Every moment, and every statement that a public official of the U.S. government makes must convey in the strongest possible terms that we will fight, that we will hunt down terrorist, and that we will be resolved to win a long hard war. Any less will give evil hope. Any less will damage our country far more than Abu Ghraib related P.R. problems. I personally think the Vice-President is wrong in his defense of the current position, but I don't believe for one second that he is losing us any true friends, or manufacturing any new foes with his words. Let our enemies fear us, let's encourage that fear, let's place so much fear of our might out there that the next generation of jihadis will decide that 72 virgins aren't worth it. That's what the Vice-President and President are doing and I say keep on keeping on.Well, here's the thing, isn't it the responsibility of the country's leadership to make sure there is at least some consensus before making bold pronouncements about the means we will use in prosecuting our cause? It seems to me that the 'unified front' argument proves too much, in that the Pres. or VP can take an extreme position, and force consensus upon us by saying that disagreement aids our enemies. This is simply bootstrapping.
While they may be correct in saying that dissent does give encouragement to al Qaeda, and hurts our morale, that is not and cannot be a justification for unilateral imposition of measures that the body politic, as a whole, finds objectionable.
I don't think that reasonable minds differ on the importance of being resolute in the favor of the global bully that is international terrorism. (Kurt Vonnegut, sit down...) However, when leadership takes a position that the vast majority of the polity finds incredibly objectionable (90-9 says something doesn't it?) on both moral and practical grounds, we are supposed to stay silent? Not to be overly dramatic, but down that road lies tyranny. My sense is that most people are prepared to give elected leaders the benefit of the doubt, but at a certain point, that deference is exhausted, and the evil of not speaking out begins to outweigh the evil of encouraging our enemies.
There is plenty of blame to go around here, I feel. The left has vastly overplayed its hand on the "Bush lied" meme. If it had stopped at calling for an explanation of why errors were made, that would have been the end of it. (And silence on the adminstration's part would have been telling, as there is an obvious, and acceptable answer in that it was better to be safe than sorry on this one, plus Saddam was a bad egg and had to go. I'll buy that for a dollar...) Many of those who supported going to war and are now claiming it's time to get out are acting brazenly politically.
However, the right has gone too far in the 'cowardice' and 'un-patriotic' attacks, and has acted indefensibly on the torture issue. If you think that torture is useful and appropriate, make the case for it, straight up. Don't say "we don't torture" and then both get caught torturing, and defend the right to torture even though "we don't".
Our system of government requires consensus building. In this instance it is vitally important. I'll quote Nixon's first Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, who knows a few things about nation-building and foreign conflict:
A sour relationship on Capitol Hill could doom the whole effort. The importance of this solidarity between Congress and the administration did not escape Saddam Hussein, nor has it escaped the insurgents. In the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, television stations there showed 1975 footage of U.S. embassy support personnel escaping to helicopters from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. It was Saddam's message to his people that the United States does not keep its commitments and that we are only as good as the word of our current president. We failed to deliver the logistical support to our allies in South Vietnam during the post-Watergate period because of a breakdown of leadership in Washington. The failure of one administration to keep the promises of another had a devastating effect on the North-South negotiations.(emphasis mine. Whole article here. Lenghty, yet fascinating read. I don't think I have to foreign affairs chops to express much of opinion one way or another on his overall conclusions, but the quoted text is right on, I feel.)
There are no guarantees of continuity in a partisan democracy. We are making commitments as to the future of Iraq on an almost daily basis. These commitments must be understood now so they can be honored later. Every skirmish on the home front that betrays a lack of solidarity on Iraq gives the insurgents more hope and ultimately endangers the men and women we have sent to Iraq to fight in this war for us. We are now committed to a favorable outcome in Iraq, but it must be understood that this will require long-term assistance or our efforts will be in vain.
We have to think before we act. And part of that thinking is solicitation and consideration of many viewpoints. Solidarity is a two way street.