Conservative Reaction Cycle
The conservative response to Abu Ghraib has been fascinating, hasn’t it? First reaction: this is horrible and the soldiers involved should have the book thrown at them.
Second reaction: yeah, it’s bad, it really is, but it’s worth remembering that it’s nowhere near as bad as what Saddam did.
Third reaction: enough, enough! Jeez, it’s been a whole week. This issue has been hijacked by militant Bush-haters who just want to use it for craven partisan reasons.
Fourth reaction: still to come. Maybe torturers as heroes thanks to testimony from someone or other that one of the scraps of information they extracted saved a convoy somewhere? Hey, war is hell.
I’d just note that these positions aren’t mutually exclusive and that they are indeed a reaction to hystrionics by opponents of the administration.
First: Virtually all of the mainstream Right is still here. Of course these things are very bad. They violate the standards of human decency, and they violate the law. Furthermore, they undermine the war effort itself.
Second: As Dan Drezner observed, spare me the reaction of the “Arab Street.” It is a fact that far worse brutalities were the norm in Iraq before we got there. As Matt Yglesias notes, that’s of course not the point–we invaded a foreign land under benevolent motives and thus have to be above reproach. But let’s not degenerate into the moral relativism that the U.S. is somehow an evil empire because some thugs within our midst acted criminally.
Third: Well, yes. The military and intelligence communities have umpteen investigations on. The chain of command up to at least the one star level has already been shaken up and all indications are that the perpetrators are going to be punished criminally. It’s also clear that, if systemic problems are found that contributed to this, they’ll be addressed. So, give it a bit of time to shake out before making wild-eyed charges, calling for cabinet resignations, and pronouncing the war over.
Fourth: Doubtful. While I’m by no means an expert in intelligence gathering or interrogation techniques, I know enough to know that torture and abuse are precisely not the way to go about extracting useful information. People under torture will tell their captor anything to get them to stop. The way to get information is to gain their confidence–precisely the opposite of what these bozos did. Plus, if word gets out that your military is abusing prisoners, it gets radically harder to get people to surrender rather than going down fighting, costing more lives all around as well as drying up the pool of captive to interrogate.