Smart power: State Dept criticizes DoD on Manning

Has Hillary Clinton gone rogue? Or is State Dept spokesman P.J. Crowley about to get to spend more time with his family?

PJ Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs at the US state department, said Manning was being "mistreated" in the military brig at Quantico, Virginia. "What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defence," he said.

Crowley's comments signal a crack within the Obama administration over the handling of the WikiLeaks saga in which hundreds of thousands of confidential documents were handed to the website.

As news of the remarks rippled through Washington, President Obama was forced to address the subject of Manning's treatment for the first time.

Asked about the controversy at a White House press conference, Obama revealed he had asked the Pentagon "whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are."

This is bizarre, and well outside what the State Department's spokesman ought be engaging and commenting on. Manning is a soldier and thus subject to the UCMJ; his incarceration and the disposition of his case is the purview of DoD. If there's an agency that should have any say outside the Pentagon, it would be Justice, not State.

If Hillary authorized Crowley's remarks, then this is a strong hint that Obama's "team of rivals" cabinet has lost the team part and is just a collection of rivals. It also may hint that Hillary sees his weakness and may be testing how long a leash she has to mess with him from within the administration.

If she didn't authorize them, Crowley has shown himself to be unfit for the job of State Dept spokesman. Whatever your personal opinions are, when you're a public spokesman for an agency, you're a public spokesman for an agency: Whatever you say carries the imprimatur of everyone above you and around you. You have to be smart enough to keep your mouth shut and your true opinions inscrutable, a lot.