The Strategic Value of Torture

Jim Manzi discusses torture here. I find the discussion uncomfortably cold-blooded, but it has the accompanying virtue of clear-headedness and cutting to the crux (unlike those from his compatriot Johah Goldberg at The Corner). The important (extra-moral) question is not torture’s tactical value, but whether it achieves America’s strategic goals.

That’s a damned good question–it’s actually the question that BushCo didn’t get, and it’s the question that Obama has put front and center in his rethinking of America’s foreign policy (diplomacy, military, trade, the whole ball of wax).

What Manzi doesn’t consider in this piece is the crucial question that accompanies his: what are America’s strategic goals, and how are they effected by the Bush torture regime? In particular, how are those goals affected over the decades as our children come of age and take their places in the world?

Here are some possible strategic goals (again reluctantly putting aside for the moment the fundamental moral repugnancy of torture):

  • To prevent foreign terrorist acts against Americans–on American soil and/or abroad.
  • To protect the American homeland from military invasion.
  • To reduce armed conflict worldwide.
  • To increase American power and influence over other countries–the ability to convince our friends and coerce our enemies (and vice versa).
  • To increase access to American trading parters abroad.
  • To make it safe for Americans to travel the world or live abroad.

On the last item, the BushCo crowd and their most vocal love-it-don’t-ever-leave-it supporters don’t really like the idea of travelling abroad. (Do you think Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and company are planning any world tours?)  They don’t seem to understand why anyone would want to.

Personally, I put that item quite high on the list–not only for its inherent goodness (I want my girls to have that international mobility in their lives–to be welcomed far and wide [think: Jackie Kennedy]), but because it’s a bellwether for all the other goals.

So, judging by that single goal for a moment: If torture results in killing or capturing a few dozen terrorists, how does that weigh against millions or hundreds of millions who come to hate us (or like us a hell of a lot less) as a result?

That question is aptly applied to the other strategic goals as well. I’m encouraged to see that the Obama administration seems to be doing exactly that, and that pundits who have previously ignored or dismissed the issue (i.e. “soft power” pooh-poohing) are now actually considering it.







One response to “The Strategic Value of Torture”

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