A Philosopher's Blog

Palin, Obama, & Terror

Posted in Ethics, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 5, 2010
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While some folks regard Palin as a shallow thinker (at best) she does an excellent job of presenting the thoughts and feelings of a certain segment of America. She also excels at sticking to the Republican‘s talking points. Interestingly enough, the views that she expresses when criticizing Obama about the war on terror nicely raise the contrast between Obama’s views and those allegedly held by Republicans.

On Fox News she raised the usual point against Obama by pointing out that “We are in war. These are acts of war that these terrorists are committing.”

While the Republican’s take the line that Obama does not get that we are at war, this does not seem to be the case. Obama, of course, says the word “war” to describe the situation and we are still conducting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, we are still actively involved in the more general conflict with terrorist groups. As such, Obama seems to get the idea that we are at war.

I suspect that Palin (and other Republicans) do not harp on the “we are at war” point to try to convince Obama that we are, in fact, at war. Rather, I think that the line is that “we are at war, so we have to act like we are at war” and by this they mean “we are at war, so we can, should and must act in ways that violate Constitutional, moral, and human rights.” As Palin puts it:

“We need to treat them a little bit differently than an American who is worthy, an American being worthy of our U.S. constitutional rights. I don’t think the terrorists are worthy of our rights.”

The first claim, that terrorists need to be treated differently, can be taken as a reasonable claim. After all, terrorists (like criminals) act in ways that are different from law abiding citizens and hence should be treated differently. After all, people who break the law get treated differently-they are punished. Of course, Palin makes it clear that she does not mean this. Rather, her point is that the terrorists should not have our rights because they are not worthy of them.

This view does have a certain appeal. After all, when people act badly (be they terrorists or criminals) it is natural to think that they deserve less protection from the law and also forfeit some of their rights.

In some cases, it is reasonable to argue that people should be denied certain rights based on their actions. For example, someone who murders someone should have his right to liberty restricted because he no longer deserves that right. Of course, this should be done after a trial that involves due process. After all, to justly take away someone’s rights requires establishing that doing so would be just. To take away the right before the trial would be rather unjust and to hold no trial at all would be extremely unjust.

The same applies to terrorists who are captured. To strip them of their rights before their trial or to not hold a trial at all would be to act unjustly.

The usual counter to this is to restate that we are at war. After all, we do not conduct trials during firefights to see if we can shoot back at the enemy.While this is a reasonable point, it does not establish that captured terrorists should not be subject to the rule of law. After all, when the police come under fire, they can shoot back without holding a trial first. This fact does not prove that we should not hold trials for criminals who are captured or surrender.

Palin, not surprisingly, is very much against the idea that fighting terrorist is a matter of law enforcement. She says,

“Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at great risk because that’s not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we’re at war, and to win that war we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.”

This is, of course, a stock point: the terrorists do not respect the rule of law and they “know we’re at war” (that is, they are willing to do whatever it takes to win), so we need to be like them.

While being as bad as the enemy does have a certain appeal (eye for an eye and all that), this is a war of values. In the West, we put forth the rule of law, human rights, and justice as being among our most important values. We also pride ourselves on our ethics and often cast this battle with terrorists as a moral struggle. In short, we are fighting for our values against their values.

As Palin points out, the terrorists do not value the rule of law, they do not respect human rights, and they have a badly distorted view of justice. But, if we take her advice and accept that being at war means we can be like them in this regard, then we have lost this war in a very meaningful sense. Each day that we remain true to our values, we win. As such, those who would tempt us away from these values is aiding the enemy.

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18 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on March 5, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Perhaps this is what she had in mind:

    President Obama’s advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City.


  2. magus71 said, on March 5, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    “While the Republican’s take the line that Obama does not get that we are at war, this does not seem to be the case.”

    Who said this? Which Republican?

    • P.E.N.Name said, on March 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war?” Cheney asked.
      Or isn’t he a ‘real’ republican?

