This post is a good start to thinking about wartime tactics in general, not just torture:
When you ask the question this way, one obvious point stands out: we keep beating the torturing nations. The regimes in the modern world that have used systematic torture and directly threatened the survival of the United States – Nazi Germany,WWII-era Japan, and the Soviet Union – have been annihilated, while we are the world’s leading nation. The list of other torturing nations governed by regimes that would like to do us serious harm, but lack the capacity for this kind of challenge because they are economically underdeveloped (an interesting observation in itself), are not places that most people reading this blog would ever want to live as a typical resident. They have won no competition worth winning. The classically liberal nations of Western Europe, North America and the Pacific that led the move away from systematic government-sponsored torture are the world’s winners.
Definitely! Basically his point is that national success in the modern world requires more than just getting intel out of captured enemy operatives — and if you do that too aggresively, it can harm those other goals. He makes this point:
It seems to me that the real question is whether torture works strategically; that is, is the U.S. better able to achieve these objectives by conducting systematic torture as a matter of policy, or by refusing to do this? Given that human society is complex, it’s not clear that tactical efficacy implies strategic efficacy.
Yup. So basically we can sum this up by saying “who cares if tortures works, it pisses everyone off and harms our interests!” Which is obviously what happened — it’s hard to believe that whatever tactical benefit we gained outweighed the damage caused to our longterm interests. Which is kind of funny, because the people who committed the torture agree! They knew that doing this would cause outrage — so they wanted the tactical benefits (torture) and to retain the strategic benefits as well: by keeping it secret. From this viewpoint (and I am not saying that Manzi is supporting it, just that he outlines it) people like Cheney are perfectly “correct” in saying that the people who publicized the torture are the ones harming American interests, because if we’d just all shut up, no one would have known, and we could have our cake and eat it too (I hate this saying). This just skips the whole “is it right to do anything to advance the cause of your country?” debate, which I’m sure we all have opinions about.
Looking at things through Manzi’s eyes brings up two additional points:
First, this means the Bush administration’s torture policy was actually at odds with their foreign policy. In the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the option of a nuclear retaliation was on the table. It may seem apocalyptic today, but if you remember late 2001, it was not so unthinkable. But instead, they chose to “win the hearts and minds” of the people in these countries. Even if you think the military campaigns in those countries were unacceptably barbaric, a great deal of restraint was shown — why didn’t we just carpetbomb Fallujuh out of existence? There were no lack of those who suggested it. So, in the course of war, we chose the slower, more painful, more costly option — rather than the safer, cheaper, but internationally and morally outrageous course of simply glassing over entire countries.
But then for torture, we did the opposite. We sacrificed morality for advantage. Why throw away your soul over a few terrorists when it was obvious that in public, the Bush administration was willing to sacrifice hundreds of soldiers to achieve a “good” war? Well, the chilling reality turns out to be: they thought they would get away with it, whereas I’m sure they knew most people would’ve noticed a mushroom cloud over Afghanistan.
This then leads to the second point: what crimes have our leaders committed in past conflicts that they were, due to scruples of the day, able to successfully conceal? Of course, some were proud to announce their crimes. But then, we revere them as national heroes. Perhaps Bush and Cheney feel that the lens of history will judge them in the same way.