Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is waterboarding torture?

By Rick Morris

Listeners to The FDH Lounge program are aware that fellow Lounge Dignitaries Burrell Jackson and Chris Galloway are good friends of mine dating back to our days navigating the political sphere at Ohio University. The same can be said of Scott Pullins, Ohio's foremost lawyer/political advocate/lobbyist/etc.

Scott penned a short introduction to a piece on his site last month denouncing our government's practice of waterboarding on terrorist suspects. Frankly, this is a strange topic for me in that I don't have a fierce and unshakable take one way or another, as I almost always do on any subject. I know that our government has considered it torture in the past and that it is not wise or moral for our government to indulge in torture. Without wanting to resort to something as cliche as the "Jack Bauer exception," I would probably be in favor of desperate measures under the most extreme circumstances (i.e. a nuke about to be detonated), but I would not want it to be standard operating practice.

But just the fact that I am at least somewhat sympathetic to Scott's arguments would put me afoul of the absolutists he references in his post. Now, I know from many, many conversations that I am way more of a paleocon than any of my fellow members of "The OU Mafia," so I won't associate Scott or anyone else with what I'm about to argue.

What Scott references, the people who can't form a single cogent thought beyond "Support the president" or any other cliche -- they are the neocons who have taken over the conservative movement and the Republican party. Revisionism aside, unrestrained militarism was never a cornerstone of the conservative movement. How many hot wars did Ronald Reagan engage in on his way to bringing down the Soviet Union? He showed that he was prepared to commit the military where necessary (Grenada, the Libyan president's mansion), but used proxies in other instances (Central America, Afghanistan). In short, he used the full range of options for every situation, unlike today's hairy-chested tough-talkers like Bill Kristol -- whose response to the Israeli-Hezbollah War of '06 was to call for the United States to invade Iran!

Somewhere along the way, those of us on the right side of the spectrum have allowed the neocons, who have historically not placed a tremendous amount of importance on traditional conservative issues like the right to life, to hijack this ideology and to paint anyone with legitimate questions about any aspect of American military or foreign policy as un-American. I will note in the very same breath that many on the left deserve the vitriol of the neocons and are actually interested in undermining our nation's standing in the world. But for the main conservative organs in this country, such as National Review, to act as though neoconservatism is the only legitimate strain of thinking is a slap in the face to those of us who read it and cherished it for the decades prior to its decline into intellectual sloth. To disagree, from another vantage point on the right, from the doctrine of Jonah Goldberg or Hugh Hewitt is not to be lacking in patriotism, it is to live up to the definition of the word. And whether Scott Pullins and I agree on every last point on political or military policy, that is definitely a point of agreement for us both.

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