Was Bush lying or was he stupid? Yes.

At least Silberman acknowledges that the WMDs didn’t exist, and that our war aims depended on the existence of WMDs.  And by doing so, Silberman implicitly accepts that the invasion of Iraq – and not merely the intelligence failures leading up to it – was a colossal foreign policy and military blunder with enormous costs in blood, treasure and prestige.  Quibbling about whether President Bush (as opposed to the Bush Administration) lied (as opposed to being merely prone to confirmation bias) is, to me, a distraction from what might be learned from a tragic failure of governance and leadership.

Which leads me to say, okay, President Bush (the person) didn’t (knowingly, willfully) lie.  So what?  What, exactly, does that prove about the stupidity and fecklessness of government in the 21st century – just a few years following the end of a long cold war during which, through a combination of smarts, moral courage, rigorous analysis, skepticism and, yes, basic humanity did we (and the Soviets), our immense nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert, still manage not to wipe out civilization?  If intelligence failures up the US chain of command had resulted in our launching a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union and their launching a retaliatory strike against the United States, would the fact that the President’s own personal conduct wasn’t to blame have helped one God-damned thing?  Have we really defined Presidential leadership down to this extent?

Another way that Silberman’s analysis oversimplifies and distracts is by setting up the “intelligence community” and the “Bush Administration” as separate entities operating at arm’s length.  I think anyone who understands how government institutions operate, especially at the executive policy-making level, knows that individuals from different offices, agencies and even branches of government tend to create informal alliances and networks that share information and access and pursue common policy agendas.  Nothing especially nefarious about this – but these alliances and networks do tend to obscure whether someone is “pressuring” someone else to make a particular finding.  In other words, the fact that elements of the intelligence community and the Bush Administration were working together with the shared goal of invading Iraq (apparently on the basis of any plausible pretext) makes it next to impossible to find the smoking gun evidence that Silberman seems think is necessary to conclude that any arm-twisting took place.

Look.  As I am forever reminding you, this is the government we’re talking about.  Government agencies and their agenda-setters come up with ideologically motivated, poorly reasoned findings as a matter of utmost routine.  Want the CIA to say that Saddam has WMDs?  The neoconservative alliance says:  here you go.  Want the Treasury Department to say that asset management firms can threaten financial stability?  The market risk hysteria network says:  coming right up.  There is no difference between the two except in terms of their potential for death and destruction.  Anyone who automatically gives more deference to police/military/intelligence agencies just isn’t thinking clearly.

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DiFi tortures the CIA

Here’s an email I just sent to everyone in my firm:

The report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was released a few minutes ago.  It can be downloaded here.  Everyone should read as much of it as they can bear.
Barest summary of the report:  In the years after 9/11, the CIA systematically tortured terror suspects and other detainees pursuant to orders from the Executive branch.  Senior members of the Bush Administration (presumably including Vice President Cheney) committed war crimes, in knowing violation of both international and US law, under cover of deliberately shoddy and misleading legal advice from, among others, a sitting Federal judge.  No one will be prosecuted.
 The report’s most important conclusion:  The torture yielded no actionable intelligence, a fact that should finally put an end to the specious arguments about ends and means.  That torture doesn’t “work” is not a surprise.  Torture isn’t, and wasn’t, about extracting information.  It is, and was, about power, revenge, rage and cruelty.  Certainly, torture isn’t a sign of strength, or moral clarity in the face of existential danger.  It’s a sign of fear and, ultimately, weakness.
 Justification for this email:  If a meaningful distinction can be made between “law” and “politics” – and, by extension, between what is and what is not appropriate for workplace discussion – my considered judgment is that the attached Senate report is concerned with issues of law.  At the very least, the report (in its discussions of the Yoo and Bybee memos) highlights the ethical lapses lawyers can commit when pressured by important clients to reach a favorable conclusion.

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Into the dustbin of history

Jim Manzi steps off The Corner and says something truly original about the “effectiveness” debate, an evolutionary argument way smarter than the kind of evidence-free, Saddam-has-WMDs ranting one usually hears in that blighted neighborhood:

Let’s assume arguendo that torture works in the tactical sense that I believe has been used so far in this debate; that is, that one can gain useful information reliably in at least some subset of situations through torture that could not otherwise be obtained. Further, assume that we don’t care about morality per se, only winning: defeating our enemies militarily, and achieving a materially advantaged life for the citizens of the United States. It seems to me that the real question is whether torture works strategically; that is, is the U.S. better able to achieve these objectives by conducting systematic torture as a matter of policy, or by refusing to do this? Given that human society is complex, it’s not clear that tactical efficacy implies strategic efficacy.

