Three Facets of Force

Was thinking about this after reading some of the reprehensible defending commentary resulting from the Senate’s torture report today. Really, though, this is about any use of political force, whether you’re talking drones, surveillance and usage of what it obtained–even the implied threat of having obtained it, and even warfare or police force against protestors and unarmed citizens in general. Somehow, we typically argue around these things, either focusing on what the pundits said, often straw man arguments of some sort, or face value stuff that means one thing to some people and something very different to others.

I should insert here that John McCain made a fairly unequivocal statement about torture today. He even dismissed my argument that it doesn’t even work and went perhaps a bit deeper and less cynical: he said it was about who we want to be as a nation, as a people; the moral and ethical and ultimately legal argument in place of the pragmatic one. He could probably only have done one up on himself by calling on the President to pardon John Kiriakou, who very much seems vindicated by the report.

But back to the main point here: Three facets. By the way, I’m ignoring the law here as it stands today and looking ahead to where it may one day go.

The first is How Far? What actions are acceptable to achieve a goal? Not “does the ends justify the means,” that’s an intersection, or edge between facets. Simply, is this action justified, acceptable under any circumstances at all? The question where torture is concerned here is fuzzy to some because you’re talking about a range from stress positions, loud music and face holding * to freezing a man to death, beating a 14 year old all over his body while hung from his hands and feet, to raping a man’s wife with a broken bottle in front of him. Those who think intimidation and…let’s call it meanness…are fine due to the nature of War on Terror may think the former fine but be aghast at the latter. {Others, of course think anything goes, while others think all of that should be disallowed}.

The next is What Is the Goal? What are we really trying to achieve? I mean really. Forget the propaganda; what do we really, really want? Is propping up Wall Street’s future what we want? Are we still stuck on trickle-down economics? Are we padding the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats who move back and forth through the revolving door, feeding budgets to broken and corrupt institutions? Or are we really trying to prevent “another 9/11,” protect American lives, the troops, as many claim?

The third is, Is the Goal Stated Worth Achieving? Impossible to answer unless it is defined, isn’t it? This is our first problem with the pragmatic view: we don’t even know for certain what we are trying to achieve. Without that, how can we decide? It is largely a neoconservative value that the answer to that is none of your damn business, you aren’t important enough to be told. So, we’re lied to, often. I would say that neoliberals do this as well, and it has become increasingly difficult to tell them apart except on a few issues, typically social issues.

Where do these intersect? Assuming for a moment that the goal really is to protect Americans, the strategies should have been about winning hearts and minds, not provoking. We have intentionally poured fuel on a fire. This, and the kinds of things that I know this country is capable of doing to its own citizens and so of course that and worse to foreigners, is why I simply don’t believe that that is the true goal. They have consistently gone about it all wrong if so, with a few exceptions like building schools, etc. Instead, it appears that provoking provides a steady revenue stream for some, and provides a use for people who are only useful when making someone else’s life miserable or nonexistent. And we seem keen on making more and more people like that, making that acceptable behavior. If the goal is peace, why are we building an army of monsters?

Peace can’t be the goal. Rather, provoking so we have an excuse to invade and occupy are the means and the goal. Who benefits?

Then we can look at all three facets: Does the behavior help achieve the goal, is the goal worth pursuing, and is the price paid for performing the behavior one we are willing to pay?

The thought process of some who think the real goals, or the phony ones, justified is that it is simply outdated to concern oneself with human rights. One Attorney General called prohibitions against torture that the US was signatory to “quaint.” It’s kind of like the American rebels refusing to face the British in lining up. This was considered dirty pool and cowardly at the time. But, of course, there was something to actually try to achieve: repelling invaders. In the case of torture, it does not do what they claim. Let’s not confuse changing the rules with becoming inhuman.

But this is where it is going. Is this what we want? Who we want to be?

Damn. Back where John McCain said we were.

* Though I suspect after having been dosed with mefloquine and whatever other substances they’ve been playing with, any number of things that seem silly or in the grey area off the cuff very much become torture,  unequivocally.

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