Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why did Giuliani act so outraged at Ron Paul's observation about "blowback"?

Julian Sanchez explains in a superb videoblog at The Economist. I have transcribed a portion of it here:

“Ron Paul also caught a lot of flack for saying some unorthodox things about the perils of intervention. The response, predictably enough: outrage. Now, as others have observed, it seems extremely unlikely that Rudy Giuliani has really never heard of blowback theory. It's fairly obvious that Ron Paul was not just talking about Iraq there. And indeed, if he hadn't heard of it, he would have announced himself so ignorant that he was obviously disqualified from serious contention as our commander-in-chief.

So why would he say such a thing? Well, because observations like this about "blowback" — which is not a term that was made up at the American Prospect, it's the CIA's term — are very inconvenient for someone who wants to defend a hawkish policy going forward, but are also more or less indisputable. You can talk about how significant our past interventions have been, relative to others, in stoking hatred against the United States. You can debate whether some of these interventions were so justified that they were worth the cost. But there isn't really any informed or serious argument against the notion that this is a serious phenomenon and a serious factor in instigating anti-American sentiment.

So what do you do? Well, you have to act outraged, because you can't actually refute the point. The only thing to do is to act as though it's just obscene and beyond the pale and beyond serious discussion. And one way to do this is of course to reframe the claim that is being made, that is, to suggest that making Paul's statement is the same as saying that the United States has "invited the attack" or even "deserves the attack". Which, it should be obvious, is a totally distinct claim.

This is, as I suggested in my last videoblog, one more reason I'm glad that Ron Paul is up there. [The reason given there is that Paul's “critique of the war in Iraq, from essentially a conservative perspective, is one that a lot of voters aren't otherwise going to have a chance to hear.”] There are a lot of situations where the leading candidates — the ones with a shot at getting elected — have a vested interest in preserving a certain level of ambiguity in not letting themselves be pinned down to one or the other answer to a fairly binary question. And it's good that when they're saying stuff like this:
GIULIANI: "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of, shouldn't be torture, but every method they could think of." Waterboarding? "Well, I'd say every method they could think of".

HUNTER: I would say to SecDef, in terms of getting information that would save American lives, even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information.

ROMNEY: Enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used. Not torture, but enhanced interrogation techniques. Yes.
... there's someone who's prepared to call "bullshit":
PAUL: "I think it's very interesting talking about torture here, as it's become "enhanced interrogation technique". Sounds like Newspeak."
But pay no attention to him. As the conservative media will be happy to inform you, Ron Paul is well known to be double-plus ungood.”