HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 4, 2007
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


The Intelligence Business

The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report raising questions about the CIA's torture program. The committee members suspect it may be having an adverse effect on the reputation of the United States. How radical can these people get?

There was a committee ballot to cut it off altogether which failed by one vote when Democrat Ben Nelson of Florida joined all the Republicans in voting against it. The Republicans' faith in torture seems almost to be deeper than their faith in Jesus. To favor torture has now become a firm element of the Republican credo. It shows that they are real men.

The report took up other topics which ought to be of as much concern to the public as the CIA's interrogation antics. One is the burgeoning use of contractors in the intelligence business. It's even harder to tell if a contractor is torturing somebody than it is when the torture is perpetrated by a government employee. That may be one reason contractors are so popular with this administration. But the main reason, without a doubt, is that they cost a lot more. A Republican belief as strong as support for torture is that it's better to pay twice as much to get something done if it's not done by a government employee. That's because it supports private enterprise, and, as all Republicans know, private enterprise is superior to government activity, not because the work is better done, but because God has told us so.

Thus we dribble towards the end of the Bush administration, with the Republicans fighting one rearguard action after another and the Democrats timidly suggesting that maybe some of the things done by the Bushies haven't been, quite, up to par. Nineteen months to go.


War Debate Handicap

Conventional wisdom, as it has evolved in the political and journalistic communities, decrees that a critic of war -- any war -- has to fight with one hand tied behind his back.

Antiwar people can be criticized in the most withering terms, as shown by John McCain's recent comment about opposing the latest war funding bill: "I was very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender." That, evidently, is acceptable language. But suppose some one should say of McCain, "I'm sorry he's become a warmonger, who supports war for its own sake," -- which, after all, is pretty much true. There would be a gigantic storm in the press with clarion denunciations of slanderous speech.

As Michael Kinsley noted in his recent column, with respect to war "the president can do it if he wants to and no one can legitimately stop him."

This is scarcely a level playing field. And it's interesting that the supposedly most manly of contestants demand an advantage that shields them from taking the kind of hits they dish out every day. It's as though they required a footfall game in which they wear protective uniforms while their opponents have to play in bathing suits.

Think of all the things it's not cricket to say of war supporters. You can't say they like war because there are immense profits to be had from it.  You can't say they want to turn the country from a democratic republic into an imperial power. You can't say they want to use tax-supported military force to guarantee the position of military-industrial magnates. You can't say they push war because it gratifies adolescent fantasies of command and control. You can't say they adore it because it fulfills romantic visions of strutting in soldier suits. You can't say they are obsessed with the gadgetry of destruction to the exclusion of all other forms of creativity. All these things are true but you can't say them and get a respectful hearing.


A Theory of the End

In all the talk among American officials about pacifying Iraq and bringing safety to the streets of Baghdad, I have not heard one of them address the question of why Iraqis would ever stop fighting against U.S. forces in their country. I can't, myself, think of one. And, evidently, neither can many people who have tried to inform themselves of conditions in the country. Leslie Gelb, for example, said recently, "There's no strategy that can create victory."

The failure of U.S. officialdom to take up what is obviously the most important issue of our presence in Iraq makes one wonder what's really going on in the Bush administration. Are they simply trying to hold on until they get out of office and leave the mess to their successors? Or, is the ongoing situation in Iraq pretty much in line with what they have wanted all along?

I have never heard any credible argument that the leading figures of this administration ever intended to withdraw American military forces from Iraq. There's no more reason for them to want that than there is for the Iraqis to stop launching attacks on our troops. Why would Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, have wanted to invade Iraq in the first place if they didn't envision permanent control of the country?

Now, we are beginning to hear suggestions of a Korea-like policy that would for decades make the U.S. dominant militarily in Iraq. Is there anything new in these statements from the White House Press secretary or the Secretary of Defense? It's new rhetoric, to be sure. But is there any new policy behind it? It seems like the goal that has existed from the beginning of the adventure, with just a slightly different way of talking about it.

That ongoing occupation will cost steady loss of American lives won't influence these strategic thinkers any more in the future than it has in the past. It's quite a strategy.


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