Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, August 16th, 2007.


Al Qaeda’s Useful Idiots

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Bush Administration
    Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Amendment VI

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society. Even more important than the method of selecting the people’s rulers and their successors is the character of the constraints imposed on the Executive by the rule of law. Unconstrained Executive detention for the purpose of investigating and preventing subversive activity is the hallmark of the Star Chamber. Access to counsel for the purpose of protecting the citizen from official mistakes and mistreatment is the hallmark of due process. — Justice Stevens, dissenting opinion, Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, June 28, 2004

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Righties can’t get through their heads that the issue is not what Jose Padilla did; the issue is what we did. Padilla’s association with terrorists justified arrest and conviction. It did not justify arbitrarily stripping Jose Padilla of his rights as a citizen. If Padilla’s rights can be dismissed on the mere say-so of a high government official, then so can yours, or mine, or even Michelle Malkin’s. And there was absolutely no justification for nearly four years of inhumane treatment.

In the last post I wrote that Padilla had been subjected to nearly four years of torture. Some rightie commenters questioned that. A couple sent me emails declaring that nothing Padilla experienced was torture. A little unpleasant, perhaps. But clearly, these are people who think they could take it. “I don’t consider water-boarding torture,” declares Allahpundit stoutly. Brave lad.

Years of sensory deprivation and near-death by drowning are considered torture by experts, but righties thump their chests and declare these to be no big deal. But at the mere mention of “terrorism” they flush the Constitution down the toilet.

Not so brave, I say.

I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11. I saw the towers collapse. I know what terrorism can do. Yet I am not such a coward that I would compromise so much as a comma of the Bill of Rights for the promise of safety.

These sniveling, pathetic little weenies who celebrate Jose Padilla’s detention and refuse to acknowledge the real issues of unlawful detention and torture are the real cowards. They dismiss what was done to Padilla, yet they are so afraid of terrorists they betray the central founding values of our country. And they think they could stand up to waterboarding! They’ve already caved!

The word disgust doesn’t even come close to what I think of them.

John Cole writes at Balloon Juice:

I guess where I stand is as follows- I still do not understand why it was necessary to keep this guy in solitary confinement until he was basically a grunting vegetable. I just don’t. Why was it necessary to violate his rights as a citizen? Why keep him from a lawyer? Why?

It couldn’t have impacted our current operations in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere- this guy was convicted for attempting to do undetermined bad things in Chechnya. I haven’t seen any allegations he was a terrorist mastermind or anything like that- not to pick on Taco Bell employees, but I doubt it is their planning genius that has them spending their days taking orders and handing out salsa packets. And hell, if he is that big of a threat, now that we have him convicted, let’s try him on the real charges- the dirty bomb, the apartment bombing schemes. You know- the reason we grabbed him in the first place.

So, why?

The only thing I can think of is that after they realized there was no real plot to dirty bomb, or blow up apartments, the only thing they could do to save face was to lock him up forever- which I think they would have tried to do, had the SCOTUS not rumbled.

At any rate- convictions of criminals and terrorists are supposed to inspire confidence in our system of justice and our government. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am not inspired by anything that has happened in this case. Quite the opposite. I am profoundly uncomfortable with the notion that our government can grab anyone they want (Oh- but they won’t- if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have to worry!), say whatever they want about them in the press, do whatever they want with them for years on end, and then try them for completely different things. Al Qaeda would have to come a long way and take some serious effort to hurt me- the FBI has an office a few miles from me and the feds apparently now have a license to do whatever the hell they want with someone, so long as they think he is a bad guy. Understand? For obvious reasons, that should bother every American.

It should bother every American. Somehow, it doesn’t. Check out this guy commenting on Michelle Malkin’s site:

Padilla’s Guilty!!! yeah…

The thing is I don’t feel like celebrating since there are alot of Americans that share his islamofacist beliefs that would rather kill a fellow American than defend democracy.

Democracy, you flaming idiot? You just sold out democracy.

Here’s another one:

Some liberals will pretend this is nothing to be happy about, while other liberals will try to be delighted by this news while not giving the President or the military any credit for it.

I will say the same thing I said after we caught Saddam…

We should take Padilla, and shove the American flag up his hide until he goes to the toilet red, white and blue. Then we should hang an Israeli flag from his (redacted).

We should put large pictures of the Danish cartoons within full view of his cell. He should be monitored by female prison guards, preferrably evangelicals.

