More concisely than anyone else I’ve read on the subject, Jane Mayer links the politics and ethics of the Senate’s torture report. First, there’s the simple fact of a growing partisan divide, borne out by polling data:
It remains to be seen, though, whether the report will spur lasting reform. Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and an expert on torture regimes, doubts that it will. For one thing, despite McCain’s testimony, torture is becoming just another partisan issue. This wasn’t always the case—it was Ronald Reagan who signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in 1988. But polls show both a growing acceptance of the practice and a widening divide along party lines. “It’s becoming a lot like the death penalty,” Rejali said.
We knew the CIA was guilty of torturing detainees, but until this week we did not know just how vicious it had been. We knew it had misled us about its torture program, but until this week we did not know the sheer scope of its lies. We had some knowledge of its horrible mistakes, but until this week we didn’t have definitive proof of its utter incompetence. Those are just a few of the stomach-churning things we can now be certain were done in our name, thanks to the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, the full version of which is still classified and is over 6,000 pages long. It’s hard to improve on The Guardian ’s description of the enormous importance of what has been released: “It is one of the most shocking documents ever produced by any modern democracy about its own abuses of its own highest principles.” What happens in the coming weeks is of the highest moral and political significance: We now have to decide whether we will ever do this again.
Polling data suggests that President Obama’s executive action on immigration has hardened Republican opposition to a path to citizenship. Kevin Drum, noting that “it sure seems as if Obama polarizes more than any previous president,” wants better data on the question:
In any case, this would be an interesting project for someone with access to high-quality polling data that reaches back over several decades. Is the partisan response to President Obama’s proposals more pronounced than it was for previous presidents? If so, is it a little more pronounced, or a lot? Someone needs to get on this.
I think I first realized that The New Republic was home while arguing over burnt coffee at one of downtown D.C.’s charmless corporate cafes. I was less than a year out of college and applying for the high-stress, low-pay job of being a “reporter-researcher,” but the meeting was not a job interview. Instead, it was a meet-and-greet arranged by a journalist who had been a generous mentor to me. To give you a sense of just how generous: The meeting—and argument—were with the magazine’s then-editor. Thankfully, I was brimming with all the confidence of naïveté; it never occurred to me that I had no business arguing one-on-one with the editor of The New Republic about international politics. And I was given no reason to feel intimidated: When our discussion turned to the magazine’s recent editorial on Libya, I expressed points of disagreement. My points were met with passionate counterpoints. I offered historical examples and was met with historical counterexamples. I shifted to moral and philosophical arguments and was met with moral and philosophical rebuttals. The conversation offered so many examples of what I now regard as vital parts of intellectual life: The boisterous, democratic willingness to argue with any worthy interlocutor, even some know-it-all 22 year-old. The electricity of principled, challenging disagreement. The respect of exchanging reasons for our opinions, instead of simply ignoring, condemning, mocking, or running roughshod over those with whom we disagree. The willingness to speak morally and ethically, if need be, and to refuse the ironic wink now expected to accompany any gauche acknowledgment that there are some principles we believe in deeply and cannot abandon. I didn’t have the job yet. I wasn’t sure if it would pay enough to cover basic living expenses. But I had to have it.
I imagine there was some point to this piece about Siobhan Gorman in The Intercept on Tuesday, but since it relies almost entirely on insinuation, its meaning will require a little decoding. Gorman, a highly respected reporter on terrorism and intelligence for the Wall Street Journal, will soon be leaving the paper to join a German communications firm. That career move is unpopular over at First Look Media (the article refers to Gorman deciding to “throw in the towel and join the Dark Side”), and it occasioned a brief review of her email correspondence with the CIA (obtained through the Freedom of Information Act). What The Intercept found next will shock you—if you can figure out what it is.
I noticed, in the wake of last week’s unrest in Ferguson, several references to an exchange between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait about the role of looting and riots in social progress. It began with Chait’s discussion of the implicit (perhaps, in some cases, unwitting) justification for riots advanced by a few left-wing voices. In response to these justifications, Chait wrote: “Property damage and looting impede social progress. They do so in their proximate impact (destroying the town and livelihoods of residents of Ferguson) and in their long-term impact of fostering a backlash. There is no contradiction in opposing a response to injustice that creates more injustice.”
Chuck Hagel’s resignation earlier this week has been widely interpreted as a firing, allegedly for the White House’s dim view of his performance coordinating military action against the Islamic State. Yet as John Judis notes, even if criticisms of Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon are justified, it’s hardly his fault that Obama’s IS strategy is muddled and contradictory. The U.S. is not only undermining its anti-Assad strategy by carrying out airstrikes against his radical enemies within Syria; it’s making empty threats to overthrow Assad despite a paltry financial and military commitment to doing so. As Judis writes: “There’s a disconnect, in other words, between what the administration says it is doing in Syria and what it is doing.” Elizabeth Drew detects the same problem: “The White House is stuck in a [Syria] policy that has very little chance of working, putting the president and his national security aides in real peril. And Chuck Hagel, who watched all this with dismay, became the odd man out.”