In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: “Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujahideen will, with God’s permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities.” Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation’s results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: “What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?”
Americans should keep this worst-case scenario in mind as they watch the tragicomic spectacle taking place in the wake of the publication of the Justice Department’s interrogation memos. It will help them recognize this episode of political theater as another major step in the bipartisan dismantling of America’s defenses based on the requirements of presidential ideology. George W. Bush’s democracy-spreading philosophy yielded the invasion of Iraq and set the United States at war with much of the Muslim world. Bush’s worldview thereby produced an enemy that quickly outpaced the limited but proven threat-containing capacities of the major U.S. counterterrorism programs — rendition, interrogation and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks.
Now, in a single week, President Obama has eliminated two-thirds of that successful-but-not-sufficient national defense troika because his personal ideology — a fair gist of which is “If the world likes us more we are more secure” — cannot tolerate harsh interrogation techniques, torture or coercive interviews, call them what you will. Surprisingly, Obama now stands alongside Bush as a genuine American Jacobin, both of them seeing the world as they want it to be, not as it is. Whereas Bush saw a world of Muslims yearning to betray their God for Western secularism, Obama gazes upon a globe that he regards as largely carnivore-free and believes that remaining threats can be defused by semantic warfare; just stop saying “War on Terror” and give talks in Turkey and on al-Arabiyah television, for example.
Americans should be clear on what Obama has done. In a breathtaking display of self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance, the president told Americans that his personal beliefs are more important than protecting their country, their homes and their families. The interrogation techniques in question, the president asserted, are a sign that Americans have lost their “moral compass,” a compliment similar to Attorney General Eric Holder’s identifying them as “moral cowards.” Mulling Obama’s claim, one can wonder what could be more moral for a president than doing all that is needed to defend America and its citizens? Or, asked another way, is it moral for the president of the United States to abandon intelligence tools that have saved the lives and property of Americans and their allies in favor of his own ideological beliefs?
Before enthroning Obama’s personal morality as U.S. defense policy, of course, some dirty work had to be done. Last Sunday, Obama’s hit man and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel led the charge by telling the American people that the interrogation techniques are a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and its Islamist partners. Well, no, Mr. Emanuel, that is not at all the case. The techniques surely are not popular with our foes and their supporters — should that be a concern in any event? — but they do not even make the Islamists’ hit parade of anti-U.S. recruiting tools. That list is headed by Washington’s support for Arab tyrannies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its presence on the Arabian Peninsula and its unqualified support for Israel. Still, Emanuel’s statement surely sounded plausible to Americans who have received no education about our Islamist enemy’s true motivation from Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton or George H.W. Bush.
Next, the president used his personal popularity and the stature of his office to implicitly identify as liars those former senior U.S. officials who know — not “argue” or “contend” or “assert” but know — that the interrogation techniques have yielded intelligence essential to the nation’s defense. The integrity, intellect and reputations of Judge Michael Mukasey, Gen. Michael V. Hayden and others have now been besmirched by Obama because their realistic worldview and firsthand experience do not mesh with the president’s desire to install his personal “moral compass” as the core of U.S. foreign and defense policy. And after visiting CIA headquarters last week, the president made it clear that he rejected statements surely made by CIA officers who risked their careers to tell him how many successful covert operations against al-Qaeda have flowed from interrogation information. As with all Jacobins, Obama cannot allow a hard and often brutal reality — call it an inconvenient truth — to impinge on his view of how the world should and must be made to work.
And so as the Justice Department memos farce plays out over the coming weeks, Americans can be confident that both parties will play politics to the hilt while letting the nation’s safety take the hindmost. Obama and his team will “reluctantly” agree to a congressional investigation of former Bush officials and serving CIA officers, politically targeted indictments from Holder’s minions and perhaps even a truth commission to prove that even the United States can aspire to be a half-baked Third World country.
Republicans will welcome the Democrats’ actions as a chance to reclaim their mantle as the most reliable protectors of U.S. national security. They will seek to prove that Obama and his party are eager to persecute the men and women who defend America and will denounce Democratic actions as a “witch hunt.” Those words were used last week by Sen. John McCain, a man who seems to have forgotten that as a presidential candidate he, more than anyone, persuaded Americans that the interrogation techniques amounted to torture and gloried in calling the CIA and its officers a “rogue institution.”
Americans and their country’s security will be the losers. The Republicans do not have the votes to stop Obama, and the world will not be safer for America because the president abandons interrogations to please his party’s left wing and the European pacifists it so admires. Both are incorrigibly anti-American, oppose the use of force in America’s defense and — like Obama — naively believe that the West’s Islamist foes can be sweet-talked into a future alive with the sound of kumbaya.
So if the above worst-case scenario ever comes to pass, Americans will have at least two things from which to take solace, even after the loss of major cities and tens of thousands of countrymen. First, they will know that their president believes that those losses are a small price to pay for stopping interrogations and making foreign peoples like us more. And second, they will see Osama bin Laden’s shy smile turn into a calm and beautiful God-is-Great grin.
Michael Scheuer, the chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, is the author of “Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq.”
Published: The Washington Post