"Hard To Defend"

This sentence appeared in my column this week: "[Obama] cannot ignore the pressing need for good intelligence gained through wire-tapping after 9/11." Larison pounces:

Someone will need to explain to me how someone can muster extraordinary moral outrage at immoral policies (e.g., torture), but can at the same time countenance manifestly illegal, unconstitutional ones.  The latter are more corrosive to our system of government and the way that our government operates, because they are less obviously outrageous, yet collusion with illegal surveillance does not begin to compete with collusion with a torture regime in the Obama supporter’s reactions.  If Obama had “moved to the center” away from his position condemning the Military Commissions Act, would we be hearing about how Obama was a shrewd, clever politician, or would we instead hear outraged cries about betrayal and lack of principle?  Do Americans’ civil liberties matter less than opposition to torture?  Some Obama supporters’ reactions would suggest that they are.

Er, yes: in my view, congressionally approved wire-tapping is morally preferable to torture and less constitutionally and legally corrosive. It is very difficult for me to understand a worldview in which it weren't. My major concern with wiretapping was the executive branch's unilateral and unaccountable power-grab. While I'm linking to Larison, let me respond to this:

The reason to vote for Obama, perhaps the only reason, is that he represents something significantly different from McCain in terms of policy. In the absence of that, Obama hasn’t got a lot to offer besides an interesting biography and the odd pretty speech.

Couldn't agree more. But Obama in my view, for all the pragmatic exigencies of the moment, does represent something significantly different from McCain.

Finding a way not to jeopardize those gains we have made in the surge, if we can, while remaining committed to withdrawal is fundamentally different than an open-ended commitment to "victory" and a desire to stay in Iraq for the rest of our lives. This is not as clear as the debate before the war began - in or out? - because it has to deal with the reality the invasion and occupation have created. And in the execution, McCain's and Obama's two positions may well be closer than some debaters would like, especially in the short term. But the long term will be deeply affected by each man's long-term vision. McCain is still trying to make the original concept work; Obama isn't. He's about damage control. In this respect, Obama is more of a realist and conservative than McCain. And the possibility Obama uniquely offers is a way out that brings America's soft power more to the fore, and makes America's internal divisions less profound.

In all this, it strikes me as fundamental - for the trust of both the American and the Iraqi people - that Obama never believed in this war to begin with, while McCain strongly did (and has not reversed himself). Moreover, the more the Iraqis are convinced we are serious about leaving - and they will be more convinced if Obama is president - the swifter their necessary accommodations may be. All of it will be very very tricky. Which is another reason to favor the politician gifted at conciliation.