Back to Business
It's past time for perspective on Iraq.


By now we’ve engaged in enough political self-flagellation to drive away a dozen plagues, including the one at Abu Ghraib prison. Congress and the media are thrashing our military leadership in manner and degree usually reserved for those who lost a war because they were drunk when a battle began. Kofi Annan and Jacques Chirac have lectured us that the Abu Ghraib abuses wouldn’t have happened if we’d only listened to them and kept our hands off Saddam. Enough is enough. It’s time to turn our backs to the media feeding frenzy and get back to fighting the war. Our soldiers have had no break from it. It’s time to end ours. To do that, we need to deal with the covey of antiwar ideas that the Abu Ghraib scandal has flushed out of the weeds. The Left is using another end-run from its Vietnam playbook.

The Vietnam-era antiwar crowd used the far more serious My Lai and Kent State incidents to make the public believe that our policies were inherently immoral, and thus so also must be our goals. In succeeding, they thwarted the policies that could have won that war. The Abu Ghraib mess–about which we have lost all perspective–is now being used to the same purpose. All the indignation is aimed at changing two of our most basic and vital policies. One is a campaign issue, the other a media attack on the president and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (with Sy Hersh upping the ante with his Rummy-okayed-it-all piece in this week’s New Yorker). First, the antiwar types are trying to change the way terrorist prisoners are treated, creating a false and dangerous standard we cannot meet if we are to gain the intelligence we need. Second, they want to use the prisoner-abuse scandal as a moral lever against Bush’s policy of preemption against terrorism. We must thwart them in these attempts, because it is on these policies that our success in this war depends.

Their second thrust is easiest to parry. The idea–now embraced by John Kerry–is to abandon the preemption policy in favor of U.N. quagmire diplomacy. But what is Kerry prepared to do? If he refuses to preempt, he must be willing to absorb terrorist attacks here before employing military force against terrorists. “Get shot first and ask questions later” is not a policy that will appeal to many Americans. The use of extraordinary interrogation methods for terrorist prisoners is harder, but only until we clear away the blanket of fog the media have spread over it.

We need to remind the antiwar crowd of a basic question: Who would you rather see come out on top in Iraq? The people who will court martial the Abu Ghraib leash girl, or the barbarians who cut off Nick Berg’s head?

I forced myself to watch the whole film last Wednesday. The barbarity of it is indescribable. One minute, the jump-suited and manacled Berg is sitting in front of his five masked captors. One of the thugs reads a long-winded statement promising more acts of jihadist bravery like the one we are about to witness. Several minutes into it, the five break into hysterical shrieks while Berg is knocked down and–the agony etched forever on his face–his head is hacked off with a Rambo knife.

I felt the same watching the Berg murder as I did on 9/11, watching the innocents throw themselves out of the World Trade Center windows. It’s a helpless anger that you can’t avoid. But it is real anger, and we should let it simmer while we talk about what to do. Outside the Beltway, where Real America lives and talks, a familiar rage is building. They are angry about the obviously unsolved problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in many other countries where terrorists continue their barbarism.

Consider this part of a long e-mail I got from Phil Lebkuecher of Houston. It’s typical of the many e-mails and phone messages I’ve received in the past week: “I just saw the pictures of the American, Nick Berg, having his head cut off. My question is where is the outrage by the humanitarian groups? When [are] Sen. Ted Kennedy and Carl Levin going to the well of the Senate demanding that these terrorists be stopped? Where’s Sec. Kofi Annan and the famed, but oh so spineless, Security Council? Where is the international community asking for a man not to be butchered? What about the families of the four Americans who got back burned pieces of their loved ones that had to be cut down off a bridge?”

The bleatings of Congress, the NYT, and CBS News don’t reflect the real world. Americans were outraged by Abu Ghraib, but that anger is past. Americans want results, and–so long as we obey our own laws and treaties–strongly support whatever interrogation techniques we use to get information from the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

According to the latest installment of the NYT’s jihad against the war, the CIA is using extraordinary interrogation techniques in questioning al Qaeda bigs like KSM, Ramzi Binalshib, and Abu Zubaida. In Iraq–as the Sunday Post condemns the “policy of abuse”–we are doing horrendous things such as having interrogators “…throw chairs and tables in the man’s presence” and “invade his personal space.” According to the Post, these horrendous practices were followed by, “put[ting] a hood on his head, and tak[ing] him to an isolated cell through a gantlet of barking dogs; there, the police were to strip-search him and interrupt his sleep for three days with interrogations, barking and loud music….”

That’s it?

These methods break down a prisoner’s resistance and disorient him. But it’s not torture. In fact, as I’ve written, we can (and should) extend the rules of terrorist interrogation to include medically supervised and chemically assisted interrogation. If you have someone like KSM, you should shoot him so full of sodium amatol or Versed that he thinks he’s talking to God.

That’s not torture. We don’t do torture, for two very good reasons. First, we aren’t the barbarians we are fighting. And second, it isn’t productive. Torture anyone enough, and he will tell you anything you want him to. When you torture someone, all you get is useless information. Use proper–and properly tough–interrogation, and you might get information that can save American lives. Maybe hundreds of them.

Those who oppose the idea of America pursuing its own defense with aggressiveness and decisiveness want to deprive us of the means of victory by shackling the way we fight. The Post editorial concludes that, “…no gains could possibly justify the abuses that have been exposed or the damage done when an American secretary of defense declares to the world that holding detainees hooded and contorted is in keeping with international law and American values.” The Post could not be more wrong. If one American life is saved by treating prisoners a bit roughly, it’s more than worth the price we may pay in world opinion now. Terrorists operate outside all of the rules fashioned by civilized states to prevent wars from being fought in uncivilized ways. In order to defeat them, we have to adapt the old rules to the new war. It’s not pretty, but it is necessary, wise, and legal.

That is a point apparently lost on Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Sanchez’s announcement on Friday that no extraordinary interrogation methods will be used in Iraq betrays a weakness we cannot afford. If he and Bremer aren’t up to the job, they need to be replaced with people who are.

Abu Ghraib happened. The courts martial are sheduled, the process is working. It’s time for the rest of us to move on from Abu Ghraib. Saddle up. Let’s get back in the war.

Jed Babbin, an NRO contributor, is author of the forthcoming book, Inside the Asylum: Why the U.N. and Old Europe are Worse than You Think.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review