The Torture Debate Luxury

Once in a while Tom Friedman makes a reasonable argument:

…the post-9/11 environment remains perilous. One more 9/11 would close our open society another notch. One more 9/11 and you’ll be taking off more than your shoes at the airport. We have the luxury of having this torture debate now because there was no second 9/11, and it was not for want of trying. Had there been, a vast majority of Americans would have told the government (and still will): “Do whatever it takes.”

So President Obama’s compromise is the best we can forge right now: We have to enjoin those who confront Al Qaeda types every day on the frontlines to act in ways that respect who we are, but also to never forget who they are. They are not white-collar criminals. They do not care whether we torture or not — bin Laden declared war on us when Bill Clinton was president.

I believe that the most important reason there has not been another 9/11, besides the improved security and intelligence, is that Al Qaeda is primarily focused on defeating America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — particularly in Iraq. Al Qaeda knows that if it can destroy the U.S. effort (still a long shot) to build a decent, modernizing society in Iraq, it will undermine every U.S. ally in the region.

Conversely, if we, with Iraqis, defeat them by building any kind of decent, pluralistic society in the heart of their world, it will be a devastating blow. Odd as it may seem, the most dangerous moment for us is if Al Qaeda is beaten in Iraq. Because that is when Al Qaeda’s remnants will try to throw a Hail Mary pass — that is, try to set off a bomb in a U.S. city — to obscure its defeat by moderate Arabs and Muslims in the heart of its world…

Amazingly, Friedman not only considers the left’s position on aggressive interrogation of terrorists to be irrational, he also makes a strong neo-con argument for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, that the Islamists (and that includes Iran) feel most threatened by a “decent, pluralistic society in the heart of their world.” This, it should be noted, is contrary to the usual liberal argument that our overthrow of Saddam was a gift to Iran.

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