Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Coalition for Fog expands

OK, not literally. But Richmond lawyer Tom McKenna takes to task The Grand Torture Pharisee™ (he compares him to Cromwell, which is also apropos, I think). And Shea reader Jayson notes his disappointment elsewhere.

I think it really does take a lawyer to understand some things, including that enshrining fine-sounding principles into law, both domestic and international, is usually a bad thing. (Further proof: an approving link from lawyer Roger H. of the site "Between Heaven and Hell")

But Oliver Cromwell Shea doesn't realize how legal thinking operates, that the law actually can parse a distinction between "cruelty" or "degrading treatment" and "torture." Which is why his claims of innocence on a definition of torture sit impossibly alongside his pronunciamento that "aggressive information gathering techniques" is just a euphemism for "torture" or his reducing certain practices to "torture-lite." Now, "not thinking like a lawyer" is usually considered a good thing (sorry, Tom ... couldn't resist). And in many contexts, it is, but ... um ... "the law" (international, civic, administrative, whatever -- and Shea is not above shilling for specific legal solutions, i.e., congressional bills and telling people to "call your congresscritters) is not one of them. I think this is why they are called "law"-yers.

But why actually think things through when you can just show a photo of Lynndie England (a lie, apropos the point OCS was making, as Tom points out, but never mind) and demagogue on the natural "ick" reaction. But a visceral reaction is not an argument. Ever. Good things *can* be unpleasant to look at. I eat sausage with a perfectly clear conscience. I send gifts to friends' children without any need for pictures of how the child came about. So a person's resort to pictures designed to evoke a visceral reaction immediately causes me to suspect him, on all subjects.

That said, I would make one criticism of Tom's piece. There are actually, two other proof texts on torture -- Veritatis Splendor 80 and Evangelium Vitae 3. Though they are both quotations of GS 27, they are reiterations and John Paul the Great surrounded the latter quotations with emphatics "certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Shea's slippery slope arguments ...

Glad to see you're enjoying our posts, Mark. And since you asked, I'd like to explain what I meant when I said you no longer feel any obligation towards granting moral assent to either the current administration or the conservative establishment.

As a general rule, Christians tend to follow the example of both Jesus and St. Paul that the current legitimate government derives its authority and hence its moral legitimacy from God. Pilate gets his authority from above and St. Paul instructs Christians both to fear God and to honor the Emperor. But as the Catechism notes, there are exceptions to this rule as we can see in the Church's own stand against communism in our own century. As an aside, I would note that if the paleocons like Raimondo and Buchanan that Mark is now so fond of quoting seriously believed half of what they claimed regarding Israeli influence over US foreign policy I would like to hope that they'd be able to muster up a bit more moral courage to do more than rail against AIPAC from cyberspace. Same goes with much of the international anti-war movement (a misnomer IMO, as many of the groups involved do not seem to be terribly opposed to war per se so long as it is carried out towards objectives that they prefer if the postings at uruk or Collective Bellacio are anything to judge by), including Cindy Sheehan. And that includes Andrew Sullivan with that "thinly-veiled military dictatorship" lunacy quoted below. But that's another rant for another time.

What I was referring to was basically the argument that the entire US political system is so depraved and/or rigged that political activism does no good whatsoever - the United States has already lost all real legitimacy and is hardly worth defending, a claim that at best argues for moral equivalence with regard to the current conflict that I would argue is already present in Mark's Rome vs. Carthage model. Given that the Magisterium has yet to give up on Europe, a continent that is far more post-Christian than anything one wants to say about America, you'll forgive me about ceding the battlefield to post-Christianity before all is said and done.

Advocating a revival of Western and Christian (the two go hand in hand, how could they not when so much of Western history is defined by the term Christendom?) principles at home is not, as Mark sometimes seems as though he believes depending on the time of day, inconsistent with external defense. Nor for that matter is the promotion of democracy abroad that if successful would certainly provide a far more open environment for missionary activity than would the current dictatorships that Mark is so eager to preserve in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, et al. that at best are willing to slightly curtail persecution in order to preserve their surviving Christian populations as museum showcases. Claims that democracy cannot be exported to Islamic societies because of Islam's view of God to man is master-slave (Mark's favored talking point on this one) is a sweeping generalization because there isn't an "Islamic view of God" anymore than there is a Christian view of God (see Protestantism, to say nothing of heresies). Islam is fairly diverse on this score and anyone who tells you otherwise is likely using an American fundamentalist reading of the Qu'ran that is as Western as baseball and apple pie. Whatever Mohammed may or may not have believed on the matter is irrelevant (at least to non-Muslims) because Islam for all practical current purposes is what it's followers believe it to be and there are quite a wide range of views on the subject. And democracy appears to have been successfully exported to pantheist/polytheist society that formerly maintained (and still does informally) a race-based caste system (India) to say nothing of the multitude of non-Christian societies in Southeast Asia. Democracy is also not synonymous with utopia, as anyone who has ever read the Melian Dialogues could tell you and as serious neocons recognize, as Mark Shea also might if he ever bothered to sit down and actually read Irving Kristol or Michael Novak."I'd be more than happy to send him both Neoconservatism and Universal Hunger completely free of charge for no other reason than that if he is going to continue to rail against neocons he might actually find out what it is they actually believe." (last sentence edited by author).

