Sunday, November 13, 2005


Wretchard is the source of some very lucid commentary about the McCain Amendment, and he cuts through the fog of both the Amendment's supporters and detractors:

I'm going to make a personal prediction. The number of incidents involving the torture of terrorist suspects will increase after the McCain Amendment, or something like it, is passed. There will be a fall in the number of interrogation incidents in US custody. It may even become zero. However, there will be a corresponding increase in torture incidents involving agencies of other governments, including European governments, all of whom will fully subscribe to every piece of human rights legislation which can be imagined, but who in practice will simply do what they want.

What the McCain Amendment will do is change the bean-counting rules. It will not create a framework in which real torture can be limited and stopped. That would require accepting moral responsibility for affirming practices which may be proscribed under the Geneva Conventions but fall short of real torture. That would mean explaining to the public that we are correspondingly determined to outlaw real, barbaric torture, even when by foreswearing it, public losses must be endured. Instead politicians will want to have it both ways and promise the public that they will neither soil their hands nor let the sleeping populace come to harm. No one who desires re-election can promise the voters only "blood, sweat and tears". The time is long since past when politicians could say to a nation at war "death and sorrow will be the companion of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield." That's too much of a drag.

Another coherent discussion of this issue comes in an editorial from Mark Bowden at WSJ:

We like problems to have easy solutions in America, just as we like stories to have neat, happy endings. The show illustrated to me some of the wishful thinking, mythmaking and confusion that surround the difficult issues of torture, coercion and prisoner abuse, which our nation seems incapable of thinking about coherently. Sen. John McCain has tacked a provision on the annual defense budget that would ban cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for anyone in American custody. Having been terribly abused himself as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Sen. McCain is a national hero, and brings a heavy load of moral authority to the table. His measure has passed the Senate, but faces trouble in the House, and a likely veto if it ever reaches the White House.

I don't understand why. The provision offers nothing new or even controversial. Cruel treatment of prisoners is already banned. It is prohibited by military law and by America's international agreements. American citizens are protected by the Constitution. I see no harm in reiterating our national revulsion for it, and maybe adding even a redundant layer of legal verbiage will help redress the damage done to our country by pictures from Abu Ghraib and reports of widespread prisoner abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing it will not do, sadly, is stop the abuse of prisoners.

You see, the McCain Amendment is just another one of those "feel good" laws that makes everyone believe that they are "opposing torture" and "doing the right thing", but which, in fact will have extremely serious unintended consequences, as Wretchard suggests above.

It is exactly parallel to the unintended consequences of all those antiwar protest demonstrations. (at least I hope for most of those clueless people that it is unintended) All those dancing and prancing antiwar protestors also "feel" that they are promoting peace, when in reality they are responsible for encouraging and enabling those who kill our soldiers and the innocents in Iraq. These are consequences of their behavior that they'd rather not talk about, especially since they have this delusion that they are somehow morally superior because they shout that they love peace loudly. In fact they feel very very good about themselves for doing it and don't care about the consequences.

Someone once said that "war is hell". He was clearly not referring to our expectations about war today. Modern war is expected to be only be a mild inconvenience of only a few news cycles. Preferably there will be no deaths; messiness or ambiguity will not be tolerated; certainly no mistakes are admissible. It must be perfectly planned; perfectly executed; and with no unexpected results. It must be surgically precise and quick; and it must not cost too much--either in financial terms; political terms or emotional terms.

In short, war itself has become the object of utopian fantasies. In those utopian fantasies, a perfect country never goes to war in the first place; but if they did, then they would do it perfectly, with perfect human beings behaving in perfectly preordained fashion. The enemy, of course is free to behave in any way they wish.

The goal of the utopian war is not to win, but to demonstate moral superiority.

Sacrifice; thinking; choosing among difficult alternatives; and accepting responsibility for one's actions--none of these behaviors are appropriate for a utopian war.

No, as Wretchard observes, "blood, sweat, and tears" are just soooo last century; and way too much of a drag, man.

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