In last Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate, the candidates squared off on national security and foreign policy. While the hawkish rhetoric aimed at Iran was not surprising, what was disconcerting was the level of enthusiasm that all but two of the candidates showed for the use of torture.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said he would support it “until the day I die.” Herman Cain advocated for using the “enhanced interrogation technique” euphemism. Other than Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Utah Governor John Huntsman, the others seemed to compete over who supported torture the most. But the biggest matter that stood out for me was not the illegality or legality of torture, but how an interventionist U.S. foreign policy of the last several decades has turned the issue of torture into the public debate.
What is a far bigger concern than the use of torture by the U.S. government, however, is the aggressive foreign policy that has bipartisan acceptance among mainstream Republicans and Democrats alike. Torture is simply one issue in a laundry list of problems that result from a foreign policy that focuses on offensive interventions, not defense.
In domestic matters, government intervention into the economy tends to create unpredictable and unintended consequences which are then used to justify even more government intrusion. The same goes for foreign policy as well.
When the issue of torture is brought up, it is usually in reference to terrorist suspects caught by the U.S. government. But as University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape points out in his analysis of terrorism, over 95% of suicide terrorism is a direct response to foreign occupation.
Over the past few decades, the U.S. has stationed troops in the Arabian Peninsula, subsidized foreign dictators, and initiated brutal blockades in the Middle East. The unintended consequences of these interventions are terrorism, which is why planes were flown into the Pentagon and not Switzerland.
And with terrorism come suspected terrorists. In response to these problems caused by government intervention, U.S. policy makers then wisely look to more government intervention to address the problem; in this case, torture, both at home and renditioned abroad.
Torture is a concern, yes, but it is just one small branch of the root of the problem: A global network of hundreds of bases in over one hundred countries, a $1.2 trillion per year military budget, and multiple on-going and open-ended wars.
With a foreign policy that focuses on defense, terrorism, and thus torture, it becomes almost a moot point. As Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former head of the Osama bin Laden unit, argued in a recent interview with RT, without a U.S. military presence in the Middle East, Islamic radicals would likely go after Arab dictators and quarrel amongst themselves. Not only would we be safer, but every American’s tax bill would shrink significantly.
The real shame behind the issue of torture is not that many politicians support it, but that it is a side effect of, and a distraction from, an interventionist foreign policy that is counterproductive, incredibly costly, and makes us less safe.
Photo Credit: takomabibelot