You find this among a lot of fringe groups with all manner of nutty beliefs and given that Mark has already basically claimed that there is nothing resembling a serious, legitimate pro-life constituency within the leadership of the Republican Party (to which he would do well to inform all of the lefties who are currently so terrified of an imminent theocracy), his completely warped caricature of neoconservative thought based on his apparent illiteracy of reading beyond the title of An End to Evil and wholehearted embrace of the paleocon view with regard to neoconservatism in general (actually I think this is being too charitable - Buchanan and Raimondo at least have to claim some understanding of what terms like creative destruction actually mean in order to attack them, whereas I suspect that Mark would be extremely hard-pressed to explain what the term actually means), his crazed derangement when discussing all matters concerning Michael Ledeen (whom Mark, judging from the combox remarks he once made and never retracted, apparently believes projects "evil influences" from his person, which I gather is something like the Dominate Mind Dark Side power; somewhat interestingly enough of all Ledeen's enemies on the right and the left, and he has a great many both in and outside of Washington, Mark appears to be the only one who ascribes that particular characteristic to him), and now his full-blown embrace of Bush Derangement Syndrome where he is now appears openly contemptuous of anyone even remotely inclined to defend the administration and its policies from his wild and increasingly unhinged hyperbolic attacks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Response time

I noted at the bottom of my last Mark Shea post:

Any Shea sentence that begins "What you're really saying is ..." or "What that really means is ..." is a cue to stop reading. Nothing that follows is reliable.

So having boiled away such sentences, plus straw men, misreadings, and misattributions ... the following is left to respond to in Mark Shea's hysterics.


A Preview of Things to Come

For those who are curious about what I mean when I say that I think Mark Shea will eventually come to the conclusion that the current administration and/or conservative establishment is so depraved that he no longer feels an obligation to grant moral asset to it, look no further:

Whatever else this is, it is not a constitutional democracy. It is a thinly-veiled military dictatorship, subject to only one control: the will of the Great Decider. And the war that justifies this astonishing attack on American liberty is permanent, without end. And check the vagueness of the language: "purposefully supported" hostilities. Could that mean mere expression of support for terror? Remember that many completely innocent people have already been incarcerated for years without trial or any chance for a fair hearing on the basis of false rumors or smears or even bounty hunters. Or could it be construed, in the rhetoric of Hannity and O'Reilly, as merely criticizing the Great Decider and thereby being on the side of the terrorists?
All I know is that al Qaeda is winning battles every week now. And they are winning them because their aim of gutting Western liberty is shared by the president of the United States. The fact that we are finding this latest, chilling stuff out now - while this horrifying bill is being rushed into law to help rescue some midterms - is beyond belief. It must be stopped, filibustered, prevented. And anyone who cares about basic constitutional freedom - conservatives above all - should be in the forefront of stopping it.

For those who are curious as to what al Qaeda actually wants to achieve, their objectives are defined by Gunaratna (Inside Al Qaeda, 2002) as "the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia and the creation there of a Caliphate ... the ouster of 'apostate rulers' of the Arabian Peninsula and thereafter the Middle East and the creation of true Islamic states ... to build a formidable array of Islamic states - including ones with nuclear capability - to wage war on the US (the 'Great Satan') and its allies." This whole notion that "if we lose our freedoms, then the terrorists have won" might be correct in some abstract sense, but certainly not in any kind of actual discussion of what al Qaeda wants to achieve.

One of the things that I want to stress throughout this whole thing is that I don't disagree on a religious basis with Mark's basic policy contention that the United States should not practice torture under any circumstances whatsoever. It's open season on public policy and prudential discussions concerning this, but I would never for a moment assert that he is not a Catholic in good standing for doing so. That is essentially what he has done to myself, Victor, and anyone else who has bothered to call him on his hyperbolic rhetoric, straw man, false triangulation, and demagogic argumentation style, ahistoricism, and above all the contemptuous self-righteousness that he hurls against anyone who dares to question him on this or any number of other subjects.

It is when reading this that I am reminded of this passage from 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?
He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the devil's punishment. He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil's trap.

