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Lunch With Tom Friedman

I went to a Brandeis University lunch yesterday at which Tom Friedman (who, like me, is an alumnus) was speaking. As usual, he was mellifluous, funny, coherent and riveting. What's more he struck at the very heart of the torture issue tearing America apart. He spoke also about the economy, the environment and the collapsing system of nation-states that I believe no one in the Obama administration has yet confronted. But that's another question. I've been limning out my thoughts about this here for a while, and I am looking forward to Tom doing the same in his New York Times column, suspended now for a few months so he can update a book. (This is a loss for the op-ed page but a boomlet for the Times' bottom line.)

Tom thinks that the president addressed the history and future of torture by the United States exactly right, at least from his position as chief executive of a country that cannot find moral closure on the matter now. (Tom expands on this argument in his column today.) Looking towards tomorrow, Obama said "no more," but with many crucial details yet to be resolved. I'm myself am not so sure that handing out the four Department of Justice memos was especially helpful. After all, reading legal documents is rarely an enlightening experience. Still...

What was very wise on the president's part was to say "no" to putting any figures from the Bush administration in a dock for the righteous to batter, either directly in trials or before some inquisitorial tribunal that cannot punish but can torment.  We will see whether the left-wing Democrats can restrain them from exercises that will not allow us to fix on anything in the future.

The fact is, as Friedman indicates...

Al Qaeda was undeterred by normal means.  Al Qaeda's weapon of choice was suicide.  Al Qaeda operatives were ready to kill themselves--as they did on 9/11, and before that against U.S. targets in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen--long before we could ever threaten to kill them. We could deter the Russians because they loved their children more than they hated us; they did not want to die. The Al Qaeda operatives hated us more than they loved their own children.  They glorified martyrdom and left families behind. ... They do not care whether we torture or not--bin Laden declared war on us when Bill Clinton was president.

Tom makes a surprisingly fresh argument about Iraq. (I had thought there were no fresh arguments to be had on our fight there.)

If we, with Iraqis, defeat them [and I don't think my friend means only Al Qaeda] by building any kind of decent, pluralistic society in the heart of their world, it will be a devastating blow.

This is a post-script of sorts. But it all fits together logically and conclusively. Now, if Diane Feinstein wants to continue to stalk George Bush, let her.