Monday, December 10, 2007

On Torture and Global Warming, Bush Is More Than Just Out of Touch

It's one thing for a president to be out of touch with the realities of his country and the world. It's another thing entirely when that president, through his ostrich-like placement of his head in the sand (I was thinking of another destination for his head, but I decided to take the higher road ...), has destroyed the country's standing in the world.

Two issues have come up in the last week that have demonstrated how far the United States has fallen thanks to the policies of George W. Bush.

Yesterday, in Oslo, Al Gore was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his work educating the world on the dangers of global warming. In his speech, which was greeted warmly by those in attendance, Gore soberly and powerfully laid out the case of the damages caused by CO2 emissions to the ecosystem and the action that needs to be taken to combat these problems, something he has done thousands of times before. Just before the end of his remarks, he said:

"Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: 'What were you thinking; why didn’t you act?' Or they will ask instead: 'How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?'"

I doubt he meant it his way, but I can't help thinking that these are questions that need to be posed to Bush.

A week earlier, a climate conference was held in Bali (say what you want about the global warming crowd, but they certainly know where to hold an event), at which the new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, reversed his country's course and agreed to sign the Kyoto pact, leaving the United States as the last major industrialized nation not to agree to the treaty. Meanwhile, attendees rejected the Bush plan (technology, private investment and economic growth instead of mandatory emissions cuts) and called on the U.S. to wake up and become a leader in the fight to combat global warming before it's too late.

Essentially, the world has come together and agreed that we are facing a climate crisis, awarded one of the highest prizes possible to the man urging for immediate action on global warming, and yet the President of the United States thinks he knows better. He threatened to veto an energy bill passed by the house that called for mandatory cuts in emissions by 2050 (not exactly rushing things, after all), but was saved when his GOP-mates in the Senate blocked consideration of the bill, keeping the Democrats from getting the 60 votes needed to proceed.

So, on the global warming issue, Bush has turned the country into an ignorant, backwater, third-world country, marching on with our ruinous ways in the face of overwhelming evidence of impending disaster. As I've said before, Bush is a modern-day Nero, fiddling while his empire burns (or in this case, chokes on CO2 gas).

Unfortunately, this was the kind of week where, thanks to Bush, the U.S. didn't even take its worst hits over the climate change issue. Instead, the world got to see how far we've fallen as torture again took a front-and-center position in our government. Last week it was revealed that the CIA had destroyed two videotapes of interrogations of suspected Al-Qaeda operatives. On Sunday, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), appearing on ABC's "This Week," called for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate. Even Republicans, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who oppose the idea of a special counsel being appointed, still support investigations by the Justice Department and the CIA. And what does President Bush have to say about all of this? First, the administration said Bush was never told about the tapes, and now they have stopped discussing the issue in public.

To me, the debate over how to investigate the destruction of the tapes completely misses the point. What this incident shows is how much the Bush administration has destroyed America's place in the world. Thanks to the White House, to the world, the United States is a country that tortures. To be clear, I'm not naive enough to think that the U.S. has never been involved in nefarious activities abroad in the past, whether it was Nicaragua, Chile, or anywhere else. But making the leap from being a country in which bad stuff sometimes happens to a country who as a national policy supports torture (yes, I believe waterboarding is torture, and more importantly, so does the rest of the world, not to mention that subjects of interrogation in "friendly" countries like Egypt that faced far worse during questioning).

For Bush to put the imprimatur of law on interrogations that most of the world would call torture is disgraceful. In one simple decision, the president has reduced the moral standing of the United States in the world. How can we honestly criticize the limitations of rights in places like Russia and China when whoever we criticize can point their fingers back at us and say, "Look who's talking." And, certainly, by condoning torture, Bush has put the troops in the field at risk. Again, if an American soldier is tortured in Iraq or Afghanistan, how can the administration protest? Then again, Bush has shown so little regard for Americans serving in the military, I'm not sure why this issue should be any different.

And it's not like it's just liberals like me who are complaining. Many Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have spoke out on the need for the U.S. to reject torture. In the wake of the revelation about the destruction of the CIA tapes, McCain was quoted as saying, "What this does in a larger sense is it harms the credibility and the moral standing of America in the world again."

What makes this all so sad to me is the long-lasting effects of the White House's actions. Throughout American history, there have been ups and downs as different administrations come to power with different agendas and outlooks on the world. This ebb and flow of power is something that we all have come to accept and recognize as part of the American political system.

But what Bush has done has broken away from this traditional teeter-totter. He has stepped over lines and broken taboos that go to the heart of who we are as a nation. He loves to talk about "freedom," but by allowing sanctioned torture on his watch, he has deviated from hundreds of years of American policy and abdicated any moral leadership claim for the country. It's not like George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, or Richard Nixon sanctioned torture in this way, and they were all Republicans.

When the questioner in Gore's speech asks, "Why didn't you act?", the main response, for the period of 2001 to 2008, will be, "Because we had a president that was stubborn and just got it all wrong." The same answer holds for both sanctioned torture and global warming. And for Iraq and a dozen other important issues that arose during the Bush presidency. The clean-up of the damages caused by Bush's eight years in office will take unbelievable effort, and some of the damage is probably beyond repair. The only positive is that Bush won't be in charge to oversee the work. He would probably send "Brownie" down to run things and tell him what "good work" he's done. Then we would really be in trouble.