Political Animal


THE ECONOMIST TAKES ON TORTURE….The Economist is a magazine that I both enjoy and respect. This week their lead editorial was titled “Is torture ever justified,” a subject I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, concluding that “Torture is barbaric and unworthy of us. We should not tolerate it. Period.”

So I opened the magazine with trepidation, but was gratified to find this:

The prohibition against torture expresses one of the West’s most powerful taboos?and some taboos (like that against the use of nuclear weapons) are worth preserving even at heavy cost. Though many authoritarian regimes use torture, not one of even these openly admits it. A decision by the United States to employ some forms of torture, no matter how limited the circumstances, would shatter the taboo. The morale of the West in what may be a long war against terrorism would be gravely set back: to stay strong, the liberal democracies need to be certain that they are better than their enemies.

George Bush has said that the fight against al-Qaeda is a battle for hearts and minds, not just a matter of military power. Though critics focus on his sabre-rattling, Mr Bush has been consistent in his claims to be defending human rights and democracy, and he has persisted in reaching out to Muslims, though he rarely gets credit for this. To keep the moral high ground, he needs to bolster public disavowals of torture by specifying the methods American interrogators can employ, by enforcing the limits, and by desisting from handing prisoners over to less scrupulous allies.

Unfortunately, the issue of official torture has gotten very little attention since the original Washington Post story about it last December, and it’s nice to see The Economist ? which has been a strong proponent of regime change in Iraq and has taken a pro-American stance on the entire war on terror ? take it out for a stroll in the sunlight.

American conservatives, who have lately prided themselves on their moral clarity, seem to have lost their voice on this issue, but as The Economist puts it, “To evade the question is hypocritical and irresponsible.” It is indeed.


DOES NORTH KOREA HAVE A BOMB?….Mario Carino writes to point out another oddity in the whole North Korea situation: do they have a bomb or don’t they?

I’ve been wondering about that myself, but figured my ignorance was just due to my usual cavalier approach to reading the daily news. But no:

“Don’t be quite so breathless,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell cautioned one interviewer who expressed alarm on Sunday. “Yes, they have a large army, and, yes, they have had these couple of nuclear weapons for many years, and if they have a few more, they have a few more, and they could have them for many years.”

….But, despite administration claims, it is not so clear-cut that North Korea is already a nuclear weapons power. In early 1993, the CIA began circulating an analysis that North Korea may have obtained enough fissile material to produce one or two bombs. But, even today, that analysis is the subject of dispute, with some experts dismissing it as little more than a “back of the envelope” calculation. It is based largely on the amount of plutonium that would be needed for a nuclear weapon and how much North Korea is estimated to have diverted from its nuclear facilities.

In other words: who knows? In any case, apparently the North Koreans haven’t admitted anything, which seems odd since they’ve copped to just about everything else.

North Korea is indeed a morally bankrupt dictatorship and certainly will get no defense from me. But I am nonetheless curious about the basic facts of the situation and whether those facts show that they are technically in violation of their treaty obligations. In a post yesterday I quoted Sebastian Holsclaw as suggesting that building a bomb violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but now that doesn’t appear quite as clear. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they had, but I wonder if the adminstration has more proof of this than they’ve been willing to publicly release?

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I know that most people refer to North Korea as the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), which is their official name, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. They are neither democratic, concerned about people, nor a republic, and one out of four just isn’t good enough.

ALL ABOUT OIL?….I’ve been holding

ALL ABOUT OIL?….I’ve been holding my nose and supporting the idea of regime change in Iraq for several months now, but today Atrios points to this disturbing article in Newsday:

Bush administration officials are seriously considering proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay the cost of a military occupation, a move that likely would prove highly inflammatory in an Arab world already suspicious of U.S. motives in Iraq.

….There are strong advocates inside the administration, including the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as “spoils of war,? according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the dialogue.

I can’t tell you how much I hope this isn’t true. I have no love for the Bush administration, but I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt on their motives and conduct in the campaign against Iraq. But it’s getting harder every day.

The morality of appropriating Iraqi oil doesn’t seem to matter to these guys, but shouldn’t they at least be concerned about the practical consequences? The entire Arab world would turn against us, European suspicions would be justified, and every small country in the world ? already spooked by our “axis of evil” talk and newly minted doctrine of preemptive war ? would start charging headlong down the path of trying to get hold of their own WMDs in case they’re the next country in our crosshairs.

For millennia the proper response of a victorious country in war was to punish the loser and demand reparations. After World War II, the United States ? partly from virtuous motives and partly out of fear of communism ? figured out that rebuilding its former enemies was a better idea. And it worked pretty well.

We have a chance to do the same here. It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, and the possibility of failure is high even with the best of intentions, but it would be disastrous not to try. Any other plan would send us well down the road of becoming a world pariah, and only after it’s too late will the neocon hawks discover that even the world’s sole superpower can’t exist without friends.

There’s only one piece of good news here: the idea apparently comes from Dick Cheney’s office. Colin Powell seems to have perfected the art of letting Cheney shoot himself in the foot for a while before gently shooing him out of the room and taking things over. Hopefully the same thing will happen here.