A Distinction With a Difference

Andrew Sullivan laments today that:

[T]he most depressing fact of our time is that the right seems unable to refute torture without qualifications and the left seems unable to refute terrorism without qualifications.

This strikes me as being extraordinarily disingenuous. One of the most depressing political facts of our time is that mainstream Republican opinion-makers, politicians, and Presidential candidates have openly embraced the torturing of prisoners. It’s shameful and disgusting, and frankly the advocacy of torture is, in my mind, akin to treason because it betrays the founding principles of this country.

On the other hand, outside of a few college professors and other voices on the fringe, I don’t know anybody on the left who is unable to “refute terrorism without qualifications”. Does Sullivan honestly believe that Edwards, Obama, and Clinton somehow think that terrorism is okay in the same way that Giuliani, Romney, and other Republican opinion makers such as Rush Limbaugh and Deroy Murdock think that torture is okay? Hardly.

One of the most annoying things about modern political commentary is that it seems that every criticism of one side of an argument has to be coupled with an exaggerated example of how the other side is “just as bad” as something else. This kind of “balanced” mentality tends to skew political thinking into a “plauge on both their houses” mentality that doesn’t do justice to any of the players involved and, frankly, prevents folks on the right side of an argument from receiving due credit for being right.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Paul says:

    most depressing fact of our time

    It seems Andrew needs to take some time off from talking and take a closer look at the planet we actually live in.

  2. Hal says:

    Does Sullivan honestly believe that Edwards, Obama, and Clinton somehow think that terrorism is okay in the same way that Giuliani, Romney, and other Republican opinion makers such as Rush Limbaugh and Deroy Murdock think that torture is okay?

    Yes. Absolutely. I don’t know why this is surprising coming from a a guy who wrote, a month after 9/11 – in the pages of his native British press, on his Web site and on the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal – that the “decadent left enclaves on the coasts [that] may well mount a fifth column.”

    This is why I laugh at those who think Andrew has seen the errors of his past mistakes and has started on a path of reform.

    That leopard isn’t going to change his spots.

  3. Let’s pile on the false dichotomies! Of course, everyone of any consequence in the Democrat Party is against terrorism, but actually taking concrete steps to fight it instead of gaxzing at their navel or blaming Bush, not so much. I also think it is disingenuous to imagine that Giuliani, Romney, and other Republican opinion makers are supporters of torture by saying that it’s okay with them. Not being opposed to the use of torture under exceptional circumstances is not at all the same thing at all as being okay with torture. Haven’t you ever had to do something you did not like to do in the least but still felt it was necessary or even the right, if not the Right, thing to do?

  4. C.Wagener says:

    The obvious flaw to this argument is that none of the people referred to say that torture is OK. Water-boarding may or may not be torture. Congress can’t even decide.

    Where would you rather be, Pelican Bay being raped regularly, or Gitmo, suffering from morbid obesity.

    Of course dems believe that terrorism is bad, they simply aren’t willing to doing anything to stop it.

  5. Hal says:

    Yep, right on cue.

    Andrew has a target audience for his posts, after all.

  6. Paul says:

    Of course dems believe that terrorism is bad, they simply aren’t willing to doing anything to stop it.

    It is no wonder that we cannot defeat our real enemies when we are always so preoccupied with defeating each other.

  7. Hal says:

    It is no wonder that we cannot defeat our real enemies

    Silly Paul, liberals are the real enemies.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    Accepting that aggressive techniques of interrogation, such as water-boarding, may be necessary is not embracing torture. As well, accepting such a thing as necessary is far from treason.

    If we are going to complain about exaggerated claims let’s not exaggerate ourselves. Doing so limits the chances of civil debate.

    The fact is there is no bright line on what is and is not torture. The is also no bright line on what is treason. Opinions vary so if we are going to have rational discussions we must accept others opinions and values as perhaps as valid as our own.

  9. southdakotaboy says:

    It is to bad for Mr Knapp that the extreme left in the Dem party that makes excuses for terrorism is not the fringe. Rather it makes up a large part of its base. Right now this minority has grabbed the steering wheel and is driving the Dem party towards the cliff. Not just on the issue of terrorism but immigration as well.
    Right now the majority of American people are willing to give the Dems a chance to lead, to show that they learned from their time in the wilderness. If they listen to the far left they will not get much of a chance.

  10. Hal says:

    It is to bad for Mr Knapp that the extreme left in the Dem party that makes excuses for terrorism is not the fringe. Rather it makes up a large part of its base.

    It is too bad that southdakotaboy speaks in the passive voice and doesn’t provide any evidence of this apparently massive movement on the left which is making excuses for terrorism. Assertion is not evidence, oddly enough.

