Monday, April 27, 2009

What's Wrong With Doing Right? Part 1

Earlier last week, the Obama Administration released a Bush Administration-era memo revealing both the techniques and the guidelines for its policy of interrogating terror suspects…what critics to this policy call torture. While I am opposed to the notion of torturing criminal suspects in order to obtain confessions or other information—in principle—I fully endorse it (in a relative sense) in the defense of American citizens and to prevent another 9-11-type attack. What I mean is, as far as I am concerned, questionable techniques for obtaining information for the aforementioned reasons are excusable…insofar as they do not result in physical mutilation/permanent physical damage or death.
Why is this an issue on Beyond The Political Spectrum? In and of itself it is not. However, there is something questionable about the revelation of information to the world at large, and to potential terrorists in particular about the lengths and limits the country will go to in order to defend itself and keep its citizens safe. If a potential terrorist plot is uncovered and suspects are rounded up and interrogated, what good is the need to try to obtain information about co-conspirators or knowledge of similar plots when the suspects know what’s going to happen to them and how far their interrogators are willing to go in order to extract information needed to foil a threat? This action seems geared toward appeasing those on the political left who were not fond of the Bush Administration’s policy on (certain aspects of) the War on Terror. The politics surrounding the release of this memo is an example of why it’s so hard for government to do the right (read: “practical”) thing…namely our ever-present need to put politics, political ideologies, and personal desires ahead of what’s needed.
This is not meant to pick on only liberal Democrats; I find conservative Republicans even more complicit in the ideological and political tit-for-tat which stymies pragmatic policymaking. There is something abhorrent about a group which seeks to govern based on ideological principle rather than reality, and history is replete with examples of why this should be avoided…the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Apartheid government of South Africa, etc. Granted these are extreme examples, the dynamics are pretty much the same…policy over need. Take for example the touchy subject of gay marriage.
Personally, I think the notion of two men or two women marrying each other is as wrong as two left shoes (I'm not going to pretend that I understand what homosexuality is. I have my own theories, but I will save them for another time and another argument), especially considering that most of us can agree that the Founding Fathers didn’t fathom the notion when they crafted the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, nor was it even contemplated when it came to the 14th Amendment—the equal protection clause. However, its safe to assume that gay people aren’t going anywhere soon, nor is it likely that they will cease their continual attempts to address the “right” to marry someone of the same sex, simply because it offends our religious and/or cultural mores. Yet conservative ideologues continually adhere to their personally-held beliefs that homosexuality is a biblically-proven immoral lifestyle, and therefore continue to ignore the demands of homosexual activists for total social equality. Whatever one’s philosophical beliefs are, the fact is that an ideologically-based party or group, especially one that is in power, cannot be given the green light to ignore an entire segment of a population based solely on personally-held beliefs. If anything, some kind of compromise should be struck to the point where the solution doesn’t violate the traditional sanctity of marriage, but at the same time recognizes some kind of civil union or civil recognition of domestic partnerships that would allow for benefits to be shared between partners (and for their part, gay activists need to concede that their cause and lifestyles are choices which should be protected by law, but not sanctioned by law to such a ridiculous degree. There is something existentially limiting about anyone who's identity is based on their sexuality rather than their humanity).
Part of the problem with political ideology being the root of policy paralysis is plain old political and personal selfishness. This was why both the U.S. and the world stood idly by during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. While the Clinton Administration split hairs on the distinction between what was actually occurring in the African nation—genocide—and what definition would safely keep it from sending American and other Western troops as per the United Nations charter —“acts of genocide”—some 800,000 ethnic Tutsi (and sympathizers) would be slaughtered while the world did nothing. Granted, America and President Clinton were still smarting from the highly-publicized death of U.S. soldiers during the during the ill-fated U.S.-led peacekeeping mission Somalia from the previous year, what was occurring in the African nation was a humanitarian crisis on a scale that hadn’t been seen since the 2nd World War, and demanded a equally humanitarian response if only for the reason that it was the right thing to do. But as with most thing that involve policy, we allow our ideological and/or personal beliefs to get in the way of doing the right thing. We like to say that we "love America," but how many of us are willing to set aside our desires for political power, to advance our ideological agendas, or our selfish desires to make it a better place?

To Be Concluded

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