Now Mark is neither a recent convert or a bishop, but unfortunately he is rapidly becoming conceited as a result of his own self-righteousness on this issue, abeit selectively so as he has yet to call down the same vitriol against Jimmy Akin or Father Neuhaus (both of whom have views on torture somewhat similar to my own and those of Senator McCain) that he does against Victor and others in the combox, comparing them to abortion supporters et al. (to which I would answer that if Mark can show me a time when the Church practiced abortion as official policy I'll be happy to shut up, otherwise he has some major indefectability issues to overcome that so far he has tap-danced around).

I expect that this is because either Mark doesn't want to offend them because they have too much clout apologetics community (extremely unlikely) or because he doesn't understand where their arguments differ from his own because neither is an enthusiastic advocate of torture. The answer to the question is simple in that neither regards torture as an intrinsic evil and both conceded (as did McCain) that there are circumstances where it might be morally licit. "Ah ha!" Mark might argue, "Now you can see the torture advocates seizing upon this as a reason to torture!" And while there are certainly people that fall into that category, the Catholic Church is not one of them unless Mark wishes to argue that the fact that slavery is not an intrinsic evil is some kind of serious argument to revive the practice.

As a parting shot, I should probably note that I probably shouldn't be expecting any better from someone who apparently has never seriously read the neocons (or Machiavelli, for that matter) that he now so stridently and self-righteously condemns, instead preferring to interpret them through the prism of Justin Raimondo, Pat Buchanan, and the rest of the gang over at The American Conservative. Therein lies the distinction to be made between a serious argument and mere demagoguery.

Did we touch a nerve?

Judging from the vitriolic and increasingly hysterical response, I think it's safe to say that we've got Mark's attention. I'm glad to hear it because I'd like to take the opportunity as I see Victor already has to document his latest foray into full-blown Bush Derangement Syndrome, complete with all the hyperbolic rhetoric that one might expect from the Daily Kos.

Shea cites the following statement that has been repeated ad nauseam as evidence that Cheney used his evil mind control powers to convince the American people that there was a link between Iraq and 9/11 and then lied about it.
"It's been pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attacks," he would say on NBC in December 2001. "We discovered...the allegation that one of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had, in fact, met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague," he would say on NBC in March 2002. "We have reporting that places [Atta] in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer a few months before the attacks on the World Trade Center," he would say on NBC in September 2002. "The senator has got his facts wrong," he would then say while debating Senator John Edwards during the 2004 campaign. "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

Yet as dutifully noted by Tom Connelly in the combox, the facts are a lot more interesting as to what Cheney actually said:
From the Meet the Press transcript of December 9, 2001.
RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. When you were last on this program, September 16, five days after the attack on our country, I asked you whether there was any evidence that Iraq was involved in the attack and you said no.
Since that time, a couple of articles have appeared which I want to get you to react to. The first: The Czech interior minister said today that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the September 11 terrorists attacks on the United States, just five months before the synchronized hijackings and mass killings were carried out.
And this from James Woolsey, former CIA director: ``We know that at Salman Pak, in the southern edge of Baghdad, five different eye witnesses--three Iraqi defectors and two American U.N. inspectors--have said, and now there are aerial photographs to show it, a Boeing 707 that was used for training of hijackers, including non-Iraqi hijackers, trained very secretly to take over airplanes with knives.''
And we have photographs. As you can see that little white speck, and there it is.
RUSSERT: The plane on the ground in Iraq used to train non-Iraqi hijackers.
Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?
CHENEY: Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that's been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.
Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point. But that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.
RUSSERT: What we do know is that Iraq is harboring terrorists. This was from Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post that George W. Bush said that Abdul Ramini Yazen (ph), who helped bomb the World Trade Center back in 1993, according to Louis Freeh was hiding in his native Iraq. And we'll show that right there on the screen. That's an exact quote.
If they're harboring terrorist, why not go in and get them?
CHENEY: Well, the evidence is pretty conclusive that the Iraqis have indeed harbored terrorists. That wasn't the question you asked the last time we met. You asked about evidence involved in September 11.

