As I wait for the inauguration of Barack Obama, I have to acknowledge skepticism on my part about the next four years. I campaigned for Obama, and I'm indescribably happy that he is about to become our president. Still, I have some reservations about him, in part because of the signals he's been sending about whether or not to investigate George W. Bush and his administration for their crimes. So the below (very general) essay sets forth a few of my concerns, especially regarding human rights and foreign policy.
It’s fitting that Barack Obama suggested that he won’t investigate the Bush Administration for their use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, and other illegal acts. In the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, Israel committed horrific atrocities in Gaza—over 34% of the dead and injured Palestinians are children, and the rate of death is over 800 in Gaza and 10 in Israel, most of the latter in friendly fire incidents—and the United States has been one of the few countries to demonstrate one-sided political and military support for Israel.
Why would President-Elect Obama neglect justice regarding both Gaza and President Bush? Quite simply, and quite sadly, because in the United States, the rule of law has become so effectively degraded over the years that to actually follow the rule of law would run counter to American practice. Though President Bush’s use of torture, of violence against other nations, and of acts that undermine the Constitution, have been more explicit than those of any other president, they are only novel in their scale. (NB: This does not exonerate Bush; on the contrary, his blatant illegality makes his actions all the more appalling.)
Consider torture: if Obama pursued an investigation of Bush’s use of torture, he would also have to investigate Presidents Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy. Even himself. (I end the list there a little arbitrarily because members of those administrations are still living and, in some cases, dictating American foreign and domestic policy. Also: I only leave Jimmy Carter off the list because I’m less well-informed about much of his presidency and his relationship to the CIA.) Each of those presidents has employed and supported the CIA to varying degrees, and torture has long been part of official CIA policy. If you find this unbelievable, research Kubark. Moreover, presidents since the establishment of the CIA have been aware, to varying degrees, not only of contemporary CIA practices, but presumably of their past employment as well.
Thus an investigation into President Bush’s crimes would necessitate an open and honest investigation into a long tradition of horrific practices endorsed, overtly or covertly, by the American government. Such an investigation would indict a huge number of individuals who wield a great deal of power in American policy and in discussions of American jurisprudence.
What does this have to do with Israel and Gaza? U.S. foreign policy, implicitly and explicitly, has supported Israel well above all other nations in the Middle East, whether Israel has erred or not in any given instance. (NB again: I don’t condone terrorism or the violence done against innocents in Israel. But I don’t condone terrorism when practiced by a nation, either.) If the United States were to condemn Israel, it would require, as in the case of torture, a monumentally difficult national and legal self-reflection upon American foreign policy and action in the Middle East. Our hands aren’t clean, either.