Friday, September 28, 2012

Torture, Drones, and Deal Breakers

Here’s yet another reason not to vote for Mitt Romney.

In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.

By contrast, Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011, and not a final decision by him, its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.

“We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now,” he said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in December.

War and its craft is inherently dangerous and morally problematic — at least to this Quaker — so I feel that giving Mr. Obama credit for not using illegal methods to extract information is a hollow gesture at best.  But knowing that Mr. Romney has no qualms about using techniques that are clearly outside the law and have doubtful outcomes anyway except degradation or death makes it clear that in the sorry business of human destruction, he’ll go to lengths that do nothing but make it vengeful.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of bloggy back and forth about an essay by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf on his declaration not to vote for Mr. Obama because of his use of drone weapons.  I’m not going to rehash their arguments (that’s why I have supplied the links), nor am I going to launch into a long treatise about the conundrum that we face in picking a person to be the president.  We all know that among his many duties is to be the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and that job will, at some point, including ordering people into battle where death and destruction will follow.

Mr. Friedersdorf can make all the “lesser of two evils” arguments he wants and he can prioritize his moral stance on war and peace to his heart’s content.  Personally I include the knowledge of warmaking into the calculus of my choice in the voting booth, knowing full well that while I would love to have a president who declares he or she will never take America into armed conflict, there’s a real world out there and that’s not going to happen.  I don’t need to have a pacifism pecker contest when there are other issues that equally touch our lives.

I would love to be able to vote for a presidential candidate who swears off drone weapons and makes that the so-called “deal breaker,” but it is never that easy.  It’s bad enough that we’re still in Afghanistan many long years after proving our point and only making it worse.  There is one thing I do know — at least I believe it to be so — and that is that President Obama will not start a war just to start one.  Unlike Mr. Romney or the previous Republican administration, going to war is not something you do in order to shore up your base in the Iowa straw poll.