When you ask the question this way, one obvious point stands out: we keep beating the torturing nations. The regimes in the modern world that have used systematic torture and directly threatened the survival of the United States — Nazi Germany, WWII-era Japan, and the Soviet Union — have been annihilated, while we are the world’s leading nation. The list of other torturing nations governed by regimes that would like to do us serious harm, but lack the capacity for this kind of challenge because they are economically underdeveloped (an interesting observation in itself), are not places that most people reading this blog would ever want to live as a typical resident. They have won no competition worth winning. The classically liberal nations of Western Europe, North America, and the Pacific that led the move away from systematic government-sponsored torture are the world’s winners.

Now, correlation is not causality. Said differently, we might have done even better in WWII and the Cold War had we also engaged in systematic torture as a matter of policy. Further, one could argue that the world is different now: that because of the nature of our enemies, or because of technological developments or whatever, that torture is now strategically advantageous. But I think the burden of proof is on those who would make these arguments, given that they call for overturning what has been an important element of American identity for so many years and through so many conflicts.

Could it be that when Darwinian competition occurs at the level of national systems, “survival of the fittest” means “survival of the most civilized”?

Dismantling the torture state

From yesterday’s executive order on interrogations:

From this day forward, unless the Attorney General with appropriate consultation provides further guidance, officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government may, in conducting interrogations, act in reliance upon Army Field Manual 2-22.3, but may not, in conducting interrogations, rely upon any interpretation of the law governing interrogation — including interpretations of Federal criminal laws, the Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3, Army Field Manual 2-22.3, and its predecessor document, Army Field Manual 34-52 — issued by the Department of Justice between September 11, 2001, and January 20, 2009.

With a stroke of the pen (and a whole lotta commas), Obama knocks down the Federalist Society’s entire pseudo-scholarly edifice, and fixes the beginning and end of the 2,688-day Lawless Interregnum.

Hamas projected to win Israel elections

In this morning’s Washington Post, Daoud Kuttab describes how the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have succeeded in rescuing Hamas from the political wilderness:

The lack of international support since the 2006 elections, followed by this rebuff to Gaza’s only Arab neighbor, Egypt, compounded the deterioration of Hamas’s internal support. By November, the survey showed, only 16.6 percent of Palestinians supported Hamas, compared with nearly 40 percent favoring Fatah. The decline in support for Hamas has been steady: A year earlier, the same pollster showed that Hamas’s support was at 19.7 percent; in August 2007, it was at 21.6 percent; in March 2007, it was at 25.2 percent; and in September 2006, backing for the Islamists stood at 29.7 percent.

While it is not apparent how this violent confrontation will end, it is abundantly clear that the Islamic Hamas movement has been brought back from near political defeat while moderate Arab leaders have been forced to back away from their support for any reconciliation with Israel.

That’s why, as the six-month cease-fire with Israel came to an end, Hamas calculated — it seems correctly — that it had nothing to gain by continuing the truce; if it had, its credentials as a resistance movement would have been no different from those of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah. Unable to secure an open border and an end to the Israeli siege, while refusing to share or give up power to Abbas, Hamas could have had no route to renewed public favor.

For different reasons, Hamas and Israel both gave up on the cease-fire, preferring instead to climb over corpses to reach their political goals. One side wants to resuscitate its public support by appearing to be a heroic resister, while the other, on the eve of elections, wants to show toughness to a public unhappy with the nuisance of the Qassam rockets.

The disproportionate and heavy-handed Israeli attacks on Gaza have been a bonanza for Hamas. The movement has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It has also greatly embarrassed Israel’s strongest Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.

As cynical political calculations go, all of this is almost disappointingly obvious.  The formerly ascendant parties, Hamas and Kadima, lose ground to their legacy rivals (Fatah and Likud, respectively).  The cease-fire’s end and the approaching elections coincide, providing a campaign opportunity for both sides.  Hamas offers a casus belli with rockets.  Israel’s governing coalition returns the favor with a massive aerial bombardment, hoping to prove that Kadima’s Livni and Labor’s Barak can be just as mindlessly barbaric as Likud’s Netanyahu.  Meanwhile, the collectively punished residents of Gaza rally around Hamas.

Hamas seems clearly the winner here, with things looking not so good for Kadima.  I’m predicting a stalemate on the ground in Gaza followed by a narrow victory at the polls  for Likud.

Lawyers, war criminals and the Federalist Society

From the declassified summary of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody” —

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.  Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

Someone remind me again why war crimes trials are a non-starter.  And if so, why the Bush-Cheney gang can’t just be prosecuted for fraud, or for treason.  Can’t we just sue John Yoo and Jay Bybee for malpractice and have them disbarred?  Is that too much to ask?