Obama Reversal on Torture Photos: Is He Afraid they would Destabilize Iraq?

President Obama has reversed himself on his earlier determination not to oppose a ruling by a Federal judge that remaining photos of the torture and abuse of prisoners by the US military in Iraq. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of US troops in Iraq, appears to have made the decisive intervention with Obama on this issue.

I share Joan Walsh’s dismay at this reversal.

I’m trying to think what is behind it from Obama’s point of view, and I have a hypothesis. You could imagine a conversation going this way between Odierno and Obama (am rubbing my chin and that hokey wavy dream special effect is coming up on the screen):

‘ Odierno: Sir, with all due respect, the release of these photos will endanger US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. You must oppose the judge’s ruling.

Obama: I’ve already made my decision on that issue.

Odierno: I thought you wanted a clean withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.

Obama: Yes. And . . ?

Odierno: If we get a new wave of JAM and al-Qaeda attacks coming off outrage at those photos, Iraq could become unstable enough to delay the withdrawal timetable.

Obama: You’re saying you might not be able to get out of the cities by July 1 of this year, or might not be able to get combat troops out by September 1 of next, if these photos are released?

Odierno: It is a real possibility.

Obama: I want our combat troops out of Iraq on the current timetable.

Odierno: I’m not sure it is realistic, sir. It sure as hell isn’t if those pictures rile the Iraqis up. ‘

If that is the way the conversation went, and this is pure speculation, it would make some sense of Obama’s reversal. That is, he really doesn’t want to do anything to send Iraq back into insurgency and tie down US troops there.

If this consideration did drive the reversal of position, I think it is unfortunate. The US is more likely to get past the mistakes it made 5 years ago if it comes clean and seeks reconciliation than if it goes on trying to cover up the past even though everyone knows what happened.

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