Conservatives have their knickers in a twist over the decision by the Obama administration to try terror mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and associates in civil court. Consider the 11/14/2009 editorial in the Wall Street Journal:
Attorney General Eric Holder... called his decision to move their trial on war crimes from a military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay to American soil "the toughest" he has had to make. Other words come to mind. For starters, intellectually and morally confused, dangerous and political to a fault.
The Journal's editors sneer at the idea that trying KSM & Co in a NY courtroom has anything to do with returning to the rule of law after Bush illegalities. After all, the Obama administration finds it OK to try the USS Cole bombers with military tribunals. The decision flies in the face of common sense.
Most Americans, we suspect, can overlook the legal niceties and see this episode through the lens of common sense. Foreign terrorists who wage war on America and everything it stands for have no place sitting in a court of law born of the values they so detest. Mr. Holder has honored mass murder by treating it like any other crime.
But if you read The New York Times editorial of 11/13/2009 you get the reverse argument.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. took a bold and principled step on Friday toward repairing the damage wrought by former President George W. Bush with his decision to discard the nation’s well-established systems of civilian and military justice in the treatment of detainees captured in antiterrorist operations. From that entirely unnecessary policy (the United States had the tools to detain, charge and bring terrorists to justice) flowed a terrible legacy of torture and open-ended incarceration. It left President Obama with yet another mess to clean up on an urgent basis.
You get the point.
Of course, as a card-carrying conservative, I'm with the Journal on this. I think that the trial is political, in that the Obama administration, after riding liberal outrage all the way to the White House, needs to give its supporters the red meat they desire. In my view the Democrats were probably in on the early decisions on the treatment of unlawful combatants in 2001-2002 and probably nodded them through. But then they changed their minds.
Nevertheless, I think that we need this trial. There are a number of issues on which liberals are determined to disagree with conservatives, among them the argument over Keynesian or supply-side economics for fighting recession and growing a healthy economy, the argument over the use of US military power, and the argument over the welfare state and its compulsion.
In my view, the conservative side on these great issues has been proved again and again. Keynesian economics is rubbish; it merely rubber stamps what politicians like to do: spend money and play favorites. US military power is a force for good, and we want it to promote democratic capitalism against its enemies. The welfare state is a murrain upon the poor and one of the greatest injustices of all time.
But liberals clearly have not been won over by argument, or by the successes of conservative government in recent years: the Reagan boom, the end of the Cold War, the success of welfare reform. Therefore I think that they need to be able to implement policy their way one more time and then let the American people judge the worth their ideas and their governance, one more time.
It will cost a fortune; it will cause untold misery in the world. But I just don't see any other way. And it looks like the Obama administration is shaping up as a gift to America, a stark demonstration of the folly of liberalism.
In my view, the American people are in the middle of a huge reassessment about the nature of the political parties in the USA, and they are discovering that they never liked liberals. I think we may be heading towards a staggering mid-term election in 2010 that will blow the doors off politics-as-usual.
But first liberals have to have their civil trial in New York to demonstrate their opposition to torture and Bush lawlessness. And their corrupt stimulus. And their unjust health care reform bill. Then we shall see.