Ari Melber very nicely handled the torture question today in a way I wish more"democratic strategists" would do. On MSNBC earlier with Carlos 'n Contessa, he and Republican Joe Morton squared off over the FBI Agent's testimony on the efficacy of torture before the Senate today:
Morton: And yet there are others who would say that the waterboarding helped. It helped provide information...
Melber: But Joe, even if we put that aside and say that might be possible, there are leaders throughout the world who would say that genocide helps security, that cancelling elections helps security, that fascism helps security. At some point here the whole issue is that we have to move beyond the framework of just saying torturing someone or killing someone worked, and be bound by the rule of law.
This is so obvious to me that I can't understand why people don't say it more often. If you can excuse breaking the law to use torture to keep the nation safe, you can excuse breaking the law to do anything to keep the nation safe. That nullifies the rule of law -- and civilization.
I actually take this argument a step further and say that by refusing to completely repudiate torture and hold those who devised the regime responsible, we are making ourselves substantially less safe. Superpowers which are seen as tyrannical and which believe that the ends justify the means are not considered trustworthy by the rest of the world. It's possible that it doesn't matter if the rest of the world finds us threatening and, frankly, evil. But it is going to cost us a huge amount in blood and treasure to maintain our security under those circumstances. (I won't even mention the potential economic fallout of becoming a pariah nation.)
This gets to the fundamental difference of opinon between liberals and conservatives about America's role in the world. They think we are a military empire which must constantly prove its toughness and brutally demonstrate its willingness to do whatever it takes to "defend" its interests (which is defined as dominance.) Liberals (would like to) see America as a powerful leader of nations and an example of civilized, cooperative behavior based upon trust and mutual interest. Conservatives believe we must dominate, liberals believe we should engage.
Torture, of course, stands alone as a despicable betrayal of decent human values. But as the argument evolves, we are seeing the foreign policy implications start to emerge as well. I always assumed that the Obama administration understood this better than anyone and it is one of the things about which I was truly optimistic. But it's looking less likely that we are truly going to see a break with the bipartisan consensus on American military power and substantive change in our approach to world leadership.
People around the world do like Obama and still have great hopes. But it won't last forever if the only thing they get is lip service and it appears that the administration is driving down America's hawkish road, just like the ones who came before him. To persuade them that America has truly repudiated the Bush years, he's going to have to do more than simply assure everyone that "America doesn't torture" and leave it at that. After all, George W. Bush said exactly the same thing.