Monday, January 12, 2009

Looking Forward to a View of the Past

I watched a bit of football yesterday. For those of you now thinking “Ugh, a post about sports, not for me!” don’t worry, this won’t be about football. Trust me.

Except, of course, to say “GO STEELERS!!”

As much as I enjoy watching football, it can be a bit mindless, so my mind had a chance to wander there and here. Here being a piece on Sunday Morning about the legacy of George Bush’s eight years in the Oval Office.

There were experts and historians and political operatives quoted throughout, all with a different view of how history might view Bush’s two terms. Some of them came right out and said “H”istory would view the former Texas governor as one of the worst presidents, if not the worst, in U.S. history. Others though, mainly the guy who once worked for W, were kinder in their assessment, asking us only for the detachment of time before rushing to judgment.

My first inclination is to lean toward the second option.

Owwww. Quit throwing things and yelling at me. If you give me a minute, I’ll try to explain.

Fact: Bush has done, and allowed others to do in his name, some incredibly stupid and misguided things during the past eight years. First, and foremost on this list, is giving the order to invade Iraq.

The second thing is invading, but ignoring his generals who, just maybe, might know a little bit more about making war than people who’ve worked in think tanks and government their entire lives. A prime example of this is the former Army Chief of Staff and incoming Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki. Shinseki told Congress before the war it would probably take 400k or so troops to control Iraq after it was conquered. Donald Rumsfeld and the other neocons disagreed and Shinseki was ingloriously railroaded out of the Army.

The problem was, you see, Shinseki was right and everybody else in charge was wrong.

The biggest screw up I and many others see is the fighting in Iraq has diverted valuable resources from fighting the real enemy: Terrorists. Containment worked on the Soviets for 45 years, and Saddam for more than 10, there’s no reason we couldn’t have kept that up cheaply for a long, long time while we let our soldiers, Marines and smart bombs hunt Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Perhaps, if we weren’t distracting ourselves invading Iraq, but instead maintained the status quo, things might not be quite so tenuous right now in Afghanistan and Pakistan and all the other –stans. Actually, there’s no perhaps about it, things would be going better.

The problem I have, though, with condemning Bush so quickly is we don’t know what we don’t know. Governments keep secrets for a good reason, and governments are forced to do bad things to keep you and me safe.

This is where things get sticky for me because I have conflicting opinions and beliefs. I absolutely believe the government has no business checking up on me or listening in on my phone calls or reading my emails or having any programs to do that to me and my fellow Americans.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no problem what-so-ever with the government using whatever means necessary — Whatever Means Necessary — on our enemies to keep me, my friends, you and even everyone who protests against these methods safe.

Yeah, I said that. If water boarding a suspected terrorist will keep me and those I love (and even those I don’t like too much) safe? Bring out the pitcher and fill ‘er up.

"We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."

I ask you this hypothetical: What if the next guy who gets caught in the mountains of Afghanistan, or in London or walking around taking pictures of downtown D.C. pegs a radiation meter? Will Americans complain louder because the rubber hoses were broken out but a plot was shortstopped? Or because a dirty bomb or suitcase nuke went off at 16th and Constitution because we were wasting time asking nicely?

Winston Churchill sacrificed Coventry to keep secret the fact we’d broken many of Germany’s codes during World War II. Are the civil rights of a terrorist worth Washington or New York or Los Angeles or Seattle or Omaha?

There are rules of war. I remember learning them in the Marine Corps. Generally speaking you’re only supposed to only kill the bad guys (and girls today) and, while you’re at it, do your best not to kill anyone who may be in the way of the primary objective. But the primary objective is to kill the enemy.

But what if the enemy doesn’t follow the same rule you do? What if they don’t follow any rules at all and exploit your adherence to your rules? What if, so to speak, they decline to stand in Napoleonic lines and instead shoot at you from behind the trees? What if they kidnap your people and make videos while sawing their screaming victims’ heads off with knives? The rules of war weren’t written for this war, hell, they weren’t even written for the Vietnam War, which at least had a uniformed army on both sides.

Fact: Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has not been attacked by terrorists. Yes, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have, but “we” haven’t. It may not be a nice thought, but torture has probably stopped a terrorist attack on America, Americans or our allies.

In the coming months and years it’s likely we'll face an even more dangerous situation than we’ve faced in the past eight years. When that time comes Barack Obama will be forced to confront many of the same choices George W. Bush has.

When he does what will he choose?


LiLu said...

Steelers schmeelers. GO BIRDS!!! (That was for you, B. Is it baseball season yet?)

FoggyDew said...

LiLu - Not baseball season and almost the end of the Raven's season as well. And then I remember you're from Mass. and it all becomes so very clear.

Anonymous said...

Hells Bells, Go Steelers.

Foggy, I will happily cede to your knowledge on military affairs - I have never stood watch over our country's safety and you have. However, in your argument in favor of extreme interrogation methods, you did not acknowledge that there is strong sentiment both inside and outside of the intelligence/military community that torture does not work. The veracity of that opinion has grown substantially in recent years.

FWIW, I did a Google search for "torture doesn't work" - it yielded 9.7 million links - almost twice as many as "torture works". I do not suggest that this was even remotely scientific, however, I do suggest that it presents at least anecdotal evidence of the number of experts who at least question the effectiveness of torture.

FoggyDew said...

Ref - All good points I totally agree with. I am, of course, not saying torture or "enhanced interrogation" methods should ever be casually used. But...and Capone said it best, "You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."