And in 2002:
From the "Meet the Press" transcript of March 24, 2002.
MR. RUSSERT: Iraq's Saddam Hussein--when we spoke on September 16, five days after the tragic day of September 11, I asked you if any evidence of linkage between Saddam Hussein and Iraq and al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. At the time you said no. There's an article in The New Yorker magazine by Jeffrey Goldberg which connects Iraq and Saddam Hussein with al-Qaida. What can you tell me about it?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I've read the article. It's a devastating article I thought. Specifically, its description of what happened in 1988 when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq, against some his own people. I was aware that he had used chemical weapons against the Kurds. That's been general knowledge, but what the article is very good at is pointing it out in depth that he may have struck, if the article's correct, as many as 200 towns and villages over a 17-month period of time and killed upwards of 100,000 Iraqis.
What's even more depressing is the apparent medical legacy that's left of continuing increased rates of infertility, birth defects, rates of liver cancer among children, etc., as a result of these attacks. It demonstrates conclusively what a lot of us have said is, that this is a man who is a great danger to the region of the world, especially if he's able to acquire nuclear weapons.
With respect to the connections to al-Qaida, we haven't been able to pin down any connection there. I read this report with interest after our interview last fall. We discovered, and it's since been public, the allegation that one of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had, in fact, met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, but we've not been able yet from our perspective to nail down a close tie between the al-Qaida organization and Saddam Hussein. We'll continue to look for it.
From the September 8, 2002 transcript of "Meet the Press":
Mr. RUSSERT: One year ago when you were on MEET THE PRESS just five days after September 11, I asked you a specific question about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Let’s watch:
(Videotape, September 16, 2001):
Mr. RUSSERT: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?
(End videotape)
Mr. RUSSERT: Has anything changed, in your mind?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I want to be very careful about how I say this. I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can’t say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We’ve seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn’t he there, again, it’s the intelligence business.
Mr. RUSSERT: What does the CIA say about that and the president?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It’s credible. But, you know, I think a way to put it would be it’s unconfirmed at this point. We’ve got...
Mr. RUSSERT: Anything else?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: There is-again, I want to separate out 9/11, from the other relationships between Iraq and the al-Qaeda organization. But there is a pattern of relationships going back many years. And in terms of exchanges and in terms of people, we’ve had recently since the operations in Afghanistan-we’ve seen al-Qaeda members operating physically in Iraq and off the territory of Iraq. We know that Saddam Hussein has, over the years, been one of the top state sponsors of terrorism for nearly 20 years. We’ve had this recent weird incident where the head of the Abu Nidal organization, one of the world’s most noted terrorists, was killed in Baghdad. The announcement was made by the head of Iraqi intelligence. The initial announcement said he’d shot himself. When they dug into that, though, he’d shot himself four times in the head. And speculation has been, that, in fact, somehow, the Iraqi government or Saddam Hussein had him eliminated to avoid potential embarrassment by virtue of the fact that he was in Baghdad and operated in Baghdad. So it’s a very complex picture to try to sort out.

Mr. RUSSERT: But no direct link?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t-I’ll leave it right where it’s at. I don’t want to go beyond that. I’ve tried to be cautious and restrained in my comments, and I hope that everybody will recognize that.

The reason I post these in full is because I want people to see just how much of a bogus accusation this is for anyone who actually reads the transcripts instead of the sound bytes. Personally, I'm not sure why the Democrats have focused on this issue so much given that numerous pundits and talk radio hosts did cite Salman Pak et al. as evidence of an Iraqi link to 9/11, just as they (and Mark) claimed from 2002 onwards that bin Laden was dead and that the administration was refraining from announcing anything to keep the Democrats from forcing an early end to the war on terrorism.

The reason I want to drive this example home is that Mark's frequent accusation for his critics on the right is that they have sold out their judgment and objectivity (and in the case of torture, their faith) to the political right in favor of pure tribalism. In a number of cases this is almost certainly true, but if he's going to keep making the kind of hyperbolic generalizations (if not outright slanders) about anyone who continues to support the administration, the war in Iraq, or refuses to defer to Mark's interpretation to the Catechism, he needs to be reminded that the sword cuts both ways and that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

As Kosh wisely noted, understanding is a three-edged sword: their side, your side, and the truth. The sooner Mark recognizes that this applies to him every bit as much as it does between the triangulation argument tactic he's so fond of the better.

Anyone care to wager if he'll even bother to make an apology both to Cheney and to all of his supporters he so clumsily skewed?

That's not an *if* clause, Tork

Torquemada wrote below (emphasis mine):

I predict that IF Mark's hyperbole and self-righteousness deteriorates any further...

That was written before this post on Cheney and this post on detention.

As for the first, I'm past the point of calling Mark Shea a liar. He spread a falsehood -- that Cheney blamed September 11 on Saddam Hussein -- based on partial quotes. Then was called on it in the comboxes based on the complete quotes. There really is no ambiguity -- the administration said consistently that Iraq had ties to terrorism generally and Al Qaeda specifically; there was no conclusive or even very hard evidence of a specific, operational Iraqi role in September 11. Some of the points in these two clauses might be emphasized more in a specific context, but once you understand that THAT was the administration's actual argument, it never swayed from it, nor should it as it is correct. But such adult description is too hard for Shea's simple-minded, color-coded view. His predictable reaction:

I knew my readers could be counted on to find a way to make excuses for Cheney's obvious falsehood.