      • magus71 said, on March 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm

        ok. Now maybe Mike should focus more on the morality of the terrorists and not what Sarah Palin said.

        By the way–what government position does Cheney hold? For that matter, which one does Palin hold? It’s interesting that more time is spent on Republicans that hold no office than the ones that have real seats.

        By the way, the only problem I have with the way Obama is prosecuting the war in Afganistan is the fact that we are there at all. Mike agrees. But where are the endless articles about this needless war?

      • P.E.N.Name said, on March 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

        I’ll concentrate on your second paragraph then move on to the left-over question from my first post. I’ve never spent more time with Cheney or Palin than I have with other republicans. As I have in the past, I’m perfectly willing to deal with the likes of Mitch “I come to praise this bill and later vote against it” McConnell
        This was the Conrad-Gregg Bill that was co-sponsored by 6 reps who subsequently voted against it, The republican sponsor, Gregg voted for it. Presumably he’s not a real republican. The above mentioned reps do hold office–am I correct?
        I’m interested/intrigued/baffled/amused by this growing tendency among republicans to cull out the real(fatty tissue) republicans from the fake(silicone) ones. You asked “Who said this? Which republican?”. I don’t think you were asking for a citation. That’s something you could have easily googled in about three seconds.I think you were implying that no self-respecting republican would be dumb enough to say such a thing.So I Cheney must be a rino.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

      Surely you watch Fox News…

  3. magus71 said, on March 5, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    This entire argument is a strawman, Mike.

    “While being as bad as the enemy does have a certain appeal (eye for an eye and all that), this is a war of values. In the West, we put forth the rule of law, human rights, and justice as being among our most important values. We also pride ourselves on our ethics and often cast this battle with terrorists as a moral struggle. In short, we are fighting for our values against their values.”

    I’m just shaking my head. This is getting to be too much. It’s happenuing too often. Arguments against things that don’t really exist or aren’t true. Who is saying we should be as bad as the terrorists? Are we putting bombs inside animal carcasses so farmers get killed? Are we beheading people in the name of a malevolent god?

    We did much, much worse in the past. For you to say this will lose this war is very wrong.

    I would argue this: That the terroists have set themselves outside the warrior ethos. They have broken the age-old code of the warrior and have become a mere mob, a horde. Warriors win battles, not politicians. Politicians win elections and tell people things they want to hear. And here’s a terrible secret: Warriors like to fight. The terrorists stepped outside a very ancient ethos that states the fight is between warriors, not between civilians and warriors.

    Not to mention that the terrorists think that people who think like you are weak. You think they think like us. They don’t.

    And TJ is exactly correct. Palin and most of the Republicans are saying that terrorists should be tried in military courts if they commited atrocities in a war fought against the United States.

    I agree.

    • T. J. Babson said, on March 5, 2010 at 3:26 pm

      Obama has stopped taking prisoners and doesn’t bother with trials. He is just taking people out with predator strikes–no fuss, no muss.

      SP, on the other hand, has never been responsible for the death of anyone.


      The number of drone attacks has increased dramatically since Barack Obama replaced George W Bush as US president early last year.

      There were 45 drone attacks during Mr Bush’s two terms of government, compared with 51 during the first year of Mr Obama’s new administration. In the first two months of this year, up to 140 “militants” have been killed.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        I guess Obama knows we are at war, then. Unless he thinks he is playing a kickass video game. World of Dronecraft, perhaps?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm

      How, exactly, is it a straw man? I do not seem to be attributing to Palin anything that she did not say or is not clearly implied by her claims.

      I do not think that they think like us, nor did I say that they do.

      If terrorists think that having moral principles is a weakness, then they have yet one more false belief. I don’t think I have said anything that indicates that I believe terrorists think as I do. They clearly do not hold to the moral principles I accept.

