Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The speeches

On page five of his speech, Cheney says in effect that one has to agree with the Bush administration’s strategy or admit that you do not take 9-11 seriously. This is a false dichotomy. Accepting the serious ongoing character of the threat represented by 9-11, there were alternative and, I think, better ways to respond than the Bush administration chose. Cheney addresses the harsh interrogations as “recruitment tool” argument but in a way that confirms that he does not understand the character of the threat we face. For example, after raising this issue he immediately calls into question the patriotism of those who make the argument and then discusses the terrorists, ignoring completely what the argument is really about.

Obama appears to understand what the recruitment tool argument is about but believes that security and our values can never conflict “so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense.” This and some other passages come close to saying that adherence to principle is sufficient to secure. The quoted statement comes toward the end of the speech and the other statements toward its beginning. In the middle, there is an effort to explain how to apply principle to the problem of the detainees at Guantanamo without harming our security. The middle is better than the end or the beginning.

Taken together, the speeches suggest our problem. Those who better grasp the connection of principle and security do not understand the threat we confront, while those who understand the threat, do not understand the connection between principle and security or are beholden to a constituency that does not.

Discussions - 29 Comments

Cheney is the embodiment of spectacle-trauma, memorial-grief and the manipulation of panic-fear for political ends. There were no further actual attacks, nor was there ever really a threat, but the psychic impacts struck again and again because they were too politically expedient to prevent. Thus the safest country in the history of the world simultaneously had housewives cowering from terrorists in Nebraska. The war-profit machines were jump started, executive presidential power dutifully expanded, and the media cooperated in saturation coverage of a viral, tele-presence of terror, with multiple prostheses and interfaces, and created the terminal american citizen, the permanent-terrorized subject, constantly re-activated in color-coded terror-alerts and 9/11 memorials. Bush's own terror-fear on that day, September 11th, was transmitted perfectly, if unwittingly, to the creation of an american interior identity of trauma, a consensual hallucination of fear that is enforced rather than thought. Cheney re-convenes this in every public appearance - he has to, because it is all and everything he has become. No wonder he mentioned 9-11 25 times in his remarks.

There's something to the analysis and I think you're right to say that Cheney (and Obama) offers us a false choice. But I do wish you'd avoid that "questioning patriotism" canard. It's so tiresome, and false to boot. Saying that someone is stupid and doesn't understand that what they're doing will damage the country isn't questioning someone's patriotism. It may be wrong, unfair, etc. But it's not questioning patriotism.

There really is something to your analysis.

The terrorists don't care if we use waterboarding or not. If we gave them all mint julips to drink and had them sit on nice soft sofas under a cool evening breeze, they would STILL want to kill you.

I think Obama does now understand the threat. He must bring Democrats along, over terrain he has traveled, and that he is trying to do. (Many will refuse.) Oddly, Cheney may be helping him do that.

Bryan -- in his speech Cheney says of the recruitment tool argument "after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil others do. It's another version of the same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves." Cheney is saying that the "recruitment tool" argument is a "blame America first" argument. That is a claim that questions the love of country of anyone who makes the argument. That is why I said Cheney is questioning the patriotism of those who make the argument.

It's very possible Steve is right, which was the point of my earlier post.

Before there was a Gitmo, Sirhan put a bullet in Bobby Kennedy. Arafat hijacked airplanes. Iran took hostages. Libya bombed discos. And jetliners in Lockerbie. the Achille Lauro. Lebanon marines. The first WTC bombing. The Cole the Embassies. bin Laden trained 20,000 trainees in camps before Gitmo.

But Gitmo is the problem? Obama says it's a "recruitment tool". Also waterboarding. And listening to their phone calls. Well, Gay Rights are a "recruiting tool"--how come we don't ban those? Also alcohol. Playboy. Qtub hated slow dancing and jazz. Shall we ban all these "recruiting tools"--or just the ones that have proven national security value and proven results?

So there's no such thing as "Blame-America-First" unless you are illegitimately calling into question someone's patriotism? Somebody tell Jean Kirkpatrick. "[T]here are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants..."

Obama is "questioning patriotism"--if you disagree with him, you're a Constitution-burning Fuhrer-worshipper. That's not even a good straw man--it's an arugula man.

Informing a detainee that the caterpillar is non-biting="anything goes"? please.

You are trying to position yourself as perfectly in the middle--that's what Obama tried and failed to do, also.

Bringing terrorists to America is bin Laden's job , not a president's job. Yet that is exactly what he wants to do.

David Tucker, while I generally agree with your pragmatic reasons for disagreeing with Cheney, for political reasons I'm very glad he gave the speech. Unlike Steve, I'm not convinced Obama takes the threat seriously. I think he understands there is a serious threat, but to him it is an unfortunate sideshow to the massive changes he is trying to affect on the American economy and American society. His motivation for pursuing the Overseas Contingency Operation is to keep embarrassing stories out of the news. A community organizer necessarily does not get excited over military operations and foreign policy.