He dismisses the truth as excuse-making against his own lying, immunizing himself in advance from any criticism. Sheeesh, what an ass (sorry, but I'm past the point of thinking "liar" is enough). A text without a context is a pretext. Shea is now simply a deranged hater, looking for pretexts.

The other post is admittedly not quite as bad, more a case of him not thinking through the implications of what he's saying. (It's a measure of how off his rocker Shea has become that this is merely a small intellectual sin by his standards.) He gets called on it in the combox -- that since POWs are, by definition held indefinitely (because wars don't have defined temporal ends, like a prison sentence), to argue against indefinite detention per se is to argue against holding POWs per se.

All Shea had to say was to roll his eyes in mock sarcasm, meaning in effect, "I didn't say that." Even though people were saying it was the logical implication of what he DID say. The double standard is Reason #98476293467 why nobody should take Shea seriously as an intellectual. He does damn little else in engaging others than to say "So, what you're really saying is ..." or "What that really means is ..." with a perfect Shavian Straw Man™ to follow. But heaven forfend that anyone take HIS ideas [sic] to THEIR logical conclusion, even correctly (while his explorations are almost never correct).

The Silence is Far Less Than Deafening ...

As Mark Shea continues his slow-motion disintegration over the torture issue and lapses further and further into both Bush Derangement Syndrome (this is somewhat indicative: "the man who has probably done more to screw up the country in his short span than any president in my lifetime") and paleoconservatism (of all the people he thinks to cite to defend the Pope's recent remarks he cites Justin Raimondo?), I think it is worth taking the time to comment on something that Victor raised in one of his earlier posts:
In fact, to be perfectly honest, before ever knowing Mark Shea, I had few opinions on "torture"; his intellectual sloppiness and vague moral grandstanding (plus the lying self-righteousness of certain others in St. Blogs) was the greatest factor in turning me against what-he-describes-as-Church-teaching. I would have voted against the McCain Amendment last year (and any other conceivable torture policy now) because of my longstanding suspicion of enshrining fine-sounding principles and vague aspirational terms into law, without spelling things out in detail. Once the moral self-congratulation and self-pleasuring is over, judges (including foreign ones in this case) and the administrative state then get the ability to define these terms as they like -- cf. "equal opportunity" and "privacy." The finer-sounding the principle, the more suspicious I am of it.

While I tend to share much of Victor's suspicion towards codifying fine-sounding moral principles, I myself supported the McCain Amendment for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that if some type of anti-torture legislation was going to be written I would much prefer that it be written by someone like McCain, whose comments on the subject have demonstrated a far greater degree of understanding of it than had individuals of a mindset similar to that of Mark Shea. There has recently been a discussion on torture carried out in a far more civil and far less self-righteous tone than that found on Shea's blog.

Like Victor, I had few if any well-developed views on torture prior to this recent spat over detainee policy. I actually think that there is a fair case to be made that much of this dispute occurred as the result of a category mistake among all but its most passionate partisans in the legal community and human rights organizations in that the general public was sufficiently (and rightly) repelled by what happened at Abu Ghraib that they started to examine the remarkably ambiguous legal situation that we currently find ourselves in as a result of this conflict. That the situation is legally ambiguous is of great vexation to the two groups referenced above, both of whom are probably among the largest current obstacle to establishing some system of international law that would be even remotely feasible here in the real world. So, with the assistance of a press corps and political class whose worldview is largely compatible with them to begin with, they set out to enact the most extreme elements of their agenda by using widespread revulsion over what happened at Abu Ghraib as their springboard. This was hardly a conspiracy, particularly for those who just reads the press releases these organizations send out on a regular basis.

When viewed from this perspective, the McCain Amendment and its current companion bill were far, far from what could have happened and they leave the vast majority of feasible interrogation tools (including rendition) completely intact. Near as I can determine, this is precisely what many of the people from the two groups I mentioned above who are so angry right now are actually mad about.

Also, Mark has long been attempting to argue that torture is synonymous with abortion or embryonic stem cell research and that any assent to it under any circumstances makes one on par with an abortion supporter. This is completely untenable within the context of Catholic theology given our belief in the indefectability of the Church because of past papal-sanctioned employment of torture and it is for this reason that I and others have long argued that Mark should be extremely careful (and far less self-righteous) when making such incredibly absolutist arguments with such obvious historical holes to it, particularly given that his only credible counter-argument occurs within the context of his own fundamentalist reading of Gaudium et Spes. I would note that none of this prevents Mark from arguing that the United States should not torture as a practical policy matter, particularly given that we have been able to successfully ban slavery and regard it as an abhorrent practice without ever having defined it as intrinsically evil. Everything that is not forbidden being compulsory is not the only option here.

