Grasshopper Soup: What would you do if you were president?
November 23, 2010
TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212;-It has been asserted that former president George W. Bush, on his recent book promotion tour, admitted he broke the law. He did say he water boarded three people. As to the legality of his actions, he said it was a group decision. The president would have been negligent to go it alone. It is impossible to defend a country without information. Since they were forced to prevent the unpreventable, the group reasonably assured themselves that it was unavoidable, necessary and legal for them to extract information by force.
The law is about the legality of forced interrogation, but shouldnand#8217;t we also consider the and#8220;properand#8221; use of force? Bush knew no civilized response would thwart an enemy bent on destroying western civilization. Consider that, then prove Bush had malicious intent to violate the law. It wonand#8217;t be easy. Like all citizens, he is innocent until proven guilty.
Imagine how you would feel if you were president, your country was threatened with continued surprise attacks, and, to protect it, you had nothing but bad alternatives to choose from; you do everything you can, and some of the people, who survived because you made a solemn oath to protect them, accuse you of being a war criminal.
How would you have identified and eliminated every threat to your citizens if you had been President of the United States on the day the twin towers were attacked? How do you identify an invisible threat? Considering what was at stake, how would you have carried all that weight for so many years? How do you balance your obligation to protect your citizens with legal theories? The pickle you are in is inescapable, and being punished for fighting your way out of it because itand#8217;s your job is the furthest thing from your mind.
The answer can only be found in the synthesis of several applicable laws, and how we judge those who, through no fault of their own, in an extremely urgent and dangerous time, are forced to confront a suicidal ideology bent on the destruction of America. When you donand#8217;t know where the next threat is coming from, there is little time to waste.
Do you open your eyes to the reality that we are living in a world where thousands more could be killed any second? Do you consider the possibility that the attacks may continue indefinitely? As president, youand#8217;ll be damned if you do, and damned if you donand#8217;t.
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You might quit. Or, since it was clear that what you had to do was impossible, you can despair and fall apart. Or, you get the upper hand. You get all the information you need to fulfill your obligation to protect your people. Bush probably did all of the above.
I cannot defend torture, or the invasion of Iraq. But I can understand the deeply complex moral nature of the entire dilemma, because we all face it. The most harmless and innocent among us are now suspected terrorists in airports this Thanksgiving. We should be concerned. We confront an enemy far more uncivilized and nihilistic than we are.
The global tension and conflict, whatever the scale, between the sovereign right of western civilization, values and diversity to exist, versus the religious fanaticism of militant, Islamic jihad, will not be resolved by the strict observance of a law. The very nature of the conflict is ubiquitous, and unpredictable. The next threat could come from anywhere, at anytime.
There is an inescapable, universal irony to the dilemma Bush faced, and the decision Harry Truman had to make about using the atomic bomb. Both historic actions should be seen in a full, world context, where the word and#8220;civilizedand#8221; doesnand#8217;t mean much to your foe.
Walk a mile in the shoes of the accused. Then you will understand why Truman used the atomic bomb, and why Bush approved water boarding.
When you must act, and all your options are bad, all you can hope for is mercy.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 28 years.