The Manning Doctrine


U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I’ve gotten a few messages like this one in response to my comments on P.J. Crowley’s firing, but I don’t find them persuasive. Or, if I do, I find them persuasive in the wrong sense.

Crowley criticized the treatment of Manning days before President Obama said that he’d “asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of [Manning’s] confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards [and] they assured me that they are.” That is to say, when Crowley made his comments, it was plausible to believe that Manning’s treatment was the result of bad decisions being made by a few guards and supervisors in Quantico. It wasn’t until Obama endorsed the treatment that it clearly became “official policy.”

I also think it’s worth understanding why Crowley protested: He thought the treatment of Manning ran counter to, well, “official policy.” Notice that he didn’t call Manning’s treatment inhumane or unjust. He called it “counterproductive and stupid.” In the statement announcing his resignation, Crowley expanded on those remarks, saying his comments “were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership.” Crowley clearly believes — and I think he’s right to believe — that he was arguing in favor of the administration’s official policy when he criticized the treatment of Manning as “counterproductive.” Prior to the last few weeks, a lot of us thought the administration’s official policy would prohibit the sort of vengeful mistreatment being meted out against Manning. It’s now clear that we were wrong, and that when the Defense Department’s preferences for “official policy” conflict with the State Department’s preferences for “official policy,” the Defense Department wins.

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