A reader writes:
It seems to me that your chief purpose in life is to quarrel with the rest of the conservative community - not to end torture. If that latter was your aim (and a much more worthy aim it is) then you wouldn't cherry-pick quotations the way you did with Jonah Goldberg. Why not show your readers the whole thing:
Sullivan might look to his absolutism on torture for guidance. He takes the principled stand that anything that smacks of torture must be absolutely taboo, even though his assertions on what is and isn't torture ultimately boil down to his own subjective judgments. In fact, with some caveats, I've basically moved to that basic position myself
Jonah is agreeing with you, you jackass. If you were the least bit charitable, you might acknowledge this fact. He is merely noting that different people have different points at which they would personally draw the line and classify something as torture - so he wants to ban any interrogation method that "smacks of torture". Don't you realize that a united front of conservatives who expressed this opinion forcefully - say in an open letter to the President - might actually make a difference. This is why conservatives like me have been so incensed by your approach to this issue. So far, you have used it for the purpose of moral preening, as a wedge issue to divide conservatives.
I don't actually think the issue is that complicated. Whether or not you think X is torture or not and whether you think it may yield useful intelligence or not is irrelevant. The use of torture or even the apparent use of torture is hurting the image and honour of the United States and thus hurting the war effort on the diplomatic and ideological fronts. It just isn't worth it. If you would concentrate on getting this message across, I don't think you would find too many people who would disagree with it.
Well, I have used this argument repeatedly. And I have used others. I think in retrospect that I should have acknowledged Jonah's concession with a lot more grace than I did. If my work has served to alienate people I need to persuade, then I need an attitude adjustment. I can only offer in defense that no issue has, in my view, hurt the US or the ability to maintain both an international and national consensus on the core morality of the war against Islamist terrorism than America's embrace of torture. And the ways in which conservatives have sought to deny, obscure or even defend this have appalled and, yes, angered me.
Perhaps if I didn't believe in conservatism's core decency I would not be as angered by its slide into indecency. That's where the bad attitude comes from. But it shouldn't cloud the effort to stop this evil, with as many allies as we can muster.
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