Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hit 'Em Again, Harder

President Bush has finally, mercifully, at long last, decided to defend himself and the legitimacy of the war against his political opponents who have smelled blood in the water for some time and feel free to say anything, no matter how much at variance with the truth, as long as it will weaken him still further.

The New York Times, for example, has been contemptible in its disregard for basic honesty in its journalism (see here).

But it's not just the Times. Bush has left a vacuum on matters relating to the war and its justification, and the dissemblers and opportunists have rushed in to fill it. As a result, his approval numbers until recently were in free fall.

As William Kristol says in a fine article in The Weekly Standard,

If the American people really come to a settled belief that Bush lied us into war, his presidency will be over. He won't have the basic level of trust needed to govern. His initiatives, domestic and foreign, will founder. Support for the war on terror will wane. The lie that Bush lied us into war threatens the Bush presidency in a way no ordinary political charge does. Bush needs to refute it--and to keep on refuting it--for his sake, for the nation's, and for the sake of the truth.

Bush believes in turning the other cheek to insults and falsehoods thrown his way. If he wants to do that in his personal life that's fine, but in politics turning the other cheek just gets you a broken jaw. The people who voted for him, the people who want to win the war on terror and succeed in Iraq, are depending on him to fight, not to concede the field to his enemies. He doesn't yield to al Qaida why should he yield to the Left-wing bomb throwers on Capitol Hill and in the NYT and WaPo?

Friday's speech was a great counter to the groin kicks the Left has been dishing out, but it's just one punch. He needs to be as relentless in pounding home the truth to the American public as he has been in waging war against the savages seeking control of the Arab world and the Muslim faith. It's only the determined, tireless, unyielding fighter who prevails in battle. The British failed to abort the American Revolution because their General Howe was not aggressive in pursuing Washington's army when he had them at severe disadvantage. Union General George McClellan dithered and allowed the Confederate forces time to resupply, move, and plan. Against the Democrats Bush needs to be more like U. S. Grant and less like George McClellan.

He needs to give us more of this:

While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and antiwar critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs. They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: 'When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat to our security.' That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.

These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that, whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united and we will settle for nothing less than victory.

The Torture Debate

David Gerlernter, writing in the LA Times, of all places, gets the torture question exactly right:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.) proposed legislation incorporating into U.S. law the Geneva Convention ban on mistreating prisoners. The bill, which bans cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, passed the Senate 90 to 9. To say it's got momentum is putting it mildly.

But President Bush says he will veto the bill unless the CIA is exempted. Vice President Cheney has led the administration's campaign for the exemption. It's a hard sell; pro-torture politicians are scarce around Washington.

But of course you don't have to be "pro-torture" to oppose the McCain amendment. That naive misunderstanding summarizes the threat posed by this good-hearted, wrong-headed legislation. Those who oppose the amendment don't think the CIA should be permitted to use torture or other rough interrogation techniques. What they think is that sometimes the CIA should be required to squeeze the truth out of prisoners. Not because the CIA wants to torture people, but because it may be the only option we've got.

McCain's amendment is a trap for the lazy minded. Whenever a position seems so obvious that you don't even have to stop and think - stop and think.

Americans will never be permitted to use torture as punishment or vengeance. A criminal might deserve to be tortured; we refuse to torture him nonetheless, because to do so degrades us. But if torturing a terrorist (or carrying out some other form of rough interrogation) is the only way to save innocent lives, we have no right to refuse.

Most human beings recoil from committing torture. But sometimes we have an obligation to do hard things for the good of the nation - as no man knows better than McCain, who fought for his country and suffered long years as a brutally mistreated POW.

But his amendment lets the CIA do what he refused to do. It lets the CIA take an easy out.

In 1982, the philosopher Michael Levin published an article challenging the popular view that the U.S. must never engage in torture. "Someday soon," he concluded, "a terrorist will threaten tens of thousands of lives, and torture will be the only way to save them."

