Friday, October 07, 2005

Where the Rhetoric Meets the Road

The Resident gave what was billed as a 'major speech on Iraq' yesterday. While it was mostly a reprise of all the cliches that he has used for the past four years to justify going to war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, it did have some interesting language. I was particularly struck by this line:

The terrorists are as brutal an enemy as we've ever faced. They're unconstrained by any notion of our common humanity, or by the rules of warfare. [Emphasis added]

I thought to myself "Why yes, yes they are." I found it interesting that the Resident used that kind of language because it seemed to imply that we were different. We abided by the rules of warfare, especially those codified in the Geneva Convention. Further, we operated from the basic 'notion of our common humanity,' or at least that was our intention. Unfortunately, that idealistic goal is one that we have obviously fallen short of over the past four years, as evidenced by the horrendous stories emerging about our treatment of 'illegal combatants,' 'detainees,' and prisoners taken from the battlefield.

The cognitive dissonance was deepened by the response to Senator John McCain's bill on the treatment of prisoners and detainees which passed the Senate just the day before, as noted in the New York Times.

Defying the White House, the Senate overwhelmingly agreed Wednesday to regulate the detention, interrogation and treatment of prisoners held by the American military.

The measure ignited a fierce debate among many Senate Republicans and the White House, which threatened to veto a $440 billion military spending bill if the detention amendment was tacked on, saying it would bind the president's hands in wartime. Nonetheless, the measure passed, 90 to 9, with 46 Republicans, including Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, joining 43 Democrats and one independent in favor.

More than two dozen retired senior military officers, including Colin L. Powell and John M. Shalikashvili, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the amendment, which would ban use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in United States government custody.

Opposing the effort, Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, said that requiring American troops to follow procedures in the Army manual was not practical in the current war environment. "The techniques vary upon the circumstances and the physical location of people involved," Mr. Stevens said

The measure faces stiff opposition in the House. And the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said, "If it's presented, then there would be a recommendation of a veto."
[Emphasis added]

So there it is: a notion of common humanity and the rules of warfare are good, but they don't always apply. The moral relativism inherent in war extends even to basic issues of good and evil. Apparently Mr. Bush's Christian beliefs are flexible. This nation can be as brutal as any enemy we face.

The barbarians are not just at the gate. They're already in the White House and the Congress.


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