Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oh yeah, and it gets better

Mark Shea has gotten wind of the post the CMR folks put up and isn't pleased about the dinging. His comments come well down in the thread, following some that are not at all complimentary of the administration. And you know, fine and good - President Bush isn't cast in alabaster and he could have done a better job in a lot of areas. But is it too much to ask that criticism of the man's policies be at least somewhat accurate?

("Ex-Shea reader," comment 26 in this thread, does an excellent job demolishing one of the goofball theories Shea shares in his post - a theory that is both implausible and complete hearsay. Well done.)

For example, Shea's own initial reply to the CMR post starts thus:
The thing I find most amazing about the reactions of so many is that nobody seems to really care about the fact that we already know that the Administration has tortured people, including innocent people, approved methods which have resulted in the murder of prisoners, and shielded the murderers from prosecution.

Emphasis his, and - really? (I'll leave out the grammar snarks. Life's short and there are many.)

First, you have to accept that waterboarding is, in fact, torture. Certainly it's very unpleasant to be tricked into thinking one is drowning, and Chris Hitchens volunteered to undergo it in order to make up his mind about it. Kudos to Hitchens for his moxie, but it is, objectively speaking, a muddled idea. For one thing, one facing the treatment is not the most objective source - not unreliable, but also not objective. For another, volunteering to suffer the process for the purpose of argument is itself highly suggestive - if this were something that would permanently impair or maim the subject, no one would thus step forward simply to try to prove a point. This suggest that the practice may not be the complete atrocity some have termed it.

But, even if one thinks it barbaric, it is still a far cry from the brutalities exhibited by other captors. "Less evil" does not equal "good" of course, but it is still less evil - thus not a moral equivalent as Shea seems to hold. The Marines may make you physically and mentally uncomfortable, but even something like waterboarding is simply not the same as being fed to a woodchipper, gang rape, burnings, mutilations, and starvation. It may be a difference of degree rather than kind but it still a difference, so I can't agree with Shea that somehow Guantanamo makes the US morally equivalent to al Qaeda or Hamas, and the President a war criminal.

Then there's the statement Shea quotes from the Washington Post, a former interrogator stating that the muhajadeen flocked to Iraq because of the outrages of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

We've already dealt with Gitmo, but Abu Ghraib is beyond a stretch. Abu Ghraib was not US policy - in fact, it was run in defiance of that policy. Far from shielding the perpetrators, the Army has ol' Lynddie making little rocks out of big rocks in Club Fed. How again is this a war crime? If our enemies want to trump it up as one, similar to the nonexistent "Jenin massacre," and use it to motivate them to carry the fight to us, well... we can't help that, unless we close Abu Ghraib. As it turns out, we did, and still had four more years of fighting. This really weakens the argument Shea is holding forth.

Compare any such scandal to the recent "military" operation in Mumbai in which hotels and other civilian centers were the objectives - and not to be captured, but simply to be ravaged by commandos who were intent only on as much death and mayhem as they could conduct before they were killed. War always kills innocents, and is always a last resort to be dreaded, but there's a big difference in a side that is always trying to strike more precisely (thus safeguarding innocent people) vs. one that holds that there is no such thing as an innocent civilian, therefore day-care centers, hospitals, schools, and office buildings are all fair game.

When something goes completely sideways and innocent people die, our side considers it a failure; theirs considers it a job well done. There is no moral equivalence to be drawn here. One may as well arrest surgeons for armed assault when they conduct surgery.

These differences in tactics arise from a difference in overall strategy - the final aims of the operation. For a bunch of alleged war criminals conquering Iraq for its oil, the US is pathetically bad at its job. We've built their infrastructure up to better than pre-war conditions, helped establish a democratic and legitimate government recognized by all three ethnic groups of Iraqis, quelled a civil war, saved countless thousands of lives, and are planning to pick up and leave now that the job is done. Where's the colonial governor? Where are the forced-labor camps and secret police? It's an odd oppressor that invades a country to close those things down, not set them up; and then gives the country back to its citizens upon finishing.

Go further down. That overall strategy arises from the fundamental difference in the two sides. However corny it sounds to certain people, there is a huge and bedrock difference between the West and the Islamic world - we value our liberties. We consider them rights given by God. We strive to expand them, and accept no chains save those of legitimate responsibility and service. The USA in particular was founded on the principles of religious and economic freedoms. Islam was founded on subjugation to the will of Allah as expressed through the prophet. How is this possibly equivalent? By your fruits shall you know them - and the US, for all its flaws, has borne far greater good fruit in the world. It is no exaggeration to say that the US has been a positive force for billions of people, in thousands of ways, and especially in the past century, when great anti-Christian ideologies rose in vast power across Asia and Europe. Even now that struggle has not yet passed, and another such ideology has made itself a great power and is striking at the West.

The US doesn't seek the complete subjugation of foreign nations and the destruction of their faiths. The Islamists do. It is in fact the whole reason they became Islamists. They aren't shy about proclaiming death to America, nor about putting to the sword everyone who dares disobey the word of the prophet, in deed or even thought. One may legitimately argue that our resistance to their aims does, in fact, cause them to attack us more violently - but that's only because they need to in order to advance their aims. Western Europe is already half-conquered with barely a shot fired, precisely because they are not fighting back the way the US, Eastern Europe, Australia, and a few others are. Will their subjugation be less bitter because they rolled over and went meekly to it? Will they somehow be less enslaved?

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