If it is true that, as Rahm Emanuel says here, President Obama has no stomach for prosecution of past war crimes, because it would be "looking backward," it is the first enormous mistake of his Administration.
It could fatally wound his place in history.
We have seen this movie before. After the depredations of Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford decided to give the former President a full pardon, so that the country could move on.
Yet it was Ford's own chief of staff, Richard Cheney, who then devised and executed the policies of lies, of torture and of unprovoked war that now burden us. It's now clear that, in some cases, this had nothing to do with getting information. It was sadism.
Let's review. The refusal to prosecute, or even fully investigate, the relatively petty crimes of Richard Nixon led directly to the torture regime of Richard Cheney.
What might that torture regime lead to?
The Constitution today lies in tatters. Just write a memo calling it meaningless, on any excuse, and do what you want. That's the precedent Cheney used from Nixon's claim that "If the President does it it's not illegal."
What might the next generation do with Cheney's precedent?
We already have that answer. We have it in the rhetoric of the teabaggers, whose hatred knows no bounds. We have it in the attitudes of Republicans, who think they can turn their principles on a dime, doing precisely what they opposed a year ago, and never pay a penalty for it. We have it in the rejection of elections by Norm Coleman and Jim Tedisco.
What we have seen in the last several months is the impotent rage of Republicans coalesce into something far more dark and sinister, namely a rejection of everything Americans have believed in. The Southern Strategy has become a Confederacy of Dunces.
We can ignore it today, freely ignore it, because Republicans are now deeply unpopular, largely as a result of their continuing lunacy. But they are the "other" party today, just as they were the "other" party in the wake of the 1974 Congressional blow-out, and the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter.
The wheel of history continued to spin. It will turn, turn, turn again. What will it turn to?
Until evil tendencies are confronted, directly, and put down, completely, they will metastasize like a cancer. We have seen this in our own time. The profoundly undemocratic attitudes that caused the Supreme Court to stop a recount, that caused Bush to lie us into war, that created the torture regime, the systematic wiretapping of political adversaries and the use of that for policy advantage, it didn't come from thin air.
It came from our past refusal to confront evil head-on, from our normal desire to "move on" from the previous crisis this mindset caused.
The mindset of Richard Cheney is evil. It is no different, in its way, from the mindset of Mao Tse Tung, or Joseph Stalin, or Saddam Hussein. It is the attitude that there is only way, that the ends justify the means, that only you and your ideological allies have the answers to all questions.
We have seen it play out over-and-over again. Revenge does not do the job. Ignoring the problem does not do the job for even a generation.
The only thing which works against evil is justice. The slow drip-drip-drip of investigation, of discovery, the evidence laid out in the full light of day, with the defense offered every opportunity to counter it at every step of the way. The will of the people is energized through justice to confront evil and banish it from the public square.
Let justice work, Mr. President. History will judge you harshly for your failure. My children, and yours, will pay a terrible price unless you let the evidence-gathering proceed and allow justice to act upon what is found.