It is fascinating that the Republican Party would rather allow what they believe to be a critical national security law lapse than allow it to be extended without the extension containing a rider immunizing large telecommunications firms from the consequences of prior illegal activity. It’s almost as if the Republican Party exists to serve the interests of large business enterprises and very wealthy individuals, and tends to use national security and cultural anxieties as a kind of political theater aimed at securing votes so that they can better pursue their real agenda of enriching the wealthy and powerful.
The White House has confirmed that President Bush plans to veto legislation prohibiting the CIA from using waterboarding and bringing the agency’s interrogation methods in line with the Army Field Manual.
In today’s White House press briefing, spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the veto decision by citing the age of CIA interrogators. She said that they are well-trained “professionals” with “an average age of 40.” U.S. soldiers, on the other hand, are too immature to be trusted, argued Perino. That’s why they need the Army Field Manual:
This is done at the CIA, and it is done by professionals who are given hundreds of hours of training, who are — I think General Hayden said an average age of 40; who are being asked to do very hard work in order to protect Americans.
The Army Field Manual is a perfectly appropriate document that is important for young GIs, some so young that they’re not even able to legally get a drink in the states where they’re from.
Before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell echoed Perino’s comments, stating that the Army Field Manual is “designed for young and inexperienced” men and women in uniform.
Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sharply replied that it’s unfair to “denigrate” the troops as if they’re a “bunch of 18 year olds running around” and “the Army Field Manual has to protect them from their naivete and their ignorance.” Watch it:
All members of the Army abide by the Field Manual, not simply GIs too “young” to “legally get a drink.” In a recent congressional hearing, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that the document is sufficient for the military:
We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.
Under the White House’s logic, only people who are able to consume alcohol should be allowed to administer waterboarding.
Transcript: Read more
Michael Crowley, author of the best dissection of Hillary Clinton’s support for the 2002 Iraq AUMF (one of about a million TNR articles that seem to be missing from their web archives [UPDATE: here it is]), has a great new piece up about Barack Obama’s record on the war. Here’s the bottom line:
Many of the Clintons’ specific attacks on Obama are unfair distortions. But it’s also true that a close look at his Iraq record reveals more nuance than the Obama campaign acknowledges. It shows that Obama is cautious and pragmatic, hardly immune from political pressures, and sometimes prone to shading his rhetoric for convenience. But, ultimately, in substantive policy terms, he is also open to intellectual reexamination based on changing events. This may not be quite the Obama of the popular imagination, and it is certainly not the Obama of his own campaign ads. Nor is it, after 2002, substantially different from Hillary Clinton’s own course on Iraq. But it is no “fairy tale,” either.
I’m less interested, however, in the past for its own sake than I am in the past for what it makes possible in the future. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I wrote a book, Heads in the Sand that will be out in April. It’s about the causes and consequences of the Democratic Party’s failure to present a coherent strategic alternative to the Bush foreign policy in the post-9/11 world.
One observation I make is that a record of support for the war resolution makes it difficult to present such an alternative. John Kerry, for example, would now and again start making a very compelling argument about Iraq as strategic distraction that undermined our ability to combat al-Qaeda. I remember watching the first Bush-Kerry debate with friends and the thrill that overtook the room at what I think was Kerry’s best moment of the entire campaign:
Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and frankly very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, “The enemy attacked us.”
Saddam Hussein didn’t attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaida attacked us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn’t use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world’s number one criminal and terrorist.
Unfortunately, this line of argument couldn’t really be made central to Kerry’s campaign because, after all, Kerry had voted for the war resolution and Kerry was so determined to rebut the flip-flopper charge that he didn’t dare just say he’d made a mistake. So he switched back over time to less compelling arguments about implementation, nitpicking about the details of the inspections process, etc.
Now of course there’s more to an alternative strategy than just that. There are several different questions in play — unilateral preventive war or multilateral arms control as the preferred method of pursuing non-proliferation policy, an ever-expanding “war on terror” or a narrowly focused campaign against al-Qaeda, an effort to coercively reshape political institutions throughout the Muslim world or an effort to distance ourselves somewhat from unpopular regimes, a full-throttle assertion of US military hegemony or an effort to use our power to build and sustain a liberal world order. But Iraq stands at the intersection of a lot of these issues, and it’s a lot easier to make the case for a different approach if you can credibly put distance between yourself and Iraq and, of course, having reached a different conclusion about Iraq is at least imperfect evidence that the person in question actually believes in a different strategy.
To tie this back to the campaign, Obama hasn’t yet said or done everything that I’d like to see him do by any means. He has, however, done some things. And he’s repeatedly suggested a desire to wage that kind of campaign against John McCain. Clinton, by contrast, has shown a real fondness for opportunistic digs and indicated that her view is that she’ll do better at arguing with McCain about security because she’s more hawkish. But both candidates have given some positive indications and some negative ones, and both of them can and should do more — the competition between them has been disappointingly free of anything even resembling an argument about doctrine. Thus far, though, Obama’s approach shows more promise, and their different stances are an important reason why.
