It’s understandably difficult to calibrate proper diplomatic behavior when your best idea of how to treat your enemies is to waterboard them.
Just in case you don’t know what waterboarding is, here is a refresher. You force your enemy to lie on his back. Then you place a sponge or some other type of porous cloth over his nose and mouth. Then you pour water onto the sponge or cloth so that your enemy cannot breathe. It’s called simulated drowning. Journalist Christopher Hitchens has undergone the procedure so that he could write about it authoritatively. He says there is nothing simulated about it. You are being drowned for 20 seconds at a time.
With that as our cozy backdrop, let’s discuss the latest offense Obama has given the far right, for whom he can do no right. He actually shook hands with Cesar Chavez! Oh my! He didn’t read Daniel Ortega the riot act after Ortega ranted about America for 50 minutes. Treason!
The problem conservative are having is that Obama takes quaint phrases like “disagree without being disagreeable” and puts them into action. He really means it. As a result, he behaves like a gentleman with leaders of other countries, even leaders with whom we strongly disagree. Anyone watching the body language of Obama when Chavez handed him an anti-American book as a “gift” could see that the President was basically saying “thanks for the book, now go back and sit the hell back down in your seat and stop wasting my time.” Did he need to actually say that? No.
As for Ortega, why should Obama stoop so low as to go tit for tat with a thug leader? I hate to break it to you folks but this is not the playground behind the elementary school where you have to prove you can’t be bullied around. By not dignifying Ortega’s attack with a similar response, he left the Nicaraguan President looking like a silly extremist. The only folks upset about this are your macho swagger guys, Scarborough, Buchanan and Cheney. Obama’s only response to Ortega showed how foolish the 50 minute tirade was:
To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. We’ve all heard these arguments before.
Putting aside some historical inaccuracy (Ortega referenced the Bay of Pigs which occurred before Obama was born, not when he was three months old), Obama said all that needed to be said.
So, admittedly after eight years of acting like cowboys, the Obama approach to diplomacy may be a bit hard to swallow. Now the question is how do we deal with one of the consequences of our former shoot-first-ask-questions-later style of international relations? If you think the economy and two wars was a major turd left on our door step by Bush, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We are now getting details on how the former administration framed a legal defense of torture so that the savage practices could go on unchallenged.
Let’s first deal with the criticism that Obama’s decision to release the legal briefs “allowing” for torture has made us vulnerable. What baloney! The fact that the primary cheerleader in this meme is Dick Cheney tells you what hogwash it is. For starters, the legal memos don’t tell us anything all that new. They just tell us how premeditated all of these shenanigans were. Secondly, are we really so naive to think that Al Quada did not know our interrogation techniques? You don’t think there were communication networks that allowed for leaks out of Gitmo to the terrorist community? Do you really think Osama and his henchmen were telling their followers, “we have no idea what will happen to you if you fall into the hands of the infidels. Don’t worry, it won’t be too extreme.” Come on! Get real folks. I have to laugh when I see the likes of Cheney and Joe Scarborough acting like we’ve given away major secrets to the enemy. And in this case, does knowing that you’re going to be waterboarded make the experience any less terrible? It still sucks to be drowned for 20 seconds at a time whether it’s a surprise or not.
Then of course there is the whole debate on the effectiveness of torture. Many experts on the subject say that we don’t get reliable information from the practice. If we compare the practice to what was done to US airmen during the Korean War, we see one of the fundamental problems with our approach. In the Korean War, a form of water torture was used to force airmen to lie. It was NOT used to get the truth out of them. Hence there is a strong likelihood that waterboarding will get the prisoner to say anything that will bring him relief, not necessarily the truth.
President Obama has himself in a bit of a pickle right now, not because he released the torture memos (which would probably have been requested by an international inquiry anyway) but because he has been inconsistent on how we should move forward. His initial stance was that he wanted to end the practice of torture and then move on. He wanted to look to the future and not punish people for the past mistakes. Of course this had the far left apoplectic. This stance reached its most unequivocal point this past Sunday when Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told George Stephanopoulos that neither the practitioners of torture nor the architects of the program would be prosecuted. But within the past forty eight hours, Obama has backpedaled on this, now saying that those who were “just following orders” should not be prosecuted but the folks giving the orders might be subject to scrutiny by the Justice Department (i.e. Eric Holder). Of course the list of folks giving the orders could extend all the way up to the former occupant of the Oval Office.
This leaves us on the precipice of a situation far more divisive than our current economic or foreign relations policies. I am not sure this country can handle the prosecution of our former Vice President and potentially our former President for war crimes. In 1947 we prosecuted and convicted a Japanese officer for the very acts that the recent legal memo disclosure details. We have committed acts that we once felt were criminal when committed by our enemy. With that said, I have to say that I liked Obama’s original stance on this. We stop doing the wrong thing and we move on. The far left says that if these crimes go unpunished, we will have learned nothing and history will eventually repeat itself. That may be true but my greater fear is that our country currently in so much distress, cannot afford to immerse itself in years of self recrimination. And while I would lose no sleep over Dick Cheney going to jail, my heart would go out to George W. Bush. As I’ve stated in other posts, Bush will receive his reward or his punishment from the judgment of history and that judgment is profound and long-lasting.
If the international community chooses to prosecute us, so be it. But we, as a nation have a lot of healing to do. I don’t see how we can heal if we open the wounds of our former criminal activity and potentially make George W. Bush the first former President to be tried, convicted and sentenced for crimes against humanity.