Self-Revealing Final Act
January 19, 2017
Barack Obama did not go out quietly. His unquiet final acts
were, in part, overshadowed by a successor who refused to come in quietly and,
in part, by Obama’s own endless, sentimental farewell tour. But there was
nothing nostalgic or sentimental about Obama’s last acts. Two of them were
Perhaps we should have known. At the 2015 White House
correspondents’ dinner, he
jokedabout whether he had a bucket list: “Well, I have something that
rhymes with bucket list.”
Turns out, he wasn’t kidding. Commuting
the sentence of Chelsea Manning, one of the great traitors of our time,
is finger-in-the-eye willfulness. Obama took 28 years off the sentence of a
soldier who stole and then released through WikiLeaks almost
half a million military reports plus a quarter-million State Department
The cables were embarrassing; the military secrets were
almost certainly deadly. They jeopardized
the lives not just of American soldiers on two active fronts — Iraq
and Afghanistan — but of locals who were, at great peril, secretly aiding and
abetting us. After Manning’s documents release, the Taliban “went on a
killing spree” (according
to intelligence sourcesquoted by Fox News) of those who fit the description
of individuals working with the United States.
Moreover, we will be involved in many shadowy conflicts
throughout the world. Locals will have to choose between us and our enemies.
Would you choose a side that is so forgiving of a leaker who betrays her country
— and you?
Even the word “leaker” is misleading. “Leak” makes
it sound like a piece of information a whistleblower gives Woodward and
Bernstein to expose misdeeds in high office. This was nothing of the sort. It
was the indiscriminate dumping of a mountain of national security secrets
certain to bring harm to American troops, allies and interests.
Obama considered Manning’s 35-year sentence excessive. On
the contrary. It was lenient. Manning could have been — and in previous ages,
might well have been — hanged for such treason. Now she walks after seven
What makes this commutation so spectacularly in-your-face
is its hypocrisy. Here is a president who spent weeks banging the drums over the
harm inflicted by WikiLeaks with its release of stolen materials and emails
during the election campaign. He demanded
a report immediately. He imposed
sanctions on Russia. He preened about the sanctity of the American
Over what? What exactly was released? A campaign
chairman’s private emails and Democratic National Committee chatter, i.e.,
campaign gossip, backbiting,
indiscretions and cynicism. The usual stuff, embarrassing but not dangerous. No
national security secrets, no classified material, no exposure of anyone to
harm, just to ridicule and opprobrium.
The other last-minute Obama bombshell occurred four weeks
earlier when, for the first time in nearly a half-century, the United States abandoned
Israel on a crucial Security Council resolution, allowing the passage
of a condemnation that will plague both Israel and its citizens for years to
come. After eight years of reassurance, Obama seized the chance — free of
political accountability for himself and his potential Democratic successor —
to do permanent damage to Israel. (The U.S. has no power to reverse the Security
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
who went on to be a great Democratic senator, once argued passionately that in
the anti-American, anti-democratic swamp of the U.N., America should act unwaveringly
in opposition and never give in to the jackals. Obama joined the
Why? To curry favor with the international left? After all,
Obama leaves office as a relatively young man of 55. His next chapter could very
well be as a leader on the international stage, perhaps at the U.N.
(secretary-general?) or some transnational (ostensibly) human rights
organization. What better demonstration of bona fides than a gratuitous attack
on Israel? Or the about-face on Manning and WikiLeaks? Or the freeing of a still
Rican terrorist, Oscar Lopez Rivera, also pulled off with three days
remaining in his presidency.
A more likely explanation, however, is that these are acts
not of calculation but of authenticity. This is Obama being Obama. He leaves
office as he came in: a man of the left, but possessing the intelligence and
discipline to suppress his more radical instincts. As of Nov. 9, 2016,
suppression was no longer necessary.
We’ve just gotten a glimpse of his real self. From now
on, we shall see much more of it.