Commentary Magazine


Reality Knocks

Whether he intended it or not, the president has jump-started a national discussion which critics of the Bush administration might have preferred we all avoid. We are now engaged in a great debate about what our government must do to protect our fellow citizens against merciless foes. The Left has tried mightily to rule out any discussion of real world scenarios. They would like the discussion to transpire in a morally pristine world with no “what ifs.” They rely on the fantasy paradigm in which terrorists give up information with no psychological or physical pressure and in which we no longer will face real and immediate threats to our citizens.

But they have, it seems, trespassed into reality by insisting on release of the memos and raising the spectacle of a truth commission. Now the conversation is firmly grounded in the real world — as it was in 2001 and as it may be if another key terrorist is grabbed.

The public does not share the Left’s indifference to real world dilemmas or their inclination to give the back of the hand to “what ifs.” As the latest ABC/Washington Post poll shows, the president is quite popular but his policies are far less so. In a nutshell:

About half of all Americans, and 52 percent of independents, said there are circumstances in which the United States should consider employing torture against such suspects.

And that asks about “torture” — not a slap and a caterpillar. (I am waiting for the poll asking if a slap to the chin with fingers spread is “torture.”)

And it appears that the critics of the administration must be making progress since Robert Gibbs attempted to counter the “did it make us safer argument” on Sunday:

Robert Gibbs said the continued use of Bush-era harsh interrogation tactics threatened the lives of American troops who may face retribution from the country’s enemies.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the White House press secretary cited comments from National Security Adviser and former Marine General Jim Jones that, ”It is difficult to keep the men and women in uniform defending our country safe because of the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques.”

But this is silliness squared. When Americans are captured by terrorists they are beheaded. And terrorists had no problem recruiting jihadists well before any of this was known. Marty Peretz states and summarily dismisses this sort of argument:

America’s enemies, the enemies of the West bore no antagonism to the United States and its allies until they showed their indifference to their own values. This is nonsense…and ahistorical besides.

Saying unsupported piffle is the stuff of campaigns, but the current occupants of the White House seem unaware of their higher obligation to provide complete and unspun information to the American people. While they may be determined to throw out whatever hits them as an available political counterattack,  neither their own intelligence officials or the previous ones support the view that a single American was harmed because of interrogation tactics. The available information suggests the contrary is true.

The public has a reservoir of common sense. They see nothing wrong with harsh measures to save a hundred or a thousand or more Americans. Whether the administration does remains to be seen. The Left clearly does — and that is their Achilles heel in all this. Try as they might, they are unlikely to win the argument that ensuring the comfort of our most vicious enemies takes precedence over preventing the possible death of Americans.