I predict that if Mark's hyperbole and self-righteousness deteriorates any further at present rates he will soon come to the conclusion that the current administration is one that he can no longer grant moral assent to. I remember when Revenge of the Sith deputed and all of the movie critics were complaining that Hayden Christensen's acting as Anakin Skywalker was too over-the-top to be a believeable portrayal of someone descending into hysteria. If only they knew that truth is indeed stranger than fiction ...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mark Shea the Torture Pharisee™ Update

Y'know, I really should know better than to read Mark Shea's site. But this latest post on "torture" is a new low even by his low, low, low standards. In terms of sheer demagoguery, intellectual vulgarity, ahistoricism, lowbrow innocence, intellectual evasiveness, emotionalism, sloppy thought and intellectual bullying -- this might be rock bottom. Might be. Helen Willis once said to George Jefferson: "I would say that's the dumbest thing you've ever said, but I know you'll manage to top yourself tomorrow."

In a post that is an embarrassment of riches for pointing out stupidities and lies -- like, Abu Ghraib has nothing to do with the CIA "enhanced-interrogation" program (real interrogators know better than to take pictures of themselves) making his juxtaposing those pictures just vile emotional manipulation -- I'll simply make two small, but unassailable and factual points.

(1) In describing how he thinks The Vast Neocon Agenda To End Evil, etc., will work to inure the country, Shea says the following, right under a picture of Lynndie England and the naked guy on the dog leash:
Then we need to get people used to euphemisms like "aggressive information gathering techniques."
For someone who often goes cornpone "aw, shucks. I'm just an unfrozen caveman Catholic. That's for professionals to figure out" when asked to define the distinction between torture and interrogation, this is a remarkable thing to say. If "aggressive information gathering techniques" is a euphemism for torture, then under Shea imagines is Church teaching, "aggressive information-gathering techniques" are impermissible. Ever. It is after all ... just a euphemism for "torture" like "terminate a pregnancy" or "choose to control your body," right, with exactly the same moral space. In which case, one wonders, what "interrogation" can meaningfully be. Is it not supposed to be aggressive? Is it not supposed to gather information or not use techniques? As ever, Shea is so eager to get on moral high horse that he doesn't think through what he's saying and will indignantly deny he ever said it. But as long as he maintains that "aggressive information-gathering techniques" is a euphemism for torture, Shea has said there can be no interrogation. QED.

(2) We get this later bit of ahistoric piffle, worthy of a man with plainly not the remotest clue about either historical practice or legal issues:
Yessirree, what worked during our face off with the two greatest totalitarian systems in history no longer works. Treating prisoners humanely and refusing to adopt the methods of the KGB have suddenly been rendered out of date.
What world has Shea been living in? Audie Murphy movies? Let's make this crystal clear. I am not making a moral point ("whatever we did then must have been right") but rather a historical point ("what DID we do then"). So Fundamentalist Proof-Texting of the Catechism (the only thing Shea knows on this subject) is not on point. But as a historical matter, what Shea says about "what worked during" the Cold War and World War II is a load of crap. To speak only of World War II, German POWs were often abused in retaliation for German abuses of Allied prisoners (it was called "reciprocity," a concept Shea moralistically ridiculed when it was brought up to him that this was how law-of-war treaties were enforced when the world was run by grown-ups); "take no prisoner" orders were issued in response to fake surrenders, mostly against the Japanese; summary executions on the battlefield were commonplace -- against spies, saboteurs or combatants-out-of-uniform; the "rubber hose" was a universally accepted interrogation practice even used in domestic law-enforcement, as were a score of things that is definitely "torture" as Gaudium et Spes defines it, i.e., attempts to coerce the will by force; the CIA sponsored coups/assassinations of foreign leaders such as Allende, Mossadeq, Castro (OK, that one failed, but that's not relevant to what US tactics were).

I quite understand Rep. Lynn Westmoreland's point that Shea opens this latest bit of Pharisaism by ridiculing -- I myself would characterize myself not as pro-torture, but as anti-anti-torture. Even more so, I understand Shea's typically complete lack of understanding, dismissing Westmoreland with a sarcastic reference to "the sharp knife in the drawer," in a case of projection that would tax the powers of Freud himself. Grammar lesson: The double negative in English cannot always be perfectly replaced with a positive -- its use introduces a nuance. And it's not mere euphemism -- the term "anti-anti-communism" has a lengthy currency, and it was not invented by people friendly to the left. But then Shea is utterly hopeless in exegesis of people who disagree with him.¹ In fact, to be perfectly honest, before ever knowing Mark Shea, I had few opinions on "torture"; his intellectual sloppiness and vague moral grandstanding (plus the lying self-righteousness of certain others in St. Blogs) was the greatest factor in turning me against what-he-describes-as-Church-teaching. I would have voted against the McCain Amendment last year (and any other conceivable torture policy now) because of my longstanding suspicion of enshrining fine-sounding principles and vague aspirational terms into law, without spelling things out in detail. Once the moral self-congratulation and self-pleasuring is over, judges (including foreign ones in this case) and the administrative state then get the ability to define these terms as they like -- cf. "equal opportunity" and "privacy." The finer-sounding the principle, the more suspicious I am of it.
¹ Any Shea sentence that begins "What you're really saying is ..." or "What that really means is ..." is a cue to stop reading. Nothing that follows is reliable.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Why World War 2?

