Friday, April 24, 2009


I'm struck by the fact that a certain argument is not considered outrageous. David Frum:

Now Obama is musing about extending the political reach of the criminal law. If he does so, he will find he has opened a new front of political warfare that will not soon end.

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush drew a curtain of oblivion against all the errors and mistakes that had led up to the attacks. There was accusation and counter-accusation in the media, but at the official level there was no recrimination against President Clinton's decision not to kill bin Laden when he had the chance, no action against those who had failed to stop the 9/11 hijackers from entering the country.

If Obama proceeds to take legal action against those who did what they thought was right to defend the country, all that will change. Prosecutions launched by Obama will not stop when Obama declares "game over." If overzealousness under Bush becomes a crime under Obama, underzealousness under Obama will become a crime under the next Republican president.

James Taranto on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, after quoting Frum (in a piece titled "Ve Haf Vays of Making You Consent" -- keep it classy, Rupert):

If those now in power yield to the temptation to use authoritarian means--however well-intentioned their ends may be--they will set a precedent that their opponents, perhaps equally well-intentioned, may one day use against them.

Maybe I'm reading something into this that's not there, but what Frum and Taranto seem to be saying is that legal pursuit of the Obama administration could very well follow any legal pursuit of Bushies who enabled torture for whatever reason the post-Obama Republicans might concoct. And if they do this -- if they simply make up charges against the Obamaites -- that will be Obama's fault.

If there's any legal action taken right now against Bushies, it will be in the belief that crimes -- actual affirmative illegal acts -- took place. Frum, by contrast, implies that Republicans could have prosecuted Bill Clinton for not killing bin Laden, but out of the goodness of their hearts chose not to, for which they deserve a gold star on the forehead and a round of applause.

Yes, obviously the death of bin Laden in the Clinton years would have spared America great suffering, but in the failure to kill him, where's the crime?

(And for that matter, if failing to kill bin Laden is a crime, isn't President Obama showing great restraint by failing to indict members of the Bush administration for it?)

I should add, however, that Frum and Taranto are probably right -- Republicans probably will exact their revenge if charges are pursued against Bushies. But that's not because it's appropriate, or because it's simple human nature. It's because they're Republicans, and scorched earth is now the party's all-but-official policy, never mind the consequences to the country.

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