    Right now this minority has grabbed the steering wheel

    Which, oddly enough, completely contradicts your previous assertion that it was a majority of its base. So, are you saying hat the majority of the democrat’s base is a small minority? Or what. And, assuming you come up with some coherent answer, where’s any evidence of support for torture? Surely you could give a few links to us poor liberal souls so we can start a much needed purge of terrorism apologists.

    WRT Steve Plunk, I guess you should read the international treaties we’ve signed which do precisely define torture and draw a very bright line. The problem is, you don’t want to accept the line nor the definitions. Your right, of course. But to assert that there isn’t a clear definition (and water boarding is clearly torture by these definitions) nor is there a bright line is to simply reveal your ignorance of the international conventions and treaties which have been in force for decades.

  11. Hal says:

    Whoops where’s any evidence of support for torture?

    Obviously meant where’s any evidence of support for terrorism?

    Apologies. Robot fingers, after all.

  12. Tano says:

    Ah, I see now. Embracing torture is not really embracing torture. Not if you simply call it “aggressive techniques of interrogation”.

    And this from the people who had endless fun with the guy who tried to parse the definition of “is”.

    “Opinions vary so if we are going to have rational discussions we must accept others opinions and values as perhaps as valid as our
    own.”

    How multiculti of you Steve!
    There are some pretty bright lines as to the status of waterboarding. We hung some Japanese for war crimes after WWII, with waterboarding included in the charges.

    As for terroism, and “not doing anything about it” – need I remind everyone that when America was subjected to a terroist attack, that we went to war against the perpetrators, with unanimous approval in the Sentate?

    It was only when the administration decided to put the war against the terrorists on the back burner and invade Iraq instead, that “the left” raised objections. How is that evidence of not taking terroism seriously?

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    Hal,

    If the bright line exists then why has our congress not explicitly banned the use of water-boarding rather than use it as a political prop? If they choose to do so then great, we now have clear rules to follow. It’s wrong to complain about it’s use but not have the fortitude to step up and legislate.

    I guess you could say I’m ignorant of international treaties and conventions. I seldom take my evenings to read them. Instead I rely on the branches of government to provide oversight on one another to make sure appropriate laws are being followed. If these treaties are being broken why hasn’t congress invoked those to force compliance by the administration? Likely it’s because it’s a gray area and no clear guidance is provided.

    Tano,

    My point in calling this aggressive techniques of interrogation is to illustrate how each of us can have a different opinion of what is torture. Is loud music? Sleep deprivation? Our people need clear definitions to do their jobs. Accepting any of these as necessary isn’t automatically embracing it.

    Sure people had fun with the “is” statement but it was poking fun at the outrageousness of the attitude. We didn’t prosecute anyone over it or set public policy based upon it.

    I appreciate your tolerance of others viewpoints. I have never been called “multiculti” before but I’ll take it as a compliment. Jeesh, try to say something nice and look what you get.

    I would also remind you this administration received congressional backing before invading Iraq. Iraq was also in violation of UN resolutions and other countries were allied with us in that invasion.

    It’s all or nothing for some of you out there. In my world sometimes we discuss and compromise. Usually we do it in civil terms.

  14. Hal says:

    Steve,

    It’s wrong to complain about it’s use but not have the fortitude to step up and legislate.

    Thank you for not disappointing me by the use of this fine debate tactic which has a long and honored tradition in American politics.

    But seriously, your logic is simply erroneous. The congress doesn’t have to ban it – it already is banned. What’s happening is that this president has asserted it’s necessary, redefined the system and now the democrats are in a pickle because they’ve been repeatedly punched in the gut by being characterized as soft on X, in this instance, X is terrorism and being soft means you’re not gonna torture to fight it. It’s an insane conversation, not – as James describes it – a welcome intellectual discussion brought about by 9/11. As to the specific reason why the congress hasn’t restated something that doesn’t need to be restated, I would venture to guess it’s because the democrats don’t have a solid majority and some of the members of the democratic caucus seem to agree with the right that torture is essential to fight terrorism. Now, this fact certainly does portray the right in a bad light as well as the democrats who agree with them on this issue. But given this reality, it’s completely idiotic to suggest that they don’t have the fortitude to step up and legislate. Of course, there’s also the fact that the legislation would be clearly vetoed by the very administration that is pushing for torture.

    Pretzel logic, Steve. Pretzel logic.

    If these treaties are being broken why hasn’t congress invoked those to force compliance by the administration?

    I guess you’re also ignorant of the way our govenment works as well as the definitons of “legislative” vs. “executive”. But that’s apparently par for the course.

    More to the point, we already have invoked compliance by actually prosecuting and punishing those who have committed torture via water boarding. But I guess precedent doesn’t mean much to a guy who is clearly uninterested in legal basis of what he’s talking about. Far better to just speak off the cuff in ignorance.

