The president announced Wednesday that he opposes the release of photos of alleged abuse of detainees on grounds the images could incite feelings against U.S. troops already in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It is ... my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger," the president said.
"Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse," he added.
Obama's decision comes a few weeks after the release of Justice Department memos from the Bush administration that showed the legal justification for allowing hard interrogation techniques.
The president's supporters said the decision to release the documents was right because it would show the world the United States is serious about ending torture of terrorism suspects. Detractors said the release would embolden militants.
Those previous supporters are irate about the reversal regarding the photos, while the previous detractors claim Obama saw the light.
U.S. military leaders warned against the release of the photos, which had a May 28 court-ordered deadline for release.
In another position Obama has been led to -- and he probably didn't want to go -- the messy, complicated and frustrating closure of the detention center for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba may result in the indefinite detention, without trial, of some prisoners.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that while Obama tries to make good on his promise to end the public relations nightmare in Cuba, he apparently didn't see that there would be an issue with what to do with the people kept there. One of the first things taught at cooking school is never to pick up a hot pan without knowing where you are going to put it.
Erstwhile allies haven't rushed to help Obama by taking the prisoners. Many can't be sent to their home countries because they either aren't wanted or would be maltreated. And if they're put on U.S. soil, there are thorny legal issues that crop up, not to mention potentially horrendous worries about national security. It would only take one of the released detainees to attempt a terror attack at a school or mall for all the president's continuing popularity and goodwill to go up in smoke.
The issue of political candidates being forced to modify their campaign pledges, or abandon those promises when they finally win office, certainly isn't new or unique to Obama. Nor is the phenomenon of candidates of either the left or the right taking power and then receiving confidential briefings that force them to realize the cut-and-dried solutions they confidently advocated for so long can't be applied full throttle for a host of good and unavoidable reasons. Most of Obama's supporters, especially among independent voters, will recognize that and cut him some slack.
What is far more sobering -- and carries the warning of much bigger problems to come -- is that the president and his closest advisers apparently didn't think these issues through beyond base one. For the complications they are now forced to consider were obvious ones that were raised by critics of the proposed policies all along.
What is of real concern, therefore, is not the president's cynicism but his lack of it -- and of the executive and national-security experience to think these, and no doubt other, issues through in advance.