Shadow Government

Torture isn't conservative

By Ken Adelman, Special to Shadow Government 

I'm having trouble figuring out why staunch conservatives aren't as outraged by the torture memos and practices as the American public. Maybe it's because they've become so estranged from the public. Republican leaders have stumbled around, since the closing of the Bush era, much like a duck whacked on the head, as Abraham Lincoln once quipped about one of his generals who was chasing Lee's forces. Or maybe it's because of high, and justified, concerns over national security. Or considerable, again justified, preference for presidential leadership over that of the Congress (especially one with the twin faces of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid).

But still... It's somewhat outrageous for real conservatives not to be outraged by all this. Conservatism has never been, and should not become now, the pro-torture movement.

My conservatism was established by the philosophy of Barry Goldwater, and molded by the outlook of neo-conservatism. [Truth in commenting: I am not strictly a "neo-con," since I was never in fact a liberal. Neo-conservatism must be the only movement to stigmatize someone for not having been wrong for many years. But that's a discussion for another day.]

The conservatism of Goldwater, like all American conservatism, stressed limited government -- not only in programs and budgets, but also in the power and reach of the state. Hence it leads to firm stands on civil liberties, perhaps even stronger than among the liberal left (though there continues to be lots of overlap). The staunch conservative Bill Safire, for instance, was just as staunch a civil libertarian. We didn't want government strong enough to control, or even poke around, in our personal lives -- let alone having enough power to torture citizens.

So the conservative jaw should drop when Philip Zelikow -- who knows both the law and the anti-terrorism field -- concludes that these Justice Department memos legally empower the government to subject American citizens to the same "enhanced interrogation techniques" as practiced on the terrorists. That's such a gross violation of Goldwater-conservative principles as to make any of us still-believers wince, rather than ponder, explain, or (worst of all) justify.

Second to me are the neo-con principles. Yes, I know -- I got the memo. I realize that the term "neo-con" has become exclusively a derogatory term, which even Richard Perle disputes had any real content to it. But I differ from my friend Richard here. Neo-conservatism meant -- to me, at least -- that there is and should be a moral element at the center of foreign policy.

Maybe the post-Holocaust phase "never again" hit Jews like me most powerfully, causing outsiders to contend that neo-conservatism was basically a Jewish movement. But "never again" shouldn't hit Jews any harder than others with a conscience. My mentor, the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, sure felt as strongly, and reinforced my views for decades. Reading those Justice Department memos, and the practices they allowed, ignores -- indeed, violates -- the notion that much morality was operating in our foreign policy.

Torture is not only immoral; it's not conservative. And conservatives shouldn't be defending it.

Shadow Government

Questions for Obama at 100 days

To mark his 100th day in office tomorrow, President Obama will hold a primetime press conference. Here are some questions from the writers of this blog that Obama should be asked but probably won't be. We challenge journalists to put any of these questions to the president. Your prize for doing so? A lifetime subscription to this blog. We'll be watching. On a channel other than Fox that is.

Steve Biegun:

Do you believe Iran is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons?

With your first year as president now nearly a third over, when do you plan to meet your commitment for face-to-face meetings with the leaders of North Korea, Iran, and Syria?

Christian Brose:

Are there any circumstances under which you would amend your plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq such that you would maintain a military presence there beyond 2011?

Peter Feaver:

During the first 100 days, your administration has tried to highlight as much as possible the changes with the previous administration. Can you identify three important areas where even you would claim you are largely just continuing the policies of the Bush administration?

Aaron Friedberg:

If you had reason to believe that a captured terrorist had knowledge of an imminent attack that could kill thousands of Americans but was refusing to divulge it, would you authorize the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" to extract that information?

Will Inboden:

Some political and religious dissidents in authoritarian countries have quietly voiced their concerns that, in the process of reaching out to the autocrats who control their countries, your administration is paying little heed to -- let alone supporting -- the aspirations of these activists to see more freedom and justice in their countries. What tangible steps, if any, will your administration take -- even if it incurs the displeasure of authoritarian rulers -- to support the desire for liberty that many citizens have in places like Iran, Burma, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba?

Phil Levy:

You have noted widespread agreement among economists that countries should borrow in downturns to try to stimulate the economy. This approach also implies that countries should run surpluses in good times to pay the money back. When do you envision the United States next running a surplus and paying down its debt?

Tom Mahnken:

Can the United States live with a nuclear Iran? 

Mitchell Reiss:

Which foreign policy strategy do you subscribe to: neo-isolationism, selective engagement (neo-realism), cooperative security (building and strengthening international institutions), or American primacy?

Kori Schake:

How do you think the debt envisioned in your budget will affect U.S. national security?

Kristen Silverberg:

Is there any possibility you would sign a climate change agreement at Copenhagen that obligates the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but does not impose a similar obligation on China and India?

Dan Twining:

Most Americans share the Founding Fathers' belief that our country is exceptional. Indeed, your own campaign and election seemed to validate this judgment. Do you believe American exceptionalism has been a force for good, not only for our country but for the world -- and will it continue to be?

Dov Zakheim:

The Israelis seem deadly serious about attacking Iran and suspect that Tehran will use talks with the United States to stall for time to go nuclear, as North Korea once did. Are you prepared to set a time limit for our talks with Iran? If so, how long?