Then every time he yells “Allah Akbar,” they should respond, “Jesus loves you.”

We should force him to watch waterboarding videos set to Jan and Dean’s, “Surfing USA.”

Liberals objecting to this should be invited to share a cell with him to see how the poor misunderstood boy is doing.

The LA Times can immediately ask for his release in the tradition of their love for John Walker Lindh.

3000 Americans were murdered. We should never relent. Every waking minute this fellow is in prison should be a reminder of how enraged we are at what he did.

This reminds me of what John Homans said (emphasis added) —

The memory of 9/11 continues to stoke a weepy sense of American victimhood, and victimhood, as used by both left and right, is a powerful political force. As the dog whisperer can tell you, strength and woundedness together are a dangerous combination. Now, 9/11 has allowed American victim politics to be writ larger than ever, across the globe. When someone from Tulsa, for example, says, “It’s important to remember 9/11 every day,” what he means is, “We were attacked, we are the aggrieved victims, we are justified.” But if we were victims then, we are less so now. This distorted sense of American weakness is weirdly mirrored in the woundedness and shame that motivate our adversaries. In our current tragicomedy of Daddy-knows-best, it’s a national neurosis, a perpetual childhood. (With its 9/11 truth-conspiracy theories, the far left has its own infantile daddy complex, except in that version, the daddies are the source of all evil.) No doubt, there are real enemies, Islamist and otherwise, more than ever (although the cure—the Iraq war—has inarguably made the disease worse). But the spectacular scope of 9/11, its psychic power, continues to distort America’s relationships. It will take years for the country to again understand its place in the world.

Here’s another commenter on Malkin’s site:

What the Padilla case shows is President Bush should not have excluded (in his November 2001 Executive Order) anyone, anywhere from trial by military commission for terror related crimes. Those Americans capture in America during WWII were prosecuted that way and some were even executed via the death penalty.

Actually, I prefer that terrorists be killed on the spot, wherever we find them… That should get the libs excited but I wrote exactly what I think.

I suspect this person meant to say “Germans captured in America during WWII.” But of course we know exactly who is guilty and who isn’t without trial, because of the big “G” that shows up on their foreheads. Oh, wait …

Idiots.

“Does al-Qaeda still constitute an ‘existential’ threat?” asks David Kilcullen, who has written several influential papers on the need for a new strategy against Islamic insurgents. Kilcullen, who as an Australian army officer commanded counter-insurgency units in East Timor, recently served as an adviser in the Pentagon and is now a senior adviser on counterterrorism at the State Department. He was referring to the argument about whether the terrorism of the twenty-first century endangers the very existence of the United States and its allies, as the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons did throughout the Cold War (and as the remnants of that arsenal still might).

“I think it does, but not for the obvious reasons,” Kilcullen told me. He said the most useful analogy was the menace posed by European anarchists in the nineteenth century. “If you add up everyone they personally killed, it came to maybe 2,000 people, which is not an existential threat.” But one of their number assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The act itself took the lives of two people. The unthinking response of European governments in effect started World War I. “So because of the reaction they provoked, they were able to kill millions of people and destroy a civilization.

“It is not the people al-Qaeda might kill that is the threat,” he concluded. “Our reaction is what can cause the damage. It’s al-Qaeda plus our response that creates the existential danger.” [James Fallows, “Declaring Victory,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 2006]

Update: Must read — Marty Lederman at Balkinization.

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Michelle Malkin Hates Our Freedoms

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Bush Administration, criminal justice, Terrorism

Today a jury found Jose Padilla guilty of two counts

Count 1 – Conspiracy to Murder, Kidnap, and Maim Persons in a Foreign Country as part of a conspiracy to advance violent jihad
Count 2 – Conspiracy to Provide Material Support for Terrorists

I wouldn’t have a quarrel with the verdict had Padilla’s rights as a citizen been observed. If there was evidence showing him conspiring with terrorists, certainly an arrest and trial was warranted. But his rights as a citizen were not observed. There is no justice here.

Utterly oblivious to what has actually happened here, and that what was done to Padilla is a betrayal of everything this country used to stand for, Michelle Malkin is having an orgasm of celebratory righteousness all over her blog. Don’t look unless you have a strong stomach. She doesn’t come out and say that the verdict justified shredding the Fourth Amendment and almost four years of torture, but she sure as hell isn’t showing any remorse either. And her Hot Air partner Allahpundit cheers — it’s a “big win for Bush.”