      It is odd that you say I am attacking a straw man and then say that we, in fact, have done “much worse” things in the past. Are you saying that we used to do awful things, but no one would suggest doing anything wrong now?

      Losing the war is something that can be done in a variety of ways. After all, this “war” is not a simple thing. Part of the battle, as Bush himself claimed, is a moral struggle: they are bad and we are good. If we do bad things, then we are no longer good. This would a loss of the moral struggle.

      Now, if you want to ignore or dismiss ethics, that is fine. But consistency requires that this be done across the board.

      • magus71 said, on March 7, 2010 at 5:23 am


        My primary objection to your argument is not in its substance (that we should fight a moral fight), but in your insinuation that we haven’t done it all along.

        Many have grabbed onto things like Abu Graib and tried to make it define our fight.

        Our troops are closer to Paladins than any force in history. The Left, which classically hates the military, portrays them as demons. They even started to turn against journalists who embedded withour troops, because in their eyes, the journalaists became overly sympathetic to our troops. Yeah, they did. You knwo why? Because they saw we were the good guys. We don’t fight like they do. We rarely use our most powerful weapon (artillary) anymore, because it kills innocents.

        I want us to get credit for what we do. I want to force the cynical moarally weak leftists to admit this. It’s actually the people who say we’re evil who in fact have no objective moral standards. They can’t argue from an objective point because they have none. They only have their fleeting feelings. They have no code, just like the Arab horde that wrecked Iraq (we didn’t).

        I’m reading an awesome book, Joker One. The Marine Officer who wrote it talks about his platoon’s time in Ramadi, a city of 350,000 people, in 2004. He talks about the tons of money they poured into schools, all the smiles and handshakes they gave on their patrols. And yet, when the jihadists called the citizens to take up arms against the Americans, they did just that. Intelliegence sources indicated that both men and boys picked up the household AK 47 and took shots at patrols form every windown, every alley.

        That’s when the author’s mind changed. He gave a speech to his men and said that they would maintain the moral high ground. They would not be like the terrorists. But what changed was, they didn’t smile and shake hands anymore. They had earned the nickname amonst the insurgents of “soft cake” whatever the Arab word for that is. So now, when they fought, they ruthlessly pursued the enemy and killed him. The saw that being nice is not always enough.

        That is my point,too.

        Force and fighting is not senseless. Senseless force and senseless fighting is senseless.

  4. magus71 said, on March 8, 2010 at 1:48 am

    See? These people act like a military tribunal is the Spanish Inquisition.


  5. magus71 said, on March 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Thinking about this. I cannot think of a time when America was more tame, in concern with its war fighting.

    Two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, should have been speed bumps. In comparison to the enemies of the past, they have virtually no killing power. And yet we almost lost in Iraq and we let Afghanistan drag on for too many years, sapping our courage and fertilizing our cynicism.

    No action in war, no killing, is outside the ire of a certain elite here in the States. I’m actually very concerned as to what we think warfare ought to be.

    24 hr news is responsible in part for this. Most people cannot fathom the totality of the chaos and the requirement of violence in combat.

    I remember several times, fighting to get handcuffs on a resisting arrestee. Someone standing nearby would inevitably make a comment about how “rough” I was being. For one thing, they were just parroting stuff they’d heard on tv, and yes–it was rough.

    But there was no other way.

    I felt like standing up, handing the commentor the handcuffs, and saying: “You do it, then.”

    This is what 24 hr news has done to American warfare: Shackled it, because tv, no matter how graphic, cannot impose the utter need for violence to win a fight.

    Our enemies have only one weapon with which they can win: Their will.

    Our perception of how warfare should be fought has enabled our enemies to kill more people, and shame our country.

    • P.E.N.Name said, on March 13, 2010 at 9:45 am

      Simple solution. Silence the media. Such an action wouldn’t be without precedent. . . Russia, China.

      • magus71 said, on March 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

        Nope. Educate people so they know that not everything the media says is the totality of reality.

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