will be released. The courts will authorize them or some exceptional leaker will free them. In the digital age, if you know a picture exists and it’s in hot demand—whether it’s a nude Miss California
or a gruesome bit of aggressive interrogation—there’s little or no chance it won’t be found.
So what’s the Obama game, opposing the release
of photographs he knows will be public and whose release he previously supported?
What we’re starting to see emerge here is the Obama PR doctrine. It’s a series of ritualistic bows, and even the appearance of tacit submission, to the other side.
Opposing the release of the pictures is like the flag pin in his lapel. Having made the pin an issue in the early stages of his campaign—precisely articulating what all non-flag-pin-wearing people feel—he then reversed himself. This was a tacit victory for the pin-wearers, while at the same time sending an altogether different signal to the non-wearers: We have to fight the people who make us wear these pins
Now, having almost single-handedly raised the issue of the pictures and helped make their release inevitable, he’s vainly trying to stand in their way. He’s talking for the military. He’s appearing to give them something. At the very least, he’s giving them the appearance of a moral victory—they’ve convinced him that the torture pictures might endanger US troops (in addition to making them look bad).
But, effectively, the issue is moot, because the pics aren’t going to be hidden.
Obama gets it both ways: torture pictures for all to see, with the proper humbling effect on the military and on the Republicans, and, as well, an IOU of thanks from the generals for, however late, opposing their release.
Here’s the doctrine: Bend over backwards when it doesn’t cost you anything. The courts will take care of the pictures
; Obama will mollify the military.
Such an appearance of accommodation is, after a few decades in Washington of purposeful polarization and triangulation, of dominance and submission, something of a relief. Everybody feels they’re getting something. Everybody leaves feeling a bit better than when they came.
The volume is turned down.
The president receives the thanks of a grateful nation.
Or, at some point, inevitably, we begin to see him as the manipulator-in-chief.
The premise that you can somehow always get what you want, that you can, if you properly pull the strings, keep most people happy, that if you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool enough of the people enough of the time, is a sketchy one, which, likely, comes to grief.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com.