Malkin and Allahpundit hate America.

[Updated here.]

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Conservatives, True and Pseudo

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American History, conservatism

I want to spend a little more time on the distinction between conservatives and pseudo conservatives. Certainly, we’re not looking at two entirely separate phylum here. Cs and PCs share many common opinions and perspectives. But the differences are substantial also, and I think those differences led directly to the failures of the late Republican Congress and the Bush Administration.

In his essay on “Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics” from 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote,

The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference in nuance, but of fundamental substance.

Put another way, the distinction is between holding conservative values that guide’s one’s opinions and conservatism as a set of dogmas that must be “believed in” and followed loyally whether they work or not.

Understanding this distinction requires digging “conservative values” out from under the cultural and rhetorical detritus heaped upon them in recent years. When you look at a dictionary definition of “conservative,” for example, you find:

The inclination, especially in politics, to maintain the existing or traditional order.
A political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order. …
Caution or moderation, as in behavior or outlook.

The definition doesn’t quite describe today’s American Right, does it?

If you scroll down from that dictionary definition you find another one, taken from a political dictionary published by Oxford University Press:

Originally in Burke an ideology of caution in departing from the historical roots of a society, or changing its inherited traditions and institutions. In this ‘organic’ form it includes allegiance to tradition, community, hierarchies of rank, benevolent paternalism, and properly subservient underclasses. By contrast, conservatism can be taken to imply a laissez-faire ideology of untrammelled individualism that puts the emphasis on personal responsibility, free markets, law and order, and a minimal role for government, with neither community, nor tradition, nor benevolence entering more than marginally. The two strands are not easy to reconcile, either in theory or in practice.

Are we confused yet? Scroll down a little more, and there’s an essay from a U.S. History encyclopedia:

A national political and intellectual movement of self-described conservatives began to congeal in the middle of the twentieth century, primarily as a reaction to the creation of the New Deal welfare state, but also in response to the alleged erosion of traditional values and the American failure to win a quick victory in the Cold War. Among the factions within this movement, traditionalists typically stressed the virtues of order, local custom, and natural law; libertarians promoted limited government, laissez-faire economics, and individual autonomy; and militant cold warriors sought primarily to combat communism. Despite these internal differences, by 1960, conservatives had formulated a coherent critique of liberalism and built a network of political activists. In 1964, they mobilized to win the Republican presidential nomination for Senator Barry Goldwater and, subsequently, remained a major political force.

Now we’re back to what I wrote about yesterday — Richard Hofstadter’s contention that Goldwater conservatives were really pseudo conservatives.

To attempt a broad and brief generalization of Hofstadter’s argument — “traditional” conservatives like Dwight Eisenhower or Senator Robert Taft were conservative more in the Burkean mold, which valued allegiance to tradition, community, hierarchies of rank, benevolent paternalism, and in some cases “properly subservient underclasses” as well (note that Hofstadter doesn’t cite Burke himself, so I may be reaching a little here). Hofstadter wrote in 1964,

Most conservatives are mainly concerned with maintaining a tissue of institutions for whose stability and effectiveness they believe the country’s business and political elites hold responsibility.

(I suspect if I were to drizzle the sentence above around the Right Blogosphere today the righties would disagree.)

But even those conservatives who trace their philosophies to Burke are of wildly diverse types. On one hand there is the relatively benign Russell Kirk, who defined mainstream conservatism in 1953 in his book The Conservative Mind. Kirk’s “Ten Principles of Conservatism,” which you can read about here, drew upon the philosophy of Burke. On the other hand, Leo Strauss — who heavily influenced today’s neocons — interpreted Burke in an entirely different way and reached very different views from Kirk’s.

I suppose here we have to consider whether Hofstadter’s views on conservatism versus pseudoconservatism are still valid, given that conservatism has redefined itself considerably. In response to my last post, Mike the Mad Biologist writes “I would argue that Nixon and Eisenhower both were essentially the right wing of the liberal consensus, and not conservatives as conservatives themselves understand conservatism. Conservatives are a different kind all together.” Well, yes, if we could reconstitute Eisenhower today — let’s leave Nixon where he is — he’d definitely be on the conservative side of the liberal consensus. And if he went back into politics he’d probably be a centrist Democrat. But within his own time frame Eisenhower was a conservative.