Some discussion has been raised at least as to the use of the term "Islamo-fascist," which I believe is originally derived from French, and whether or not it is appropriate to refer to our enemies as such. Myself, I've never had much of a use for the term because I generally think that it obscures just as much as it clarifies, particularly since "fascism" is now kind of a catch-all term designed to encompass everyone we don't like. If you look at how countries with large Muslim populations (Russia and India) handle the situation of what to call these people, they usual prefer to use some variant of Wahhabi that is then described as a foreign Arab import as opposed to the more traditional (and presumably peaceable) Russian or Indian versions of Islam. Personally, I don't think that it's that hard to expect people who want to talk about this subject to at least be familiar with the meaning of terms Wahhabi, Salafist, and Khomeinist without losing the understanding that all of them refer to Muslims given that we were all able to understand what communism was while recognizing distinctions like Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism. I actually believe that the administration's refusal to properly define terms in this fashion in favor of PC platitudes like "religion of peace" has actually contributed to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments among the American right and the general population as a whole since they are left without any kind of rational or reasonable means of distinguishing friend from foe in the Muslim world. In that sense, Islamo-fascist is probably an improvement, if an incremental one.

However, I've noticed that some commentators, most notably my favorite Catholic apologist, have taken their general dislike (and general ignorance) of neoconservatism to a whole new level by railing against the use of any and all World War 2 analogies to describe the current conflict, in large part because doing so would place them in the uncomfortable position of being modern analogues to or at least fellow travelers with groups like the America First types. Unfortunately for Mark, whose preferred foreign policy as long as the neocons are at the helm appears to be that of Pat Buchanan who, at least in A Republic, Not an Empire is kind enough to basically agree with the views of America First. How one can describe the war in Vietnam as part of an existential conflict for the West but not WW2 is beyond me, but the fact that this appears to be the stated worldview of the paleocon's foreign policy czar would be reason enough for me to suggest charitably that anyone who takes such a view seriously is either an idiot, a fool, or wicked.

Mark makes the "argument" here that:
Go read Daniel Larison take apart Big Thinkers like Ledeen and Hanson who are still vainly trying to press the phenomenon of jihadism into a "Fascism" mold, the better to sell their Greater America End to Evil plans to the American public.

... Larison's right: Muddled concepts make for bad strategy. Yet the President is still getting his talking points from people like Hanson. There is indeed a war to be won, but it won't happen as long as people cannot break free from the idea that every war is a war with Adolf Hitler.

The fact that Larison states in fairly absolutist terms that:
Well, what do you know? Radical Sunnis despise radical Shi’ites–it’s almost as if they were from opposing sects! (”I thought they were all Muslims,” Mr. Bush will be heard to mutter.) They despise secular dictators, too. Weird how “Islamic fascists” turn on each other, isn’t it? Now a wise man would exploit this hostility of Al Qaeda against three members of Max Boot’s ”Quartet of Evil” (Hizbullah plays the viola), rather the lump them all together in a mass called “Islamic fascism.” If this same man is at war with Al Qaeda, he would stop antagonising Al Qaeda’s natural enemies and use Al Qaeda’s hostility to all of us as a basis for common action against Al Qaeda. He would stop forcing Iran into a corner and would prevent Israel from launching some maniacal ”preventive war” against Iran and Syria. The wise man would fight his enemies and not someone else’s.

Is proof enough that he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. If you actually bother to read anything from the al-Qaeda literature, let alone statements by successive members of US military and intelligence community (no doubt every single one of them lies too, even when testifying to Congress), similar statements made by our Arab allies, etc, you would find that there is often much less to these types of disagreements than meets the eye.

But don't take it from me, take from bin Laden's official biographer Hamid Mir:
When I entered the hotel, two men searched me. It took me only a few moments to realise that this was no hotel, but a secret office of Hizbullah, a Shi'ite organisation that is resisting the coalition troops in Iraq.

I was produced before Abu Musa, local commander of the Hizbullah fighters. He was sitting on a revolving chair behind a big office table. A nicely framed picture of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was hanging behind him.