When I read Michael O’Hanlon’s ornery remarks in The Washington Times this morning, I suppose I took it for granted that he didn’t also have a Wall Street Journal op-ed. I mean, I know the guy’s prolific, but how many conservative media outlets can he be in simultaneously? Well, I was wrong. The essence of the argument is that if Obama thinks that face-to-face meetings with foreign leaders will single-handedly solve all of America’s policy problems, then he’s sorely mistaken. This is, of course, true but O’Hanlon can’t be bothered to adduce any evidence that Obama does think this. After all, you’d have to be extraordinarily dumb to adopt the straw-man view that O’Hanlon’s attacking here.
Max Boot exhorts us to “ask yourself which presidential candidate an Ahmadinejad, Assad or Kim would fear the most” before observing that “the leading candidate to scare the snot out of our enemies is a certain former aviator who has been noted for his pugnacity and his unwavering support of the American war effort in Iraq.” Kevin Drum remarks:
Now, you might think that after seven years of trying exactly this, with only the current collapse in our fortunes to show for it, the neocon establishment might at least pause for a moment to wonder if there’s more to foreign policy than scaring the snot out of our enemies. But no. The real problem, apparently, is simply that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration wasn’t good enough at it. Not bellicose enough. Not unilateral enough. Not warlike enough. What America needs is someone even more bloodthirsty than the crew that got us into this mess. Time to double down, folks.
The Boot view does provide a window into a fundamental mistake made by the right in its approach to foreign policy. He sees this domain as fundamentally zero sum. Syria, Iran, and North Korea are our enemies. Therefore, what’s bad for them is good for us. Therefore, if they’re frightened, we must be win. Therefore, if foreigners find John McCain frightening, he’s a good president.
The real world doesn’t work this way. If Saddam Hussein wasn’t frightened of George W. Bush and the United States of America in 2002, then he was making a big mistake. He had good reason to fear Bush, just as Iranians would have good reason to fear John McCain. The trouble is that international relations isn’t zero sum. Even America’s relationship with someone as odious as Saddam wasn’t zero sum. We were able to take action that was incredibly harmful to Saddam personally, and to the cause of his followers in Iraq, but it was also incredibly harmful to the United States. Another couple of rounds of conflict with enemies like Syria, Iran, and North Korea (and, hey, why not Venezuela, too) and we may not have any enemies left but we’ll still be weaker than we were before.
Yesterday, the Senate joined the House and voted to “prohibit the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods,” approving legislation that would bring the CIA’s interrogation methods in line with the Army Field Manual.
President Bush has threatened to veto the bill. If Congress manages to override his veto, Bush could issue one of his infamous signing statements. But in an interview with NPR, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said that if Bush issues a signing statement on waterboarding, no interrogation officials will abide by it and the President will have to do the torture himself:
MUKASEY: The question of conflict between the president’s Article II powers and statute is one that I think has been, to a large extent, overblown. [...]
OK, let’s assume that the president wants, despite a finding of illegality under law, to have waterboarding done, who is it precisely that he’s going to get to do it? He would virtually have to do it himself.
Mukasey has repeatedly said that he personally finds waterboarding “repugnant” and even believes that it would be torture if administered on him. He still refuses, however, to say whether he believes the tactic is illegal.
UPDATE: In 2005, after Congress passed a law outlawing the torture of detainees, Bush issued a signing statement saying that he would “construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President…as Commander in Chief.”
UPDATE II: Today in the White House press briefing, Perino addressed Bush’s upcoming veto:
[T]he reasons the President would veto the bill are the reasons that are laid out in our statement of administration policy, which is available on the OMB website. There were four basic reasons for it. But the main reason is that it would repeal the entire enhanced interrogation program that this Congress passed on a bipartisan basis in October of 2006. It’s the program that General Hayden has said has saved lives. This is not the President talking, this is the intelligence community.
And I think that everyone will just have to put it to a — they’ll have to ask themselves, do you trust the intelligence community more than you trust Democrats who are beholden to their left wing? And that’s the debate that this country is going to have.
Transcript: Read more
Your favorite think tanker and mine turns to Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, to channel his amped-up attacks on Barack Obama:
Michael O’Hanlon, a Democratic defense and national-security adviser at the Brookings Institution, also finds Obama’s approach dangerous and sophomoric.
The freshman senator’s eagerness for one-on-one talks with tin-pot dictators “would cheapen the value of presidential summits,” O’Hanlon told me.
“You don’t want a president using his time being lied to by foreign leaders. Hillary would be much more pragmatic. She has suggested midlevel talks with Iran, for example,” he said. “Obama would look weak, and Hillary would not look weak.”
Anyone who’s pissed O’Hanlon off this much is okay in my book. However, as the correspondent who brought this article to my attention observed, this seems like an odd time and place to go after Obama so severely if the intention is really to earn Clinton’s admiration. It looks in some ways more like pre-positioning for pro-McCain orientation in the general election.