The Waterboard Of Wars

A reader writes:

Re: your response to Megan McCardle on war and torture, I wanted to point you to an exchange that James Poulos and I had several weeks ago about a similar set of questions. James had claimed that it was our "extreme queasiness with not only deploying large numbers of troops but with fighting a full-throated, full-throttle war" that forced us to "rely on a different set of extraordinary techniques to try to make up for the fact that we're not prosecuting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as if the only goals there were military victory" - in other words, "our dark turn down the torture road is a consequence of our late-modern, small-l liberal nausea over real war". In response, I argued the contrary: rather than being an alternative to the imposition of "total war" on our enemies, the turn to torture was the product of a mindset that is inseparable from the one that drove us to war in the first place:

... in each case, the underlying conviction is that it is appropriate to resort to violence, not only as a direct punishment for wrongs already done, but with an eye to preventing future evils: we torture, not because the person at hand has already attacked us, but so that we can find out what he and his companions are planning to do and keep them from putting those plans into action; we invade Iraq, not because they actually did us any wrong, but because of the conviction that the best way to protect ourselves is by hitting the bad guys first. Once we have bought into the underlying idea, we find ourselves justifying torture with very much the same ease that we lend our voices to the cause of preemptive war.

My suggestion, in other words, was that while war crimes - or at least officially sanctioned/encouraged ones - aren't essentially "part of the cost of war" (to use Megan's phrase), they're pretty much what we should expect when the war itself is one of aggression.

The discussion continued, as you might imagine, here, here, here, and here, and involved James coming up with a typically wonderful appellation - "The Waterboard of Wars" - for our involvement in Iraq.