Abu Musa questioned me about the objectives of my visit. He was particularly concerned about a special card issued to me by the Jordanian ministry of information. "They issue this card to those who are very close to them," he told me. I told him that I got the card simply because I was coming from Pakistan through Jordan, and that I was in Iraq to just report on the current situation and that I was not 'embedded' with the coalition troops.

Finally, Abu Musa was satisfied and gave me permission to enter the shrine with a camera. He also delivered a ten-minute lecture on the need for a Shia-Sunni alliance against the Americans. "Hizbullah-Al Qaeda brother brother," he proclaimed. He placed a green and white band on my head with the famous Hizbullah slogan 'Ya Allah, Ya Hussein.'

If Larison spent more time paying attention to what people like Abu Musa actually say and less time to Arabist Western academics assuring us that such groups would never cooperate, maybe he would understand a little better why people in the Bush administration regard them as enemies of the United States. Larison, however, has a much simpler solution: Bush wants to fight someone else's enemies: Israel's.

Now Larison doesn't have to seek out bin Laden's favorite biographer in order to receive this information: it's all available to anyone who bothered to actually read the much-touted 9/11 Commission report and even Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, both which I'm certain that both Larison and Shea would have eagerly linked to had it served to bolster their contention that the war in Iraq was a Bad, Bad Thing. And while I can't speak for Larison, I can speak for Shea, who has shown himself to be either wrong or ignorant on just about every substantive geopolitical policy point relating to the war on terrorism ever since he started to go off the deep end with regard to his opposition to the Iraq war. This has also led to a complete embrace of the absolute worst elements of the paleocon narrative with regard to neoconservatism, which he seems to have settled on as the focus of all things evil in both the Republican Party and conservative movement in general. How he does this is in of itself a rather interesting (if ignorant) trick in which he more or less conflates neoconservatives in the GOP with both libertarians and the so-called "country club Republicans." As anyone who is even remotely familiar with either of the latter groups can tell you, the idea that libertarians or country club Republicans are sold on what Mark refers to as the "Greater America End to Evil" is so ignorant as to the political movement that he himself belongs to that it is probably best that he refrain from making such absurd remarks as these during his explanation as to why al-Qaeda isn't fascist:
The thing is, Al-Quaeda, for all its many unpleasant qualities, including a monomaniacal and murderous vision of Islam, is not fascistic in this way. If it is fascistic, then the Internet is Der Sturmer. Like the Internet, Radical Islamic terrorism is decentralized. It is characterized, not by goose-stepping regiments, but by independent cells of people with a common purpose, but not a common command structure. If "having a common purpose" is all takes to be a fascist these days, then I am a blogofascist along with all other bloggers, and the Internet is infested with Trekofascists who all love Star Trek.

Fascism in and of itself doesn't preclude decentralization (the personal ideal of the Nietzschean Ubermensch is in of itself pretty individualistic), but that's neither here nor there. The argument that al-Qaeda has decentralized from its pre-9/11 is one that's often made in media reports without getting into what all that entails. Because Mark clearly doesn't understand that, I'll explain it: bin Laden (who Mark assured us was dead until October 2004), al-Zawahiri, and the rest of the senior leadership cannot mastermind world events SPECTRE-style to the extent that they were able to pre-9/11 because of security concerns and hence have given local commanders like Zarqawi or his successor Abu Ayyub al-Masri far greater leeway in their day-to-day operations. A lot of the material that one encounters online is very much the result of a central propaganda operation, as can be seen from the fact that so many sites are "on message" all the time and to attribute all of this to individuals sells short the very real and very dangerous infrastructure that is actually in place. Most of the recent al-Qaeda videos released by their production company al-Sahab for instance, make use of modern techniques like the use of teleprompters, digital editing, and blue screening. It may not be Triumph of the Will, but it sure as hell is a lot better organized than the blogosphere or the Star Trek fandom.

But back to the original topic of World War 2, the reason the example is cited by conservatives is that it was the last time that the West encountered an existential threat in a "hot" war and decisively defeated it. An existential threat was also defeated during the Cold War, but the sad fact is that far too many people didn't regard it as such at the time and still don't, so World War 2 is the only that works as a universally agreed upon narrative. Moreover, that narrative serves as a kind of creation myth for our current international order and as such those who invoke it should probably be lauded for trying to return as clearly as possible to the first principles of our current international system in order to defend it. It is certainly infinitely preferable to the constant comparison made of Iraq to Vietnam (which for some reason elicits no international condemnation from the same quarters that find "Islamo-fascists" so reprehensible? I wonder why ...) that relies in large part on parochialism, hagiographic counter-culture nostalgia, and an abject lack of concern for the hundreds of thousands who died in Southeast Asia as a result of the success of the US anti-war movement to the point that those who continue to cite it as a rallying cry are so eager to repeat the experience in the Middle East.