The president says that the US went badly off course in its conduct of the GWOT, the former Vice President disagrees. All the usual lines are drawn in the sand, nothing new to learn and few, if any, minds to change.
Except these lines jump out at me:
“I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more,” Obama continued. “As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts – they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.”
This sort of thing, this belief that fighting terror creates it, has been so often repeated as to seem unexceptional – it is now accepted uncritically by those who really ought to know better.
Examining the president’s claims point by point, the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) is at least arguable. We could have an educated argument if he’d agree to release the memos that Cheney sought in the last round of declassification and dissemination. But apparently that is not to be.
As for the undermining the rule of law, I suppose that using a legal framework to determine the dividing line between illegal torture and rough handing could in itself be illegal. Until the pliers and blowtorches come out, “torture” seems to be very much in the eye of the beholder, but I’ll take the president at his word and grant him a more refined moral sense than his predecessors.
And, it now seems obvious that EITs and Guantanamo detentions provided ammunition to those of our “allies” looking for a reason to look down their noses at us, even as they decline to offer up alternatives. In a case like this, anyone who wants to be offended certainly has my permission.
But does anyone really believe that our enemies used the revelation of enhanced interrogation techniques as a rallying point for recruitment? That fence sitters were pushed into becoming suicide bombers by the thought of three hots and a cot in Cuba? Or that our soldiers captured by this enemy wouldn’t choose waterboarding as an upgrade from real torture and beheading?
The claim is silly on its face – all of these things came after September 11th for example, not to mention the Khobar Towers, embassy bombings in Kenya and Nairobi and the first attack on the World Trade Center. No one has accused Spain of using EITs, yet Madrid got bombed. Britain put no detainees on a Caribbean Island, yet explosives went off in the London tube. The list goes on and on.
Whatever else you might say about him, the president is an intelligent man. I really hope he doesn’t hold such a superficial understanding of the motivations of our enemies.
And I wonder who he believes would.