Re Steve and Peter's comments 6 and 7: And maybe Cheney is aware of this--actually helping Obama with his far left. I am open to the possibility that Obama is learning something about foreign policy. Jack Goldsmith and to some extent Krauthammer in today's WaPo maintain that Obama's Guantanamo differences with Bush are largely rhetorical. That is not an insignificant difference, especially since the Bush Administration had such poor war rhetoric generally.

Obama and Cheney had their points yesterday, and it’s true that Obama danced past the hard choices a war demands, while Cheney glossed over the need to guard liberty and justice just as we guard our lives.

But in the end, I can’t help but wonder if any other major modern war was fought cleaner and more carefully than the liberations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Was there really something wrong with roughing up three top terrorists who either planned or hoped to plan the murders of thousands of innocent Americans? In the Bush legal counsel’s “torture memos,” we find a hand-wringing that reflects an unprecedented dedication to the principles of law, not an attempt to set them aside.

Were the methods used in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo more questionable than the methods used to win World War II? Was waterboarding three terrorist leaders, who today are as alive, well and hateful as ever, even nearly as dubious as the establishment of Japanese-American internment camps, the quick executions of six plain-clothed German “saboteurs” who showed up in America in 1942 and hurt no one, the “take no SS alive” order, the Dresden firebombing, the two atom bombs?

Ironically, it’s because of our humanitarian principles that today we fight only limited wars, and because we fight limited wars they take longer, and because they take longer we have the time to review and rehash every microstep.

The extra time and the extra debate is not without cost. It tests the resolve of a democracy. Had we not dropped those atom bombs to force Japan’s quick surrender in 1945, would World War II still be viewed as “the good war”? Or would it have dragged out so many more bloody years that we would have forgotten what we fought for, what we won?

Even in major wars, we don’t evaporate whole cities anymore. We don’t use internment camps for distant relatives of our enemies. We don’t electrocute foreigners just for showing up in civilian clothes and vague orders. We don’t tell our troops to kill all Taliban, kill all Baathists or kill all al-Qaida after they have been captured.

But in the name of civilization, we allow ourselves to argue that, even as we adhere more than ever to principle, we are less principled. That kind of thinking ignores real progress. That kind of thinking is not honest.

Andrew -- domestic politics should always take precedence over foreign politics. The only reason to concern ourselves with national security is to give us the freedom to do the right thing domestically. So, whatever you or I think of Obama's domestic policies, there can't be anything wrong with him putting domestic issues first.

Or are you saying that the external threat is so grat that anything (inlcuidng suspension of domestic politics as we have known it) is justified to deal with it? This I take to be Obama's implicit and almost explicit characterization of the Cheney position.

If Obama can learn and Cheney can't, then the ultimate advantage is to obama.

Perhaps Obama is restoring sanity to our policy by saying one thing and doing another. We have to follow his actions at least as much as his words. America's problem is as much as PR problem as it is a policy problem.

Before there was a Gitmo, Sirhan put a bullet in Bobby Kennedy. Arafat hijacked airplanes. Iran took hostages. Libya bombed discos. And jetliners in Lockerbie. the Achille Lauro. Lebanon marines. The first WTC bombing. The Cole the Embassies. bin Laden trained 20,000 trainees in camps before Gitmo.

Most (if not all) of that also took place before Hugo Chavez became President of Venezuela. Should he also get some credit for helping to end terrorism? Noel, I don't know how any of your comment helps to prove the usefulness of Gitmo. If anything, it assumes the same problems Obama's elimination of "recruitment tools" does - that the utopian dream of ending "terrorism" can become a reality by rescinding (or in your case adding) particular aspects of American politics.

If "recruitment tool" is the problem, then let's stop teaching girls to read, whether in Afghanistan or America. Jazz has got to go also. Ditto movies. Bring back prohibition--but legalize heroin, cos' our war on poppies is a recruiting tool, too. if we're going to let the enemy dictate our terms, then let's give them what they want.

btw, why won't SuperMax be a recruiting tool, too? After all POWs aren't supposed to be housed in regular prisons according to the Geneva Conventions. Violating the Geneva Conventions are a recruiting tool, remember? Will it put Denver on a target list? If not, why not?

#12: Actually, Mr. Tucker, I completely disagree with you concerning the role of the executive. I don't believe the president should be acting like a prime minister; his primary (though not sole) focus should be all threats, foreign and domestic. Not buying car companies with tax dollars.

As to "the connection between principle and security", I think you are drawing a false dichotomy. First, I don't think enhanced interrogation techniques contradict American principles (Natural Rights). I will spare everyone the John Locke quotes. Second, even if EITs are contradictory to American principles, the fact remains that we were attacked many times during the 90s and leading up to 9/11 - long before we were holding captured terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. Though I am open to the argument that EITs and Gitmo can be used as a recruiting tool, the terrorists hated us before we started using them and they'll hate us once we quit using them.

The distinctions I would make between the two speeches are: Obama tries to wrap his vision of American security in the cloak of "American principles", and claims that because we didn't stick to our principles we are less safe today. Dick Cheney, on the other hand, claims that it is because of our principles that they hate us, but doesn't understand that his inflamatory rhetoric isn't winning any hearts and minds abroad.

