Social media has been going wild over the Chelsea Manning clemency. Here’s why it’s about more than just one person’s crimes.
President Obama has been using his clemency pen to the point where many people wonder if it’s running out of ink. There’s little point to dissecting all of them – over one thousand, and counting – but the notable one that has social media on fire is Chelsea (Bradley) Manning. If people consider just Manning’s crimes, the outrage is absolutely acceptable, and there’s no real reason to discourage it. But, like so many other things in politics, there are a few other moving parts involved in this one.
First, it’s silly to think that Obama made this decision lightly, or with the intention of angering US citizens, no matter how much anyone might suggest that’s the case. Manning’s commutation did not exist in a vacuum. People need to remember that previously, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange agreed to not fight extradition to the US is Manning was freed. As the title here suggests, the Manning commutation is step one of the “clemency cha-cha,” right foot forward in the hope of holding Assange to his (possibly flippant) promise.
When some people got over the fact that Obama had granted Manning a commutation and hooked onto the fact that this “might” have been about getting the bigger fish, Assange. The step backwards in this little dance was the administration clarifying the actions of the president, and denying Assange had anything to do with the decision. (They had to do this, because even though Obama is about to go out the door, it still sets a dangerous precedent.) So, the inevitable next step was from Assange himself, reneging on his promise to turn himself in to the US.
Because this all involves secrets and leaks, we can’t forget that while this little dance with Manning and Assange is happening, there’s another one going on between a former member of the Obama administration and Russia. Again, because we’re in the final days of this administration, former acting director of the CIA, Mike Morell, decided to toss the idea of Vladimir Putin giving a good inauguration gift this week – Edward Snowden. So, another dance begins, but this one is far less exciting, since it ends quickly with Russia extending Snowden’s ability to stay by two years until 2020.
Beyond amusing myself, there’s a very good reason why I’ve compared all of this to the back and forth movements of dancers on a ballroom floor – this is all for show. Obama did the only thing he really could do when it came to Manning. If he hadn’t commuted the sentence, someone would have brought up the Assange promise. He was damned no matter what, so he had to take the chance. It was a gamble, he took it, and even though it was likely that Assange would do exactly what he did, it had to be done. If it wasn’t such a hotly debated case and person, there may not have been more than a blip on the collective radar over it. When we’re honest with ourselves, we know that while it’s frustrating, it’s not a terrible idea to let the little fish loose to get the big ones. Assange is beyond just a big fish.
As for the Snowden thing, that was just a non-starter. The response of allowing him to stay in Russia for a couple more years was just spite. Snowden being willingly returned to the US by Putin simply wasn’t happening, no matter who asked for it. In case anyone was wondering why there was no flack for Morell over speaking out of school in that opinion piece, there’s your answer. No one expected Snowden to be returned. Arguably, the extension was a little short – I was personally surprised it wasn’t four years. The fact that it wasn’t just shows that Russia is like everyone else on the incoming administration – we have to wait and see what happens.
No matter what, the collective head implosions over any of the last minute “stuff” that Obama does is pointless. It’s being magnified mostly because of social media, which doesn’t make it more important. It just makes it more noticeable. Also, it just shows that there are way too many people out there who probably should start looking into whether or not they are getting real impulse control problems.