Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Deep Breaths

While I don't have many conservative-minded readers of this blog, I do know for a fact I have at least a few. Some of them have commented publicly in the past, some privately. They exist, though mostly as lurkers in the shadows of my left-leaning rants. I would be curious to hear from them, however, on this recent issue of investigating the CIA-withholding-information which has dominated my blog over the last week. I'd be interested in hearing if they, as non-politicians, find there to be value in a fact-finding, bi-partisan investigation into what information was withheld, why it was withheld, and who directed such actions to take place.

If I'm understanding the arguments correctly, here are the reasons (both explicit and implicit) being offered by GOP leaders as to why they are against such inquiries:

1) This issue is being raised to give Nancy Pelosi cover for her previous controversial claims that the CIA lied to her with respect to interrogation techniques.

Response: I may have jumped the gun on proclaiming that these new revelations help her case. Most information now seems to suggest the withheld information related to a program dealing with the assassination of Al-Qaeda operatives, not interrogation of detainees. While this would certainly substantiate general claims that the CIA is not above lies and deception, things I believe most reasonable people already assume to be the case, it does not help her case in the specific.

Further, if this truly was designed to give her cover, it ain't working. The GOP has been merciless on this issue and keeps bringing everything the Democrats say on this right back to the lap of Pelosi. This would mean the Democrats completely blew it in strategizing how to defend Pelosi---certainly a possibility, but then there's been no evidence of any collusion between Pelosi and the House Intelligence Committee and, as previously pointed out, Pelosi had pretty well made this go away by just shrinking from sight in recent weeks. This is not attention she wants (probably because she really did play fast and loose with her accusations). “The longer Democrats are talking and obsessing about the CIA, the more they are prolonging an already disastrous narrative for Nancy Pelosi and their party,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Why Democrats would want to keep this in the news is mind-boggling.” Good question, Ken. Maybe, just maybe...because it's not about Pelosi. Maybe it's about right and wrong?

2) These constant attacks on the CIA harm their ability to function successfully.

Response: I can honestly say that no Democrat wishes to impede the ability of the CIA to do its job. Where honest minds can disagree, however, is what methods are appropriate for executing the responsibilities of that job...especially since laws are already in place to govern those actions. More importantly, I've not yet heard a good connection made as to how or where such inquiries make it harder for the CIA to do its job. This argument is always made in a casual, non-specific manner...essentially suggesting that the connection is so obvious as to not merit further explanation.

I suppose the argument can be made that any time spent answering questions in an investigation is time spent not gathering and analyzing intelligence. True enough, but if the investigation has merit then that's just a fact of life that any individual or any agency has to deal with. I seem to recall a certain President being forced to deal with countless investigations during his two terms in office...some of which were valid and of his own doing, some of which were not. Somehow I don't think the GOP would have bought the argument from Bill Clinton that he shouldn't be investigated because it distracts him from doing his job. But maybe this isn't the causation the GOP means? I don't know. They've never said. I'm just guessing.

3) The CIA has helped keep us safe since 9/11. Their tactics deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Response: Liz Cheney said yesterday that she didn't think the Democrats were "up to handling national security," which sounds to me as though she doesn't think Democrats are willing to dirty their hands in the defense of the nation. I would agree that Republicans have showed a greater willingness to disregard laws if they feel those laws make it harder to protect us, but whether willfully breaking those laws is ultimately a good thing or a bad thing is certainly a valid question. This seems to be more of a philosophical debate---with one side willing to give almost unlimited power to the executive branch to do whatever it takes to defend this country, with the other side wanting to act pragmatically, but in accordance with well-established law.

Expansion of executive power isn't inherently a bad thing, but seizing that power without appropriate debate of the merits is fundamentally wrong. You want warrentless wire-tapping? Fine, let's discuss it. You want the power to redefine the definition of torture? Fine, let's discuss it. You want the power to create black-ops programs without informing anyone in Congress (even the Gang of 8)? Fine, let's discuss it. I don't think Democrats would be universally opposed to all of these ideas if there's legitimate reason to believe the benefits outweigh the costs. What they oppose, or at least what I oppose, is the belief that the power to break these laws is inherent in the Presidency. It's not. And failure to investigate instances where it seems as though these laws were broken is tantamount to approval of those acts. If the GOP approves---then just say so.

4) The Democrats are doing this strictly as a political move designed to punish Bush-era officials.

Response: If the shoe fits. But really, if crimes were committed, what's the fear? Even the GOP makes political hay by separating themselves from the Bush days. More to the point, this is sort of like beating a dead horse in terms of scoring "points." You can't really elevate yourself any higher by standing on the backs of ex-Bush-era officials. Also, if Nancy Pelosi broke the law, or if she lied, she should suffer the consequences, too. These are vastly different issues, of course, but the point is I want my officials to own up to their actions---right or wrong---and face the consequences. Accountability is not a political concept...it's an American one.

Did I miss any of the main points?

I'm really trying to understand why it would be so bad to get to the bottom of this. Why is it so bad to try and figure out the what, where and why? Also, for what it's worth, the Obama administration is threatening to veto the Intelligence Funding Bill if a provision is included which would expand the number of members of Congress who receive briefings on secret operations. Obama is no different from other Presidents in wanting to keep what power he has, but I disagree with him on this. I believe the balance of power should shift back towards Congress...for the very simple reason that we've seen what happens when power is put in too few hands. Sure, I trust Obama to exercise this power more prudently (and legally) than Bush did, but trust is never enough.



That's worth more than trust.


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