Posted on April 03, 2009 in Washington Watch

The White House has submitted to Congress its request to dramatically increase aid to the Palestinians in 2009 – a total package in excess of $900 million. What’s raising eyebrows in Congress, however, isn’t the amount, but the fact that the White House has taken steps in the proposal to loosen conditions on Palestinian aid. It appears that the Administration wants to make it possible for aid to continue in the eventuality of a Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

Instead of the blanket prohibition that extended the denial of U.S. assistance following the Mecca Accords, the Obama White House would allow aid to continue if the new Palestinian government “were to accept and comply with the Quartet principles.” What all this means is that, regardless of the terms of the Hamas-PA agreement, should the created government (presumably made up of technocrats) accept the Quartet terms, aid would continue. A White House spokesman notes that this step is necessary to “preserve the President’s flexibility” in order to allow a continuation of needed assistance.

Up in Arms

There was a time when it was customary for new Presidents to be given a grace period by their predecessors. It has also been customary that “politics stops at the water’s edge” and that U.S. Presidents, while overseas, were spared partisan attacks at home. Not so, today.

Conservatives are breaking both customs and are up in arms over President Obama’s tone-changing performances in Europe and Latin America. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been especially outspoken, saying, “I’ve been concerned at the way we’ve been presented overseas… What I find disturbing is the extent to which he’s gone to Europe and seemed to apologize profusely, been to Mexico and seemed to apologize there. ... I don’t think we have much to apologize for.”

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich specifically targeted President Obama’s photographed handshake with President Chavez of Venezuela, saying, “Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and being with the president as proof that Chavez is now legitimate…. It does matter to the world if the United States tolerates a vicious anti-American propaganda campaign and then smiles and greets the person who’s been systematically anti-American for his entire career.”

What it appears they are complaining about is that he’s not behaving more like President Bush, whose approach soured relations with Europe and our neighbors to the South during the last eight years. For his part, Obama has remained firm in his decision to pursue a different foreign policy, especially with regard to reaching out to engage adversaries. The President responded to the attacks by noting:

“We had this debate throughout the campaign, and the whole notion was that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness – and the American people didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy it, because it doesn’t

Torture Revisited

At the very outset of the Iraq war, when it became clear that Iraq had captured a few American soldiers, President Bush said at a press conference on March 23, 2003, “If there is somebody captured, I expect those people to be treated humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.” Then-Defense Department spokesperson Victoria Clark added the next day, “It is a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention to humiliate and abuse prisoners of war or to harm them in any way.”

Yet, as we now know, the Bush Administration, during this very time, was implementing a carefully crafted assault on the very Geneva Conventions they used to argue for humane treatment of U.S. military personnel. (An assault which, the record also shows, was vigorously protested by members of the Justice Department and the uniformed military.)

Last week’s release of four previously classified Bush Administration memos has renewed the debate over torture at a higher level of intensity. Conservatives argue that there was no torture, that any investigations would jeopardize national security and so should not be undertaken. Cheney has argued: “I think those programs were absolutely essential….And now [Obama] is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

Republican strategist Karl Rove took such issue with the declassification of the memos and Obama’s suggestion of possible prosecution that he ranted:
“What they’ve essentially said is if we have policy disagreements with our predecessors… we’re going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses and what we’re gonna do is prosecute systematically the previous administration, or threaten prosecutions against the previous administration, based on policy differences. Is that what we’ve come to in this country?”

For the most part, the media reacted with outrage at the Bush Administration when the memos were released, praising Obama’s commitment to transparency, but urging accountability, as well. The New York Times wrote in a lead editorial:
“….[Obama] has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners – in violation of international law and the Constitution.
That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.
These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable.”

Indeed, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said in an interview that Bybee “ought to be impeached. [The memo he wrote] was not an honest legal memo. It was an instruction manual on how to break the law.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has called for a non-partisan investigation into the interrogation policies of the Bush Administration, said of Bybee: “The decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign. If he is a decent and honorable person he will resign.”

This story, now that it has been revisited, will not die any time soon.

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