This shows us how far right the “conservative movement” has swung. It also takes us back to the quote above, “The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference in nuance, but of fundamental substance.”

For example, a “usability in government” type of conservative, back in the day, was not necessarily opposed to all social welfare or “safety net” programs, because he might understand them as fostering economic and political stability. Allowing a large underclass of hopelessly poor people to build up is asking for revolution, and revolutions are very un-conservative. So, 1950s era mainstream conservatives like Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft were OK — maybe not wildly enthusiastic, mind you, but OK –with some New Deal programs, because they were benevolent and supported domestic tranquility. Such thinking is, of course, utterly rejected by most of today’s conservatives.

Here rightie blogger McQ of Q and O Blog (“Free Markets, Free People”) critiques an essay written by Irving Kristol back in 1976, in which the Father of Neoconservatism argues that Republicans need to construct and support welfare programs. “The idea of a welfare state is in itself perfectly consistent with a conservative political philosophy,” Kristol the Elder wrote. Kirstol continues,

This is not a question the Republican Party has faced up to, because it still feels, deep down, that a welfare state is inconsistent with such traditional American virtues as self-reliance and individual liberty. Those virtues are real enough, and are a proper conservative concern. But the task to is to create the kind of welfare state which is consistent, to the largest possible degree. That is not an impossible task, though it would be foolish to pretend it is an easy one. It is a matter of relating means to ends. But before one can do that, one has to take the ends seriously. One has to believe that the American people really need some sort of medical insurance program, or old age assistance program. Because the Republican Party has never been able to make up its mind about this, it has left the initiative to liberal Democrats. It then finds itself in the position, when in office, of having to administer Democratic programs in the least extravagant way. That’s no way for a party to govern.

McQ has an ideological meltdown over this, and concludes that “It appears, at least to me, that compassionate conservatism is simply a code phrase for neo-con, and that if you believe in individualism or even traditional conservatism, you’re in the middle of one hell of a con job.” But we’re really looking at a generation gap here. As recently as 1976 — although not much past that — most American conservatives saw some social welfare programs as basic and necessary for running a stable country. They thought Democrats went way too far with them, particularly after LBJ launched his Great Society programs, but they weren’t yet crusading to wipe them out entirely. “Compassionate conservatism,” on the other hand, was never anything but a campaign slogan.

But then, of course, post-New Deal conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s were much at odds with 19th century “laissez faire” conservatives and pre-New Deal conservatives of the 1920s.

John Dean writes here that conservatism seems not to have any core principles or beliefs, but is a hodge-podge of attitudes and beliefs united around an antipathy of liberalism. And I think he’s right.

But “antipathy of liberalism” is not a blueprint for governing. What does a workable and sustainable American conservative government look like? My argument is that people who identify themselves as “conservatives” nowadays cannot run a workable and sustainable American government. Their beloved “ideas,” put into practice, are not workable in government and in time will bring the nation down into crumbling ruin.

Mike the Mad Biologists (whom I don’t want to pick on; I hope this is just good-fun debate) writes “The problem isn’t that pseudoconservatives fail at governing. It’s that they are using government to achieve the society they would like. What she sees as failure, they see as success.” Yes, they are using government to achieve the society they would like, and in that sense it is working. But I say “the society they should like” is not sustainable. It’s ruining the economy, it’s ruining our national institutions, it’s ruining the bleeping planet. I suppose or species could survive even this, but if we keep going down this road the United States of America will become a puritanical version of a banana republic — Brazil without the samba.

So we’re back to —

The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference in nuance, but of fundamental substance.

Traditional conservatism, whatever it is, appears to be more authoritarian and hierarchical than liberalism. But authoritarian and hierarchical governments can survive. Most governments in human history have been authoritarian and hierarchical. I wouldn’t choose to live under such a government, which is why I’m a liberal. But a person can be “conservative” in the sense of valuing traditional institutions and ideals and run a sustainable government. And I think a governmental philosophy based on Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles would also be sustainable. I’m not saying it would be ideal, but I think it would be sustainable. It could be made to work.

But a government run by current conservative dogmas is not sustainable. Perpetually cutting taxes, eliminating social welfare programs, allowing infrastructure to rot, encouraging income inequality, squandering public resources to enrich private enterprise, starting pointless wars all over the planet, restricting civil liberty in the name of “freedom” — this is just nuts.

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