Suppose a nuclear bomb is primed to detonate somewhere in Manhattan, Levin wrote, and we've captured a terrorist who knows where the bomb is. But he won't talk. By forbidding torture, you inflict death on many thousands of innocents and endless suffering on the families of those who died at a terrorist's whim - and who might have lived had government done its ugly duty.

Those who defend McCain's amendment and attack Cheney and Bush feel a nice warm glow, as if they're basking in virtue, as in a hot tub, sipping Cabernet. But there is no virtue in joining a crowd, even if the crowd is right - and this one isn't.

McCain is a bona fide hero. But there's nothing courageous in standing firm with virtually the whole cultural leadership of this nation and the Western world, under any circumstances. It's too easy. To take a principled stand that you know will make people loathe and vilify you - that's what integrity, leadership and moral courage are all about. This time Cheney is the hero. McCain is taking the easy out.

Of course, saying "never" instead of "almost never" is a trap that well-meaning, lazy people have been falling into for a long time. In a celebrated passage in "The Brothers Karamazov," Dostoevsky tells a story designed to end that error forever - about a rich, powerful general and an 8-year-old boy serf who "hurt the paw of the general's favorite hound." The next morning, the child is stripped naked. The general looses his pack of wolfhounds on the boy, who is torn to pieces before his mother's eyes.

What should be done to the general? The gentle monk Alyosha, who can't stand the thought of bloodshed, answers, "Shoot him." He has decided that capital punishment should be "almost never," not "never."

In the end, this column is indeed about willful, cheerful torture - committed not by the CIA but by terrorists whose bombs leave bewildered innocents maimed, blinded or wracked with pain for the rest of their lives, or ripped to pieces. Why? The torturers (or their friends) only smirk and tell us that "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great").

We do not torture such terrorists to punish them. God forbid we should do as they do. But if torture (used with repugnance) can stop even one such atrocity, our duty is hideously plain.

It is the mark of unreflective minds that they so quickly declare motives and circumstances morally irrelevant. One need not be a relativist or subjectivist to see that, on the question of torture, why it is being contemplated is crucially important in determining whether it should be done.

Of course we should not torture as a general rule. No one argues with that. But before we turn a general rule into an absolute let's make sure we understand what it is we are proscribing and the possible circumstances under which we may regret having proscribed it.

Rove is Back

Add to Mr. Bush's powerful speech yesterday the news that Karl Rove is back from his psychological hiatus, and it may be that the White House has turned a corner. Anne Kornblut at the NYT writes:

"I've noticed a big difference," said one Republican in regular contact with Mr. Rove who declined to speak for attribution because the White House did not authorize it. "There's a spring in his step, more focus, more - something. Some sort of weight [is] off his shoulders." White House officials have insisted that the legal complications did not subtract from Mr. Rove's ability to do his job in recent weeks - disputing, among other things, that the botched response to Hurricane Katrina and the Harriet E. Miers nomination resulted from the political director's distractions. Nonetheless, Republican officials are now relieved to be able to demonstrate how engaged Mr. Rove is. Several have gone so far as to suggest that Mr. Rove's recovery is a harbinger of brighter days for the administration.

"I think he's focused on a lot of things - working to help people at the White House and talking to people on the Hill about the agenda next year, and he's certainly focused on the '06 elections," said Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who filled in for Mr. Rove at the Oct. 15 event for Jerry Kilgore, Virginia's attorney general.

In particular, several Republicans said, Mr. Rove drove the decision to recruit Judy Baar Topinka to run in the Illinois governor's race in 2006, a development this week that suddenly made the race competitive for Republicans. Although Mr. Rove is still leaving contact with candidates to his subordinates, especially Mr. Mehlman and Sarah Taylor, the White House political director, he is back to mapping out the nationwide strategy as he has in races past, several Republicans said.

"He was never as far out of it as people said he was, but he was distracted," said one Republican official, declining to speak for attribution because he does not speak officially for Mr. Rove. "Now he's not distracted anymore."

We're sure Howard Dean is happy for him over at the DNC.