  15. Anderson says:

    So, the Republicans are happy to “refute terrorism” (whatever that means) without qualifications?

    I take it that they are on the record as deploring Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then, which were deliberate efforts to terrorize Japan into surrender by killing large numbers of its people?

    Or is it not terrorism if there’s a state of war? Who gets to declare war? The U.S.? The Taliban? Osama bin Laden?

    Opposition to “terrorism” seems to mean opposition to terrorism carried out on an insufficiently grand scale.

  16. C.Wagener says:

    Evidence of not taking terrorism seriously would include the following:

    Numerous false charges of civil liberty violations from folks who have never heard of RICO and can’t state any specific complaints about the patriot act.

    Attempting to block wirer tapping of foreigner to foreigner phone conversations.

    Attempting to pass a resolution admonishing Turkey.

    Not acknowledging that AQ has focused the majority of its resources on Iraq.

    Not responding to the 1993 WTC bombing, Africa embassy combings, the Cole bombing. Not arresting OBL due to concerns by lawyers.

    Attempting to grant constitutional rights to foreign terrorists.

    Supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until finding out people can die in war.

    Visiting Assad in Syria.

    Attempting to pass legislation to prevent any military response to Iran.

    Ending U.S. funding of Iranian opposition groups.

  17. Hal says:

    Anderson,

    This points out the ridiculousness of proclaiming war on a noun. But saying so would make me deeply unserious and expose my apologia for said noun.

  18. Hal says:

    C.Wagener,

    I’ll just take these point by point:

    Numerous false charges of civil liberty violations from folks who have never heard of RICO and can’t state any specific complaints about the patriot act.

    References, please. “Numerous” would imply you have an ample number of resources to draw upon. Please give specifics rather than just assert meaningless generalizations.

    Attempting to block wirer tapping of foreigner to foreigner phone conversations.

    A common misconception. That was never an issue. The issue is blocking wiretapping of conversations where one end is on american soil. So, you simply don’t understand the issues involved.

    Attempting to pass a resolution admonishing Turkey.

    Not sure I understand WTF this has to do with terrorism, but I’ll agree it was stupid to let this get to the floor to be voted upon. But, pray tell, did Turkey commit genocide? I guess we’re now supposed to look the other way on genocide as well as water boarding as a form of torture. My, what a slippery moral slope y’all are on.

    Not acknowledging that AQ has focused the majority of its resources on Iraq.

    Again, references. I’m not aware of anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that AQ hasn’t been focusing a lot of resources on Iraq. The actual criticism by the left is that this wasn’t the case before the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, Iraq has been a bonanza for AQ. The whole fiasco has created more terrorists, provided them with graduate studies in urban guerilla warfare and has been a recruiting poster operation. Bravo!

    Attempting to grant constitutional rights to foreign terrorists.

    You know, it would do you well to actually read the constitution and understand the concept of habeas corpus. It doesn’t require citizenship – clearly and explicitly so.

    Supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until finding out people can die in war.

    I’m not even sure WTF you’re trying to say here. Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure you have a lot of fun with this incomprehensible straw man.

    Visiting Assad in Syria.

    Yes, diplomacy is an age old mechanism to show “not taking terrorism seriously”. Again, not sure you’re aware of this, but this administration has done the exact same thing. I guess that makes the Bush administration one that does not take terrorism seriously.

    Attempting to pass legislation to prevent any military response to Iran.

    Guess you don’t understand the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. Also, I guess you don’t remember that Iran helped us out tremendously in Afghanistan. Further… Yi. I could go on and on wrt this lunacy.

    Ending U.S. funding of Iranian opposition groups.

    I guess you’re also ignorant of the opposition groups telling us that our support is hurting their efforts, not helping them. Also, I see how well supporting Chalabi has worked out for Iraq. Maybe you should do your homework…

  19. C.Wagener says:

    Hal,

    Wow, point by point, complete nonsense. It might be a few years before you get that big promotion at Starbucks.

    Numerous false charges, hmmm, how many library records were pulled? zero. How many people have been tortured? Well three were water-boarded. Koran flushed? Nope. Burned with cigarettes, splatted with menstrual blood, made to eat pork. Nope.

    The majority of country to country long distance calls switch through the U.S. Yes indeed it was about foreigner to foreigner phone calls.

    You don’t know what Turkey has to do with terrorism? Do you have a globe? Do you understand the U.S. is using Turkey to supply its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    Does the constitution grant jury trials to foreigners? Could you tell me where that is? Could you also let me know why no one thought this in any previous war in American history?

    AQ has stated numerous times that Iraq is its focus. In terms of men and money nothing else comes close.

    A straw man huh? How popular was the Iraq war when it started? About 80% of Americans supported it.

    Elevated Assad’s status and getting nothing in return is not diplomacy.

