That Cain and company would seek so stridently to re-litigate bad terror law policies makes sense only in the cynical world of modern American politics. It's easier to spout off on terror detainees, to give bumper-sticker answers to complex questions, than it is to talk sensibly about Greece, or the Euro, or the economic fate of Europe itself. Those vital topics of international intrigue evidently were not discussed Saturday night at the "foreign policy" debate held at Wofford College and sponsored by both CBS News and the National Journal.
These candidates know their prime audience of conservative voters. They knew the Saturday night crowd wouldn't be interested in hearing too much about high finance or foreign debt structures. And they know that Al-Awlaki or Khalid Sheik Mohammed wouldn't have any slick-talking tribunes in the "spin room" after the debate. These candidates are selling a return to the "good old days" of Abu Ghraib by taking advantage of the vacuum of objective truth about torture, a void intentionally left in place by both the Bush and Obama administrations.
There is plenty of blame to go around for a world in which presidential candidates gleefully make arguments that were long ago rejected by the nation's most sensible leaders. You can blame the media for covering this issue as though the competing views were morally or legally equal. You can blame the voters themselves for not demanding more from their candidates. You can blame elected officials in Congress for exhibiting cowardice on topics like civilian trials for terror suspects and closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Today, however, I would like to blame President Barack Obama for the silliness we saw and heard Saturday night. He practically invited it when he refused to authorize a national commission on torture-- a so-called "Truth Commission"-- that would have filled with factual testimony and documentary evidence the vacuum that now exists on the topic. Such a commission would likely have done for the torture debate what the 9/11 Commission did to all the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. It would have separated fact from fiction.
When President Obama let all those Bush-era officials off the hook, when he didn't push for indictments or even Congressional hearings on the topic, he famously said that he wanted to look forward, not back, on the debate over torture. Even though some civil libertarians warned that such magnanimity would backfire on the president, Obama was generally heralded at the time for not putting the nation through the agony of serious self-reflection. Legal and political accountability took a back seat to convenience; we all took the easy way out.
That was in 2009, back before the 2010 election and the debt/deficit debate, back when the President still naively believed that America would be better off if he acted like a bipartisan statesman rather than as a partisan politician. The problem, then and now, is that the disgraced advocates of torture, men like Dick Cheney and John Yoo, never agreed to the truce. They took the gift of mercy the Obama Administration gave them-- no trials, no testimony, no reckoning-- and repaid it with scorn. One side disarmed; the other didn't.