Thursday, December 18, 2008

Will President Obama “Agree to Disagree” on War Crimes?

There’s an interesting dynamic developing regarding the choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. Critics, including many GLBT advocates, are saying that the choice of Warren, who has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights and was a leading voice for Proposition 8 in California (which made gay marriage unconstitutional), is a slap in the face to many of Obama’s strongest supporters and financial contributors.

Obama has defended the pick by stressing his own support for gay rights, and asserting the importance of “agreeing to disagree on certain social issues.” His transition team also released a set of talking points justifying the selection of Warren, based on other issues where Warren's views are in line with Obama's, such as AIDS and poverty.

Obama's defense prompted John Aravosis to point out the irony in the fact that Obama would most certainly not “agree to disagree” about racism, which would directly affect his own family, but is willing to do so on an issue affecting other families. Atrios, commenting on the political calculus of Obama’s position, describes it rather bluntly when he points out that, in today’s world, “anti-gay bigotry is very centrist!”

But here’s my (somewhat related) question:

Dick Cheney just came out and admitted on national television to supporting and authorizing torture, which we now know led to the death of numerous uncharged and untried “enemy combatants.” These are acts that are universally accepted under any historical definition as “war crimes,” and Cheney now openly admits to facilitating them.

In his effort to change to a more bipartisan, cooperative, tone in Washington, where does Barack Obama place torture and war crimes? Will his “centrist” focus lead him to look toward glossing over the use of these tactics by treating them as a “social issue” on which we can “agree to disagree?” Will those who speak out toward rationalizing past acts of torture be given a seat at the table, because they agree with the President on other issues?

Or will these tactics be condemned as harshly, and eventually punished as severely, as would open acts of racism that led to the unconscionable killing of other human beings?

Simply put, in an Obama Administration, will a history of supporting torture be treated as being more akin to a history of racism, or to “social disapproval” of homosexuality?

Stay tuned . . .


  1. Anonymous9:21 AM

    I will stay tuned. . . My highest hope is that Obama is making it known that Pastor Rick Warren is speaking so that Obama can address the issure of gay marriage before he takes office. He believes that this man is in the minority and that most people in this country are not bothered by gay marriage. It is a few very vocal groups that have decided to make this an issue. He wants that over with when he takes office, because he has some much more troubling issues to face. I think he knows the left will continue to support him even when they see him take steps that are much less assertive against their beliefs. I think he has a long few of everything, and a simple strategy of walking into the fire with trust that nobody will let him burn, bucause we Americans fight for what is right. Allowing gays to marry is right!

  2. I really hope you are correct, Anon (although I'm a bit weirded out by the idea of Obama walking into a fire and thinking he won't get burned!)

    If Obama invited Pastor Warren to expand his own audience during the inauguration so he can include a strong "closing argument" on gay equality that has the effect of creating an obvious majority in favor of gay civil rights, then I will bow in admiration (as I have done quite a few times already during his campaign, by the way!)

    On the other hand, If he gives the issue only brief mention out of deference to the "agreed disagreement" with Warren, then it will seem clear that gay civil rights is the issue that Obama is willing to trade for political capital from evangelicals to use for advancing his other policy goals.

    As the Nations' first black president who benefited greatly from the civil rights movement of earlier times, to do so on the civil rights issue of the current times would be a huge disappointment!

    I am still hopeful that he is wise enough to avoid such a mistake.

  3. Anonymous5:00 PM

    I'm thinking perhaps the media might play this out to a non-issue, if only the gays and their supporters will let this choice be less important because they know Obama's position and the stand he will always take. He has not for once changed his position and I don't think he is letting them win, he is just letting them have a voice among many. I know it appears that he is accepting that voice, but I doubt it. I refuse to believe that Obama is making a trade here. It is totally out of his character to make such a trade. We shall watch this closely won't we. After Reverend Wright and now this Pastor, Obama may see clearly that religion is almost unAmerican in its efforts to create bigotry. Walking into the fire was a bit strong on that one, but he certainly puts himself on the line at times and he had to know the reaction he would get on this. I really do want to see what he does with it.