    So Iran helped us out tremendously in Iran. Any references? Are they now helping the Taliban and up until recently Shia militias fighting Americans in Iraq, or is that our military lying again?

    The opposition groups don’t want our money? Funny how State thinks otherwise and no Dems have stated this when cutting funding. Any references on this or just a baseless assertion?

  20. Hal says:

    It might be a few years before you get that big promotion at Starbucks.

    And that’s where the conversation stops. It’s pretty clear you don’t want any serious conversation but are here merely to make points.

    Thanks for playing.

  21. Sullivan’s MO is to support a position breathlessly and unreservedly and, when his mind changes, support a contrary position breathlessly and unreservedly. As such, this makes him an entertaining writer: he doesn’t pull punches. It also makes him a somewhat less-than-clear thinker on many issues. To be fair, Sullivan has been consistent on the issue of torture as far as I know.

  22. Tano says:

    Matt,

    You obviously know nothing about what you are talking about.

    Sullivan is quite the opposite – actually dicussing (sometimes at excruciating length) his doubts about the things that he has supported in the past, or his reservations about the things he believes today. He even wrote a book about his doubts, and how they are, to him, a core element of his philosophy.

    Why do you bother writing stuff like this?

  23. southdakotaboy says:

    Ok Hal, you need to look up the difference between majority and minority. At no point did IO say that the far left made up a majority of the party base. I simply said they make up a large part of that base. As a matter of fact I clearly stated that this group was in the minority meaning they are anything less than 50% of the total.
    If we follow your line of thought it would be incorrect to say that African Americans or Women make up a large part of the Democratic Party.

  24. southdakotaboy says:

    Hal you need to look up the difference between majority and minority. At no point in my comment did I say that the far left makes up the majority of the Democratic Party or its base. By clearly calling them the minority of the base it should be clear that “large” in this context is at something less than 50% of the total. Since “base” is hard to define numerically with any exactness ( it is not the same as party affiliation and registration ) it is sometimes necessary to use somewhat imprecise language for the sake of making a point.
    A good example of this is if a person was to say that people in Boston make up a large part of the Red Sox fan base. When Mr. Knapp called them the fringe he was implying they were a tiny minority and lacking in power. I disagree with some of that idea, they are a minority, but neither tiny nor powerless.

  25. Hal says:

    southdakotaboy,

    Okay, fair enough as far as the explanation of the magnitude issue.. The problem is that you’re just speaking in the passive voice, merely asserting that something is true without, as they say, naming names. I’m sure I can come up with groups/individuals who have a large influence over the democratic party who are, for example, advocates of women’s rights or african american rights. I’m not sure I could come up with, for example, someone from those groups who are saying wacky things (like, for instance, Jesse Jackson) about one would claim that they have their hands “firmly on the steering wheel” of the democratic party.

    You’ve asserted that there is a non-trivial part of the democratic base which “makes excuses for terrorism”. Not only that, you’ve asserted that they’re actually controlling the democrats on this issue. I’m calling you out. Simply name a few. Any. Simply asserting that this is the case does not make it so.

    So far, that’s all you’ve done.

  26. southdakotaboy says:

    Ok how about KOS, Moveon and A. Huffington. It is very hard to say that these people and or groups have not been steering the agenda of the Dem party on the war lately.

  27. Hal says:

    Ok how about KOS, Moveon and A. Huffington. It is very hard to say that these people and or groups have not been steering the agenda of the Dem party on the war lately.

    Okay, we’re getting closer. Painfully slowly, but inch by mother loving inch we’re getting closer.

    Now that you’ve named some people/groups who I will allow are “steering the agenda” (I still have issues with that characterization, but what the hey), you have yet to provide any evidence what so ever that these individuals/group are, as you asserted, “making excuses for terrorism”. Since this is a pretty fricking nasty charge you’re making, and considering that all these people/groups you are using as an example are internet entities with a record a mile wide, 2 miles deep and stretching back easily to 2007, you should be able to provide some link, some evidence to back up your claim that they are “making excuses for terrorists”.

    I know it’s simply an article of faith on the right that Marcos, Huffington and Moveon are all just terrorists by any other name – fifth columnists, as Andrew Sullivan himself would put it. The problem is, you actually have to provide some evidence for this assertion and not just expect us to take it as a given, as such is the style on the right.

    Seriously. I don’t want to go through yet another series of comments asking you for evidence. It’d be nice if you would just produce some. There’s this wonderful thing called the internet and it allows really easy linking through the use of URLs you can embed in your comments. Surely, if it’s widely known that the people you’re using as examples are well known for making excuses for terrorists, you could find something – anything – which could support your claim and share it with us.

    Otherwise, you’re simply asserting and no one really has any reason to believe your assertions are true.

  28. Hal says:

    Sorry meant to say they have records stretching easily back to 2001.