Obama's Litmus Test for Change
Emilio Lizardo | January 30, 2009 at 10:50 amby
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By NowPublic Contributor E. Lizardo
Ann Arbor, January 30, 2009, 1:29 PM EST
Foreign policy debate is usually focused on cause and effect. That is to say, which behaviors has the policy been designed to modify ? Foreign policy, viewed in this light, then boils down to one of two things - reward or punishment, the carrot or the stick. And that's fine. There's nothing at all new about this. Certainly nations have been designing policy on this basis since history began. But, as has been said by someone before, "The devil is in the details!"
The specifics concerning precisely how an agreed upon policy will be implemented at the operational level, for instance in the interrogation room or on the battlefield, obviously require detailed specification within the policy document. Of course this is always done. The Geneva convention will be respected, no torture will be used, etc. To seasoned professionals, any implementation failures or procedural errors shall we say, then become mere matters of public relational spin-doctoring.
On that basis then, anyone tasked with overseeing the implementation of a given policy at the operational level will be, or at least should be selected on the basis of their expertise in anticipating and dealing with the various bumps in the road which will always occur in the real world, that place where the rubber does indeed meet the road. The method of dealing with any of these inevitable glitches is always a public relations matter. All a policy manager is really required to do to get an off-course program back in line is refute the negative information. Anticipation will preclude the occurrence of most difficulties, but when problems do occur very often the most efficient damage control method is to either discredit the source of the negative information or by bringing into doubt the veracity of the information itself. Of course the later can be accomplished as a direct result of the former, hence becoming in effect a freebie, or the latter may be necessary in cases where circumstances make the former impossible or impractical. Experience has shown that given enough time and enough public-relations resources, that is to say cash and expertise, just about any kind of a problem can be fixed.
Sometimes the implementation errors are so egregious that no amount of spin-doctoring can hide them from the public eye. Sometimes there's not enough time to fix it before enough people find out about it to make it impossible to fix.
For example, what kind of an incompetent fool would develop a culture in which could flourish the various sexual abuses reported at Guantanamo, which is bad enough in itself. But let's face it, still essentially manageable, and then compound the problem by allowing conditions where an extensive trail of photographic evidence could become available to corroborate testimony of the victims themselves? What makes the situation at Guantanamo even more unbelievable is that it is the very troops themselves who provided this photographic evidence! They didn't think they were doing anything wrong! And nobody in the chain of command who was aware of these photographs understood how damaging they could become.
Clearly something was very, very wrong at Guantanamo. Not only in terms of the actual abuses committed on the prisoners themselves, but also in the quality of the system of command and control in which the military takes such great pride. The commander of that base must've been a complete moron!
Or, was it something more ?
There is another possibility. There exists the possibility that from the viewpoint of the military itself, the perception at the highest levels of command, much higher for instance then a mere base commander at Gitmo, they see themselves as more or less invulnerable from the effects of practically any degree of civilian outrage.
In the mind of this writer, although the first possibility, that Gitmo's executive management was absolutely incompetent and culpable, is a virtual no-brainer, it is the second which raises a giant red flag and a huge concern.
Already the challenge has been issued to Bush's replacement, President Obama. Although his first act in office was the highly publicized signing of the 120-day moratorium on trials at the military tribunal at Guantanamo, yet, according to a recent article in the Washington Post at least one trial still continues.
Will Obama be equal to this challenge from the military establishment which, at least on paper ( anybody remember the Constitution of the United States ? ) he still commands, or will he prove to be helpless against the status quo firmly established and so deeply entrenched during the Bush II presidency?
One might even regard this challenge as the litmus test of the Obama era.
Only time will tell if President Obama's much heralded promise of change is achievable or will end up as just the latest broken American Dream consigned to the dust heap of history.