Gerald Warner: Obama's peace tour has left US a more dangerous place

THERE is a certain type of political career that has auto-destruction built into its DNA: look no further than the predicament of the pathetic creature pointlessly lingering on in 10 Downing Street, si monumentum requiris. To this category belongs Barack Obama. This, of course, is heresy to the consensus that is still rapturously inhaling the heady fumes of self-delusion - as it did with Tony Blair.

What most Obama sceptics would have to concede is some surprise at the speed with which he has launched into self-destruct mode. The President Pantywaist tour on which he embarked, embracing America's enemies, was fairly predictable, even if some of the detail was more grotesque than expected. There was, however, one area where most commentators believed Obama would tread warily: it seemed implausible that he would play politics with America's national security within his first 100 days in office.

Then came his disastrous decision to publish formerly classified legal opinions authorising the use of such interrogation techniques as "waterboarding" on terror suspects. Although the data initially released did not hugely add to the information already in the public domain, it must have given al-Qaeda an invaluable insight into the technical, legal and moral parameters of the interrogation that captured operatives would face. Yet it was already out of date, as these practices have been so sternly outlawed it is unlikely even maverick interrogators would use them again.

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The first damage Obama did was to formalise interrogation of terror suspects as a party political issue. While it was never likely that the liberal New York Times would ever champion the rack and thumbscrews, Obama's attempt to embarrass the Republicans converted what should have been a moral dilemma into a partisan litmus test. Is torture ever justified?

The knee-jerk reaction is: no. Then, think about it in more detail. The most liberal-minded champions of human rights had a cathartic moment when they watched people jumping from the twin towers on September 11. What if one had in custody a known al-Qaeda activist, believed to have planted a dirty bomb or some other instrument of atrocity in a population centre: would one utterly reject torture as a means of extracting life-saving information?

Or would one prefer to cling to the dictates of a liberal conscience and later watch children's dismembered limbs being excavated from the ruins? That is an extreme hypothesis but, in the current reality, not an implausible one. It is the kind of issue that deserves to be tackled with unflinching honesty, not polarised as an item on a partisan checklist. The failure of Obama to grasp that, to come off the campaign trail at last and address national security as Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, not as head honcho of the Chicago Democrat caucus, demonstrates his inadequacy for the office he holds.

There followed his damage-limiting visit to CIA headquarters and his pledge that nobody would be prosecuted, contradicted immediately by liberal pressure groups. Then Obama revised his view and thought that, after all, perhaps some people might be prosecuted. Now the extremist Democrats have the ambition to put Condoleezza Rice in the dock.

Next, Martin Scheinin, UN special investigator for human rights, suggested senior Bush era officials, including Dick Cheney, might be arrested if they ventured onto European soil. In retaliation, Cheney wants to extend the paper trail, by publishing documents to show how efficient the old methods were.

Unnoticed in all this has been Hillary Clinton's nimble footwork. Her apparently strident denunciations of the inadequate response of the Pakistan government to terrorism, although diplomatically self-defeating, are aimed at distancing her from President Pantywaist and earning her the role of Nasty Cop. Hillary was always going to slide the steel between Barack's shoulders at some point – treachery is in the Clinton genes – but Obama's betrayal of US interests has forced her hand. Expect more such assertions of free-range foreign policy from her. Clinton in 2012…

Obama has no hope of controlling the process he has precipitated. In this climate, what CIA officer could possibly feel motivated to do anything more controversial than make paperclip chains in his office? Dubya left the White House with just one plus point: on his watch, there was no further atrocity on US soil after 9/11. Now that Obama has emasculated the security forces, an outrage representing even 1% of the September 11 toll would consign The One to the ferocious vengeance of the American people.