and put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk. We can assume that another round of photos would have had the same effect. That is, the only salutary effect of such a move would have been to soothe the consciences of American liberals who suspect American troops to be war criminals and desperately want the pictures to prove it.

President Obama is now commander in chief, and he has an obligation to the troops under his command that exceeds any promises made to liberal interest groups during the campaign. No one should question that Obama is doing this for the right reasons, but it must also be noted that the president, as Politico's Josh Gerstein explains, wants "to avoid giving Republican critics new fodder for attacks."

There are elements on the left that would expose the president to political danger, and the troops to mortal danger, only to see the last administration implicated in any kind of abuse. The president should be praised for resisting those elements even as his actions also serve his own self-interest. But President Obama has many other important decisions in front of him that put his campaign statements at odds with his responsibilities to the safety and security of American troops and the American public. Americans should hold out hope that President Obama may yet reverse himself entirely on the closure of Gitmo and that he will revive the use of harsh interrogation techniques if and when all other options are exhausted and the country is in imminent danger of attack. For now though, it's enough that President Obama seems to be growing in office.