I think you can see from my July 2005 post labeled "Talking about Federal court rules against ex-bin Laden driver" that I am not opposed to special treatment for prisoners of the so-called War on Terror. (A better name might be "war on jihadists" or "war on Moslem extremists". A true war on terror could be won simply by our refusing to allow ourselves feel the emotion, terror, when we hear about isolated atrocities committed against some of our citizens. In fact, I don’t think that most Americans are terrorized by the news of such attacks; what we feel is anger.) But I believe I understand the reason for the continued gulf between Americans who support Bush and those who consider him stupid and venal.
A difference between Bush supporters and Bush bashers is that the former mentally fly that early Revolutionary War Flag that depicted a coiled rattlesnake with the words "Don’t Tread on Me." I suggest that their policy is to either deter or destroy opponents. The Bush bashers, on the other hand, seem to believe that if we simply set a good example for the rest of the world, our enemies will not have success in recruiting followers to their causes. In reality, probably neither approach is correct all of the time. There are times when we need to take a stand and be tough. But there are also times when it is better to be friendly and to win over the hearts of your enemy. Some sage said that if everyone followed the principal of an eye for and eye, eventually the whole world would be blind.
The ribboned Naval Lt. Commander JAG assigned to defend Bin Laden’s chauffeur, the man whom the Supreme Court case was nominally about, makes a convincing argument for the latter approach to winning the War on Terror. From his meetings with the chauffer, and his meetings in Yemen with the chauffeur’s large family, he says he is personally convinced that the guy was not a terrorist, but just trying to earn a living as a chauffer with a 4th grade education and had no ideological leanings. The members of that family, and the chauffer himself, are potential converts to the American political system. As the Naval attorney said, these people live in a place where the idea of successfully challenging a nation’s leader in court is unheard of. Where they come from, courts and police are not independent of the head of state. He also said that, in his experience, interrogators are more successful in getting useful information from captives when they act friendly toward the captives rather than when they act tough.
The War on Terror is proving to be a long one that has no end in sight because new terrorist groups are forming even as we eliminate existing terrorists. Every time we kill one member of a family, wrongly or rightly, we have the potential of having the other members of that family seeking revenge. So we might be eliminating one possible terrorist but creating ten more. Ask yourself, in the long run is it better to convert ten potential terrorists to our way of thinking or to keep imprisoned one possible terrorist who might not even be a terrorist? Will victory come on the battlefield or by showing to the potential recruit to Moslem extremism the ways in which our way of life is superior?
Bush comes from Texas. I recall a story about a motorist in Texas who had his oil changed at a service station before heading out into the desert. The service station failed to to put the oil drain plug back in the engine properly, so, after some tens of miles of desert driving, the engine froze up, stranding the driver in the desert. Somehow he managed to make his way back to civilization and to the service station. He then shot and killed the mechanic who had made the error of forgetting to tighten the drain plug. He was arrested and taken to court for arraignment. The Judge heard the charges and ruled "justifiable homicide." This is the part of our country where horse thieves got strung up by vigilantes. A frontier justice mentality on the part of descendants of the pioneers who settled the red states of the West and Midwest should be understandable.
On the other hand, don’t the blue states include many of the original 13 colonies? During the American Revolution, their ancestors used a much milder form of "terrorism" to incite opposition to the Crown. The Boston Tea Party might be considered an act of economic terrorism. Reportedly Americans who expressed Tory viewpoints (people who remained loyal to George III, which I understand was a large minority, perhaps almost half the population) were tarred and feathered. Today that would be called cruel and inhuman punishment, but at the time it was a source of amusement to those not being so treated and a source of dismay to those who might otherwise have been vocal in opposition to Independence. So it may be understandable that the descendants of the revolutionaries might be somewhat more sympathetic to terrorists and place great value on support of the Bill of Rights restrictions on the powers of the Executive and on the separation of power doctrine.
As we all know, the US political system of separation of powers is somewhat unique. Most, if not all, other democracies use some form of the parliamentary system, in which the head of the legislature, the Prime Minister or Premier, is the chief executive. Separation of powers is a slow and inefficient system, but our Founding Fathers recognized that and felt it preferable to having an Executive Branch with unconstrained power. Persons in red states need to recognize that there are valid reason to constrain the President, even if his intent is to protect us from terrorists. Similarly, people in the blue states should understand that there is nothing evil in trying to protect yourself and your family.
Neither red state nor blue state viewpoints are inherently right or wrong. I think our country’s future depends upon finding some comity between what are currently bitterly opposing camps. When President Bush was elected to his first term, he said that uniting the country was one of his priority objectives. Unfortunately, perhaps President Bush’s greatest weakness has been his inability to successfully carry out most anything he attempts to do. But that will be the subject of a separate posting.