Thursday, June 5, 2008

A conversation with Dan Carlin

I talked to Dan Carlin a little over a year ago, and was fortunate enough to talk to him again. After hearing the two most recent episodes of his podcast "Common Sense," which dealt with the hefty subject of torture, I wanted to be able to grace my own blog with his brilliant thoughts. (I'm sure he'll love that line...) Our last conversation was at the beginning of the two presidential primary campaigns, and this comes right after Barack Obama sealing the deal on the Democratic nomination.

D: Both Barack Obama and John McCain represent a break from Bush's stance of tolerance in regard to coercive interrogations. Do you think that the Bush policies will survive into an Obama or McCain presidency?

DC: Well, judging from Obama's and McCain's public statements on the issue you wouldn't think so. They both seem to be quite anti-torture on a core moral level. But, I imagine this is only something that can be tested in another 9/11 type situation. It is easy to say you won't torture when people aren't feeling quite as threatened as we were after the WTC attacks. I doubt the Bush people envisioned going down the road they seem to have traveled on this before the attacks in New York and on the Pentagon. Events and conditions create the environment where people's minds can change very quickly on stuff like this.

I think what you will probably see is a much more targeted version of whatever it is we do now (because what we do is not exactly public knowledge) with clauses to cover extreme situations. I imagine Obama's will probably have less loopholes and be more targeted than McCain's...but that's just a hunch. I think we will see the "outsourcing" of torture continue though. It is a way to "have our cake and eat it too" on the torture issue. We can distance ourselves from the practice, while still essentially doing it via third parties. We can even pretend it is part of deporting someone back to their home country sometimes. There's a lot of "plausible deniability" built into this way of doing things. That might make it too valuable to get rid of in the eyes of the people running the they Obama's people or McCain's.

Let's just say that I am cautiously optimistic things will get better.

D: What do you fear most about an America that uses coercive interrogations or torture?

DC: Fear most? I think it is the crossing of some invisible line from one sort of society to another. And not so much in the laws and practices involved in torture, but in what laws and practices we as a people become comfortable with and accepting of. What sort of a people are we Americans? Well, one that is a lot more comfortable with the idea of torturing our enemies than we used to be only a decade or so ago. I fear the continual degradation of our standards.

D: How do you think the Bush Administration will be viewed by history?

DC: I think it is fun to pretend that we can see already how President Bush will be seen in the future, but we really haven't any perspective on the subject yet. We need at least a decade to begin to unravel
how the decisions made during this Presidency turned out. Did Iraq end up happily or unhappily? Did Iran nuke Israel because we didn't do something? Or does it go 180 degrees in the other direction? The way things turn out will determine the way history views Bush. He sure doesn't look very good right now. But, that's not uncommon with presidents when they leave office. Sometimes their standing grows with historians as time passes. They will certainly be seen as the Administration that crossed the torture line however..

D: How do you think Scott McClellan's tell-all book will impact the election?

DC: I don't think it will have a very large effect. The election is still a long way off, and McCain is distancing himself from the Rumsfeldian mistakes of the Bush Administration's past in a way that I think will probably insulate him from the McClellan book revelations.

D: Why do you doubt the sincerity of Bob Barr's conversion to libertarianism?

DC: Well, Bob Barr may be a libertarian...the Libertarians may be changing and they may BE the party of Bob Barr now (he did, after all, win the nomination). What I doubt is his commitment to the causes that were so important to more strident and longstanding members of the movement. Barr is certainly a "Johnny-come-lately" on many of the important libertarian issues and while this doesn't preclude his inclusion in the party, it's intriguing that it seems to not have badly affected his chances of becoming the party standard bearer. Don't you want your central figure in the Party to have better credentials on the bedrock issues? I would. But, I'm not in the Libertarian Party, so maybe it's not my business.

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