Before he left for Asia on Saturday, President Obama told the media in Alaska that he opposes a congressional investigation into the Fort Hood massacre, saying that we must "resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into political theater."
Yet, even as he was posturing against political theatrics, he had just decided that the prosecution of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would proceed on the greatest of public stages — New York City.
With the strict evidentiary rules in force in federal civilian courts, it is easy to see how the prosecution of Mohammed could morph into an indictment of the Bush administration's interrogation techniques and waterboarding.
As in rape trials, the magnitude of the underlying crime (masterminding the 9/11 attacks) might well be lost as the defense puts the victim (in this case, the government) on trial.
It is not political theater itself to which Obama objects but theater that highlights issues that liberals would rather forget. He is quite content to let the Mohammed trial become the theater of the left. Perhaps even eager.
Obama and his handlers know that the key to building favorable ratings is to control the agenda. And the more the national discussion centers on national security and terrorism, the more Republicans gain.
So the Fort Hood terror attack comes at an awful time for an administration trying to turn the nation's attention away from the terrorist threat.
As soon as the killing spree was over, Obama hastened to call it "an act of violence," obscuring the obvious fact that it was the most serious terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. And, as evidence mounts that the FBI was on to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for years, the president is doing his best to stop Congress from finding out why these warnings went unheeded.
Even as Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, confirmed that the government knew of 10 to 20 e-mails between Hasan and a radical imam in Yemen, who was urging the killing of American troops, starting last December, Obama hastened to urge Congress to refrain from investigating why the danger signs were ignored.
The Obama administration has a clear agenda here:
1) Stop people from focusing on how his administration permitted the worst domestic terror attack in eight years.
2) Avoid a national airing of how liberal policies, restraints on the intelligence community, political correctness in the armed forces, might have inhibited the military from reining in Hasan.
3) Re-ignite a firestorm on the left and abroad against the aggressive anti-terror policies of the Bush administration.
Making all this particularly important for Obama are his other political needs.
As he likely decides to send more troops to Afghanistan and eyes abandoning the "public option" to secure Senate passage of his health-care plan, Obama has to rebuild his credibility on the left.
A public circus that focuses on waterboarding and interrogations could be just what he wants and needs.