Andrew -- I don't see the relevance of the first para of your #17 to anything I have written.

Your second para: please talk about something besides EITs. In proof that torture works, this is becoming like Chinese water torture and I can’t take it anymore. In themselves EITs are not the issue. For the Nth and last time the terrorists are not the point either. The argument is not about them. We all agree that the hard core Jihadis (if that is what you mean by terrorists) aren’t hardened if we torture, run Gitmo, blah, blah, blah. The point is how to deal with them, of if you prefer, kill them most efficiently and effectively. Think about how to do that and not about whether we are coddling them if we don’t torture, etc.

As for hard core Jihdis, I ask how one knows that one is a hard core Jihadi? If your hard core Jihadi colleague next door unexpectedly ends up dead with a couple of bullets in his forehead, then maybe you will begin to feel your hard core melt a bit. But if your Jihadi buddy is blown up along with lots of non-combatants or, even better, no Jihadi is blown up but just non-combatants and the people in the area then start to help you more and their sons join up, then maybe your core will harden or not soften. In regard to this admittedly simple account, go to the map on predator strikes at the Center for American Progress and look at the ratio of HVT kills to non-combatant kills. I don’t know if the data is reliable, but consider the consequences if it is.

Your third para: Who is the they that hate us? Cheney is wrong, I think, to say or imply that all of the “they” hate us because of our principles. As far as I can tell from published polling and personal experience, only a relatively small number hate us for our principles, unless of course what you mean by the “they” is the terrorists, and then we are back to what I think is wrong with your para two.

Something I read today probably should have been in the old thread about torture, but here it is anyways: What if the pictures they refuse to release don't depict waterboarding, but instead the rape of teenagers? I guess there is a memo and some testimony suggesting that teenage boys were raped while being held. I guess that is not any different than our own prisons so mabye it should just be considered another EIT.

Mr Warner – I don’t think the World War II analogy holds. We are engaged in a different kind of conflict. I also don’t think we are constrained by our humanitarian impulses, thus making these kind of wars long. Rather, our enemies choose not to fight in a way that allows us to bring our force to bear, compelling us, if we are to win, to fight in a way we would prefer not to and which necessarily makes the war long. Our enemies don’t wear uniforms and stand in the open (hence the WWII analogy does not apply). They did in the early stages in Afghanistan but the quick result seems to have reminded them not to. Since our enemies do not officially represent a population, as a legitimate government does which has attacked us, we cannot attack the population as we did in WWII, lest we drive the population into the hands of our enemies. (In WWII, the population was already in the hands of our enemies. We thought bombing would drive them away from their governments. It did not.)

Andrew -- sorry for the bad manners in #18, para 2. I should have expressed myself in a more civil manner.


No worries, Mr. Tucker; Fortune yields herself to the audacious and hot-blooded more readily than those who go to work more coldly.

This is way off topic, but I included my first paragraph was because you said in #12 that "whatever you or I think of Obama's domestic policies, there can't be anything wrong with him putting domestic issues first." I said "I completely disagree with you concerning the role of the executive . . . his primary (though not sole) focus should be all threats, foreign and domestic." I thought it was a fair point to make, since you claimed there is nothing wrong with President Obama focusing on domestic affairs, and only concerning himself with foreign affairs when they interfere with his domestic agenda. No American president should have much of a domestic agenda (short of exercising those powers enumerated in the Constitution). If there are no threats at home or abroad and all the benches filled, the president should nap a la President Coolidge. I said the POTUS should focus chiefly on foreign affairs because that's basically all his justly derived executive power allows him to focus on.

As to all your other points, I assure you that I am as tired of writing about EITs as you are of hearing about them. I again find myself thinking I understand the point you are making only to find out that, in fact, I don't; perhaps if you said "this is specifically what VP Cheney is doing wrong and this is specifically why it is wrong and this is how to do it right". However, with all due respect, I've lost interest.

Certainly World War II was completely different, and that's part of my point. In facing the nastiest of crosscurrents in Afghanistan and Iraq, we've conducted ourselves remarkably well.

No American president should have much of a domestic agenda (short of exercising those powers enumerated in the Constitution). If there are no threats at home or abroad and all the benches filled, the president should nap a la President Coolidge. I said the POTUS should focus chiefly on foreign affairs because that's basically all his justly derived executive power allows him to focus on.

Andrew - Constitutional provisions are not straight jackets. Political competition over time has fleshed out offices and the expectations surrounding them, and these changes are not as such departures from the Constitution, unless you think that the Executive Office of the President, for example, or executive budgeting is unconstitutional. Do you think Ronald Reagan was Coolidge? John Marshall famously said, “We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.”

Honestly, Jon Stewart pretty much nailed it in his analysis of The Dueling Speeches.

Cheney just strung some sentences together with 9/11 references.

Obama used Bush language, but with a more eloquent tone.

I finally found this, or rather the NYTimes did.

(That link doesn't go anywhere, Steve.)

Jon Stewart pretty much nailed it in his analysis of The Dueling Speeches.

But what about the all-important analysis by Krusty The Clown? Can we consider the matter closed without hearing from him?

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