Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Neo-Cons Are Shortsighted, Simpleminded

Today's Washington Post contains an article entitled Report Calls CIA Detainee Treatment 'Inhuman.' The report was authored by the Red Cross, and it details our horrific, immoral treatment of military detainees. It is a very important -- but very sad -- article, but I suggest you read it. After pondering this article, I developed the following argument.

Neo-cons, like Frank Gaffney, constantly parade evidence of immense danger in the face of the American public. It is said by Gaffney and others that there are unimaginably horrific dangers facing our country, and thus we are justified to engage in torture, because it makes us safe.

I seek to establish the following: neo-cons and other hawks are simpleminded and shortsighted. They wrongly assume that taking aggressive, torture-like actions in the present -- which might possibly make us safer in the immediate present -- translates to greater national safety. On the contrary, such torture programs simply do not make us safer, and in fact they makes us less safe. The neo-cons make this error because they are so obsessed with national security, that they can not see past the immediate threat to our long-term safety. I will establish these points in the paragraphs that follow.

It has been widely reported that a large part -- or, perhaps the largest part -- of Obama's recent mission overseas was to improve America's tarnished moral status in the world. For years, we were highly regarded in the international community for our commitment to human rights and general moral uprightness, but no longer.

This moral uprightness had tremendous practical significance in the context of national security -- i.e., it made us more safe. For instance, in Operation Desert Storm, droves of Iraqi soldiers willfully -- eagerly -- surrendered to our forces, because the soldiers were certain that they would be treated humanely. After all, America, it was thought, adheres to the Geneva convention, and is the archetype of a progressive approach to human rights and dignity. Thus, our position of moral authority in Operation Desert Storm made us more safe.

There are, of course, many other advantages to our previous moral superiority. To provide another example, before Bush II, we could credibly demand compliance with international agreements regarding human rights, because there was no doubt that we adhered to the same conventions. Thus, our word on such issues carried tremendous weight worldwide.

But these international benefits of moral uprightness no longer apply to America. The entire world knows that America tortures. Years after Obama's presidency ends, foreign countries will still suspect that we engage in torture, no matter how much headway we make cleaning up our image. Gitmo will always be used as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Our Bush-era interrogation programs have galvanized our enemies and will continue to encourage previously non-militaristic peoples to take up arms against our country.

And there are yet more examples of the danger torture programs have put us in. Gitmo is abhorrent to Europeans. Our actions there were reviled, and the bitter taste it put in Europeans' mouths sustains. As a result, Americans are a target of ridicule, making travel abroad for Americans less safe.

Further, it is much harder for foreign, European leaders to muster sufficient public support to back American calls for assistance. By way of example, last week, Europe largely rejected American calls for assistance in Afghanistan. At least part of the reason is that European leaders can not convince their citizens to stand behind our goals in Afghanistan, because Europeans do not want to support torture. It is much more likely that Europeans would support our prosecution of the war on terror if we had not committed atrocities of torture, which has tainted all of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In other words, we are no longer the objective, credible moral arbiters of human dignity and peace. Thus, we can not reap the benefits of this status, making us less safe. Further, our engaging in torture caused affirmative, heated ire toward our country, making us less safe. Thus, at the risk of repetition, torture made us less -- not more -- safe in the long run.

The neo-cons, like Gaffney, do not consider these long-term effects of torture when they debate national security issues. Instead, the hawks only look to the immediate present. That is, the neo-cons would thwart the next attack at literally any cost, no matter how high. Irrespective of this approach's impact upon our immediate safety, it undoubtedly makes us less safe in the long-term, and therefore less safe overall.

The neo-cons' arguments are too simpleminded, and too shortsighted. They make us less safe.

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