When he was elected America’s new president, it seemed that Barack Obama was a master at politics. What remained to be seen was whether he would prove equally adept at government.
What has happened in recent days and weeks seems to suggest he is less than perfect in both departments.
Allowing his Attorney General to plunge the country now into what is certain to be a prolonged and extremely fractious investigation into all that went awry in the overseas prisons of the CIA in the fevered wake of the 9/11 terror attacks is not politically smart.
Unless you think he actually wants the country distracted from that other small problem of his: his doddery healthcare reform effort.
This is exactly what Mr Obama did not want to happen. Worse, it is coming about at just the moment when he should be corralling every ounce of his and his majority Democratic Party’s energy into getting the healthcare train back on the tracks.
Yet, in Washington they do love to say that America is above all a country of laws and that laws must be respected. In truth, it may be that the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Barely a week goes by without some other ghastly gobbit of CIA-Cheney chicanery coming to light. The covert assassination quest and Mr Cheney’s suggestion that Congress not be told about it. The participation of the Blackwater Security in that mission. And now the report from inside the CIA about guns and drills in interrogation rooms and threats to have the children of suspects murdered.
What next? Mr Obama might console himself with the thought that at least the liberal-left base of his party will cheer a decision finally to get to the bottom of what was done in those far-away prisons and, if laws were indeed broken, to try to bring those responsible to account.