Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama's first week

We better brace ourselves. Anyone who believes that free markets, capitalism and limited government are the best route to prosperity and freedom is in for a long four years. Ditto if you believe that government's #1 job is to protect the country. 

President Obama signed the executive order banning "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In the Washington Post, and the again today at National Review, Marc Thiessen details how this program directly prevented the U.S. from being hit again by terrorists, and how it stopped terror strikes in other countries.  

A blogger from WashPo took him to task for the claim, saying that there was no evidence the program ever stopped any attack. Thiessen responded, making the blogger look ridiculous. He gave a detailed account of precisely how and when waterboarding and other techniques led to information that stopped several terror plots.

So now we have announced to the world that we won't do this anymore. Prediction: After seven years of no terror strikes on U.S. soil, within two years we will be hit. 

The so-called "stimulus" package is speeding through congress. This is nothing but a special interest payday much of which will not even be spent within two years. And the "tax cut" portion of it is not really a tax cut anyway. A lot of it is just another name for welfare - giving people checks who don't even pay taxes. 

And NONE of the tax cut is of a "supply-side" nature.  Just sending tax credit checks to people doesn't have much effect on the economy, because it doesn't change any incentives and it's not a permanent change in tax policy that people and businesses can rely upon and therefore change their behavior in response.  If you want the economy to grow, change the marginal incentive to make income. This "stimulus" package doesn't do this - it just doles out money we borrow from the next generation. 

The media reporting on the stimulus has been just horrendous. Last night I watched national network news and also Nightline (something I almost never do.) References to the stimulus package were repeatedly couched in terms such as "President Obama's plan to fix the economy." 

The reality: President Obama's plan to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to Democrat constituencies using the current economic slump as cover.

10 comments:

Huck said...

Rob, you and Thiessen both fail to ask whether saving lives is worth abandoning the high road upon which this country has trod since its inception. 1) Cherry-picking successes ignores the use of "alternative interrogation" (what a shameful euphamism) against innocents - a most unacceptable cost (I prefer our murderers go free rather than allow the government to break the rules. The ends just cannot justify the means.); 2) How many new terrorist recruits and future plots are possible because of our decisions from the last 8 years - do they outweigh the one? These are the costs you are ignoring. I'm NOT suggesting that I know the answer to this balancing test, but I am certain you an Thiessen are being manipulative in your presentation of the issue. Again and again, it is not your conclusions I take issue with, but your conclusory analysis is not objective.

I'll agree that the "stimulus" package is a perfect example of our flawed political system, though it is indicative of Republicans and Democrats these days. While theoretically, intervention in the economy by the government can be useful, our government never seems capable of being objective, so it probably should just let the economy work itself out.

The ultimate failure is that of the electorate, though, and manipulative communication by pundits on both sides is responsible for closing minds.

Rob Kremer said...

Huck -
Here is what Thiessen says about the morality of the enhanced interrogation program:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MDNmZWMwZGJiY2IzMzhlYWJkMjBiYzNiNDRjZWQ0YTg=

I tend to agree.

Huck said...

I appreciate the reasoning behind his argument - limits, restraint, and necessity - and freely admit that this is an issue upon which reasonable people can disagree.

They are arguments made in order to justify crossing a threshold, much as those made in Constitutional decisions involving abortion, executive power, and due process. I do think the President had the right to order it, and I don't necessarily begrudge him from choosing to do so. I guess I just don't appreciate the certainty he always showed - I'm not a man of faith, and I think certainty about anything is a fault.

I take issue with his blanket assessment of his opposition as "radical pacifism" as I don't ascribe to that notion, that any killing is always wrong, at all. I think that where we engage terrorists on a real battlefield, rules of war apply and killing is justified.

Where we capture individuals, however, I believe we are committed by our own ideals to treating them as criminals and not combatants. Not crossing the threshold distinguishes us from them, not the safeguards we impose upon crossing it.

When the terrorists kill us, they are trying to incite us. When they kill, they lose standing and isolate themselves further (remember, they are without a state, and that is their ultimate goal). When we cross a threshold, we lose standing and are isolated. Their standing is raised and they near a political threshold that they seek.

I just do not think this is ultimately a military war, but a political one. Focusing on present military success fails to look beyond our own noses, in my opinion. I could be wrong, but I just want to see people on the other side discuss this without dismissing it. Both Bush and Barack are taking a chance with their decisions, and I find both reasonable.

Rob Kremer said...

Huck, I totally agree with you, that this is a judgment call upon which reasonable people can disagree. I appreciate your tone in disagreeing here.

I've heard so much from the left (I don't necessarily include you in that category) on the topic of Guantanimo and "torture" that is so very shrill, and that can't provide for a shred of good faith on Bush's part.

It's refreshing to read some even, logical and well articulated criticism. Thanks.

I am Coyote said...

Huck,
First you posit (I believe erroneously) that if the terrorists were to be able to carry out their attacks (as they certainly would have if we had not employed aggressive interrogation techniques) they would "lose standing."

Oh sure maybe they would lose standing amongst some in the diplomatic community. However if we were to have failed to track down the other terrorists and, say that attack on Los Angeles would have been carried out (as it most certainly would have if we had not interrogated those captured) we would have looked weaker and weaker to the rest of the world.

More of the fringe nations would have seen that they would be safer welcoming the terrorists into their countries and thus their virus would have spread.

