I know I’m almost obsessive about this point, but I keep flashing back to Mark Bowden’s willingness to be a front man for security functionaries eager to normalize torture. Bowden’s article assured readers that “harsh interrogation” had reached a point of trust-worthy technocratic professionalism in Israel and now potentially the United States. Don’t worry, he said: professionals only use it when they need to, only against those individuals who have knowledge that our trusted leaders must have. It’s won’t be as if some sweaty thug in a filthy gulag is ripping off fingernails just to intimidate a political dissident, that’s only a danger with unprofessional regimes that torture unnecessarily. I mean, it’s not as if we’d be doing something that an infamous authoritarian regime used extensively against dissidents. Besides, who needs moral capital when you’ve got stealth bombers, right?
I’m with those who are finding Obama’s general election recalibrations disquieting. The whole point of the audacity of hope and so on is not that Obama finds the most leftward positions he can and sticks to them doggedly in order to please the netroots. What is the point, however, is that I understand it to be a commitment not to conduct politics-as-usual, with pandering a-plenty and busy vaccinations against right-wing smears. Obama could personally command a bomber mission against Tehran tomorrow morning, have an ultimate-fighting cage match against John Walker Lindh in the afternoon, and get an American flag branded into his chest in the evening, and he’s still going to get smeared. I don’t know what his FISA stand buys him except maybe an assurance to the Congressional Democrats that he’s not going to be a Jimmy Carter outsider who is going to cut them out of the loop the moment he gets into office. I’m looking for Obama to have the courage of some convictions, so if I were him, I’d pick some rock to stand on pretty soon where he can make it clear that on some points, he cannot be moved.