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Talk About Your Unintended Consequences

I have argued that the Obama administration and the Left, more generally, have made a fundamental error in assessing public opinion on harsh interrogation methods. The public isn’t much bothered by a slap or a caterpillar — or maybe even by more – if American lives are at stake. It is their lives and the lives of their loved ones we are talking about. And they understand that, for all its faults, the Bush team kept us safe for seven years. Gallup’s poll on this subject makes that understanding abundantly clear:

A new Gallup Poll finds 51% of Americans in favor and 42% opposed to an investigation into the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. At the same time, 55% of Americans believe in retrospect that the use of the interrogation techniques was justified, while only 36% say it was not.

[. . .]

While a slim majority favors an investigation, on a relative basis the percentage is quite low because Americans are generally quite supportive of government probes into potential misconduct by public officials. In recent years, for example, Americans were far more likely to favor investigations into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys (72%), government databases of telephone numbers dialed by Americans (62%), oil company profits (82%), and the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina (70%).

Support for an inquiry into the Bush-era interrogation policy may be relatively limited because a majority of Americans believe the use of the techniques for questioning terrorism suspects was justified.

A new CBS/New York Times poll shows a stunning 62% don’t want a Congressional probe of Bush-era interrogation techniques. (By a 47-44% margin, respondents also said they want to keep Guantanamo open, yet another indication that voters’ affection for Obama does not translate to his policies on terrorism.)

The Bush administration and its supporters on the war on terror did not ask for this national debate. They did not seek to release operational details of our interrogation techniques to the public and thereby to the terrorists. They didn’t start out to unmask Congressional hypocrisy or revisit the dogged bravery of those who defended the country in the wake of 9-11. But now that this has happened, a great discussion is underway, which opens up the potential for a full accounting of what was done, why it was done, and what benefits we obtained from those efforts.

I would venture a guess that the public reaction to date was not what Congressional Democrats (and those in the administration favoring this course) had in mind. They might not have anticipated that so many would step forward (already) to describe the benefits derived from the interrogation techniques. Instead, they likely envisioned a final stake in the heart of the Bush anti-terrorism legacy. But then liberals never really appreciate the law of unintended consequences.



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