Chris Matthews: C'mon, you're crazy if you think Al Qaeda's going to stop torturing if we do

Via the Daily Caller. He’s right, but … I’m not sure anyone, up to and including nutty Joan Walsh, is claiming otherwise. (If Al Qaeda ends up ratcheting down the barbarity, it’ll be because of lessons they’ve learned from ISIS, not from the U.S.) On the other hand, opponents of EIT do frequently say that we need to set an example for the rest of the world in renouncing torture and I’ve never understood that argument either. Who are we setting an example for? Which countries are going to change how they handle terrorists because Dianne Feinstein released the CIA report? Don’t we count on other countries to stick with enhanced interrogation for our own rendition purposes?

There are defensible reasons to oppose EIT. You can oppose it as being immoral, regardless of what intelligence gains might be had from it. You can oppose it for being too dangerous of a slippery slope, a special concern now that Obama’s expanded drone warfare to include jihadis with American citizenship. You can oppose it because it produces bad information under duress, something that’s certainly true in some cases but not as universally true as anti-EIT absolutists insist. You can even oppose it, a la Joe Biden, because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside to do so, the left’s own version of American exceptionalism. I don’t really see how you can oppose it as a way to influence other countries, though, except as a minor piece in a propaganda chess game. Renouncing CIA torture won’t stop Vladimir Putin from getting rough with his own prisoners but it will undercut him a bit if he argues that he’s only doing what the United States enthusiastically does to its own detainees. “Not enthusiastically!” we can now say. So, yay. Besides, the propaganda value in having global media revisit this old subject is much greater to someone like Putin than the propaganda loss he’s suffered in having Senate Democrats — who tolerated these practices for years before it became an issue for their base, of course — declare that America is sorry and will never do it again. For instance, here’s how the report is playing on a much-followed Twitter account devoted to Iranian propaganda:

The lesson abroad won’t be that the United States regrets what it did but that the United States did it in the first place. Nor, I assume, will this count for much in restoring our “standing” abroad, or however this silly argument goes, when we’re still practicing drone warfare and will continue to do so for years to come. That’s probably the most irritating thing about liberal sanctimony on EIT: They crow about it not because it’s the most dubious practice of the war on terror — “signature strikes” from drones are harsher by any measure — but because the torture program can be laid more neatly in Bush’s lap, without as much culpability for Obama. If you doubt that there’s a partisan undercurrent to all this, eyeball this graph at FiveThirtyEight and note how torture became more popular in 2009, as Obama took office. That seems counterintuitive at first glance; support for torture should decline over time, you would think, as we get farther from 9/11. But that’s not what we see, and the reason we don’t see it is mainly because of a 10-point jump in support among Democrats five years ago — which coincided, of course, with Obama replacing Bush as president. Quite simply, some Democrats are okay with torture so long as a “more responsible” president, i.e. a guy on their own team, is in charge of it. And that’s also why left-wing criticism of the drone program, which is loud enough to get Obama to deliver a speech on the subject now and then but not quite loud enough to make him worry politically (especially when the media leaps to applaud him for being so thoughtful and conflicted ‘n stuff on the subject), has failed to end the practice. Obama’s as guilty as Bush is of war by drone, if not more so, so they can’t get too shrill about it. And so, surreally, we end up with results like this on the left’s hometown cable news network:

One policy is associated with Bush, the other — the more severe policy — with Obama. The results change accordingly. Remember that the next time you’re subject to an impromptu lecture on torture. Exit question: What on earth is Walsh talking about at the end here, arguing that EIT obviously doesn’t work because it hasn’t singlehandedly eliminated every major terror group on the planet? Even by usual Joan Walsh straw-man standards, that’s pretty Walsh-y.

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