Did you read the link in Rob's initial post?

Take a moment and allow yourself to consider the world reaction to another successful terrorist attack.

Imagine the loss of life on the west coast.

Now imagine some of the other smaller nations, some perhaps in Central America and the Pacific Rim, who might look at that and consider the overtures that are being made toward them from radical terrorists. Overtures that are not all a garden of roses.

Who will protect the legitimate leaders of some of those fragile nations, knowing full well that there may be a growing radical terrorist constituency in their own country?

Should those fragile leaders look to the US to protect them? Or should they begin to entertain some of the radical and threatening elements in their own nation?

Compound the problem with the loss of life and turmoil that would ensue here at home.

The questions from all quarters as to "how did this happen again?"

How? Well we decided that we could not aggressively interrogate enemy combatants.

When I speak of aggressive interrogation techniques I am not talking about torture mind you. No we are simply talking about things like sleep deprivation and...hold your breath...water boarding.

It is not like we are inserting sharp objects into the finger nails of prisoners or cutting of limbs or anything. But psychological techniques that have been proven to work.

Psychological techniques that have, as demonstrated by that link that actually SAVED LIVES.

You are willing to sacrifice a city or a significant amount of innocent people simply because we are depriving a terrorist of some sleep? Or making him THINK he is drowning?

While I disagree with the invasion of Iraq and did from the beginning I firmly believe that if we do not defend ourselves by aggressively interrogating terrorists we are setting ourselves up to eventually be FORCED to invade some tin pot nation due to the law of unintended consequences.

Huck said...

Thanks Rob, and I appreciate the forum and topics you provide. I don't comment much elsewhere because you seem much more reasonable than many conservative bloggers.

I just heard a story on the radio that illustrates my point. A father in Gaza whose daughters were killed accidentally by the Israeli army was, despite his grief, rational, and believed that a peaceful outcome was the only solution. He is the antithesis of who our actions are directed at.

Now, I believe that Israel was in the right in Gaza, so that's not the issue here. What I'm trying to say is that men like this, they and their kind are who we (and Israel) are fighting the terrorist over. But now he has a very compelling story, as do all the victims of our "mistakes," innocent though they may be. What are those worth? We're held to a higher standard than Al-Qaeda and Hamas for a reason. Hell, if we're going to torture, for god's sake, don't get caught!

Now, as for Sam Adams and Democratic budget management, I'm not wasting my time trying to polish that crap. Us lib-leaning centrists will have to eat that even though we want nothing to do with it.

Huck said...

Coyote, your arguments are, as I said above, reasonable, but as you believe I am erroneous, I believe you are being assumptive. Yeah, I did read the link, and still wasn't persuaded because, like I said, I do believe it is fair to sacrifice innocent lives in order to maintain the moral high ground. Sad, but the only way we save our nation.

"SAVED LIVES" - that's hearsay, assumptive, and premature. We don't know if it costs more than it saves. You can believe what you want, but you can't be sure.

"Interrogating terrorists" - who gets to decide if someone is a terrorist? Poor people get handed guns and told to fight or die. We don't always get it right.

I don't think the terrorists lose standing in only the "diplomatic community." I think that the vast, like 98-99%, majority of humans detests terrorist acts. However, I think that people who are wronged are emotional, impulsive, and vindictive. If our actions push the number from 99% to 98%, we are increasing the pool of terrorist recruits by tens of millions of people. That creates financial support, broadens their safe harbor and network, and facilitates future terrorist acts.

That said, I'm not willing to sacrifice innocent lives for nothing, mind you, only to maintain moral high ground. Sleep deprivation (moreso) and waterboarding (less so) might be defensible given certain situations. We didn't manage a few loose canons in our military (Abu Ghareb), nor the "marketing" of our strategy, and lost standing for it. It could cost us in the long run.

For these reasons, I don't think there is any chance that even several more successful terrorist attacks on our homeland could persuade democratically elected leaders, even those holding a tenuous power, to entertain terrorists or radical elements. Quite the opposite. I think we would be looked at as the paragon of moral behavior, and terrorism would die a much faster death than it would otherwise. Our military capability isn't diminished by our restraint - everybody knows that.
Political posturing by idiots like Chavez does not a revolution make.

I dig your point and your patriotism, but these transactions are not over. If you think about it like a poker game - you win a few hands in poker by calling a bluff, but in the end you can get snookered by getting obsessed with the bluff and overlooking the stakes and your own hand.

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I believe that Israel was in the right in Gaza, so that's not the issue here. What I'm trying to say is that men like this, they and their kind are who we (and Israel) are fighting the terrorist over. But now he has a very compelling story, as do all the victims of our "mistakes," innocent though they may be. What are those worth? We're held to a higher standard than Al-Qaeda and Hamas for a reason. Hell, if we're going to torture, for god's sake, don't get caught!

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I believe that Israel was in the right in Gaza, so that's not the issue here. What I'm trying to say is that men like this, they and their kind are who we (and Israel) are fighting the terrorist overAnd NONE of the tax cut is of a "supply-side" nature. Just sending tax credit checks to people doesn't have much effect on the economy, because it doesn't change any incentives and it's not a permanent change in tax policy that people and businesses can rely upon and therefore change their behavior in response. If you want the economy to grow, change the marginal incentive to make income. This "stimulus" package doesn't do this - it just doles out money we borrow from the next generation.