A Healthy Round of ‘Devil’s Advocate’

By Robert Wallace
America’s Right

Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to play Devil’s Advocate to my own conservative perspectives as well as to some of the moves that I see Republicans making for politics rather than principle. So here goes with my first installment of Devil’s Advocate.

Gitmo and the Uyghurs

I believe that closing down camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay is an over-hyped issue. The questions of whom we deem to be an enemy combatant, how long we can detain them, and how effective we are at extracting information from them are all issues vital to national security.

Where we store them just doesn’t seem to matter much.

Despite this fact, the Republicans–no doubt sensing an opportunity to burnish their national security credentials and reinforce the stereotype that Democrats can’t be trusted with keeping the country safe–have been making a lot of noise over two non-issues.

First of all, they are pitching a fit over the possibility of moving some of the terrorists into Super Max facilities in the United States. What’s the big deal? It’s not like our Super Max facilities haven’t handled international terrorists before. The only possible advantage of Gitmo would be freedom to do enhanced interrogation and that’s already off the table.

But the issue that annoys me more than anything else is the fate of the Uyghurs. The Uyghur people are ethnical Turkic and live in the western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (aka East Turkestsan). Conservatives–including radio and television host Glenn Beck–have been hyperventilating about the government’s efforts to release the 17 Uyghurs at Gitmo (originally 22) into America. “Don’t release terrorists into the US!” they say.

The problem is this: the Uyghurs aren’t anti-American terrorists. If they have a beef with anyone, it’s with China. Obama didn’t decide to dub them non-combatants, the Pentagon did. Under Bush. As early as 2003, the Pentagon had figured out that these guys were no threat, and currently all but one of the 16 have been officially cleared for release. The only reason they are still in Gitmo is that we don’t know where to send them.

But when Obama tried to release them into a Uyghur community in Virginia, House Republican leaders blew a gasket and went on a tirade and acted as though bin Laden himself was being given a green card. I don’t know how dangerous the Uyghur detainees are, but I do know that this kind of hypocritical showboating irritates me. The fate of these 17 men should be decided rationally and with level heads. They shouldn’t be treated like some political football. I believe that Obama, by trying to release them quietly, was doing the right thing.

Chicken Little and American Debt

Staggering deficits, ballooning national debt, and printing money like a tinpot dictator are all serious economic concerns. But are they serious enough to justify bandying about the possibility of the dissolution of the American government due to a total collapse of the US dollar? Or is that sensationalist alarmism?

I believe the danger is real, but I’ve got a responsibility to pay attention to headlines like this one: Moody’s Affirms U.S. AAA Rating Despite Rising Debt. Otherwise, I’m selectively looking at only stories that confirm my negative expectations for liberal policies. Then again, to play devil’s advocate to the devil’s advocate (would that be angel’s advocate?) we’ve got headlines like this one: Roubini Says U.S. Economy May Dip Again Next Year.

Is Sotomayor Racist?

I’ll let Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy take care of this one. He revisits her infamous speech (where she said “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”), and addresses two questions raised by Sotomayor defenders:

  1. Is Sotomayor’s claim limited to discrimination cases?
  2. Did Sotomayor merely intend to recognize the impact of judges’ racial backgrounds on their decisions, without embracing it?

I agree with Somin’s responses:

  1. Even if we grant that, the statement is still “deeply problematic.”
  2. Not likely, based on the text.

Here’s the take-away from Somin:

It would be foolish to overlook the fact that many people, including serious commentators such as University of Texas lawprof Frank Cross and Reason’s Kerry Howley believe that the relevant part of the speech is actually innocuous. I can’t ignore the possibility that the speech is unclear, or that I just got it wrong. At this point, however, I still think that my initial interpretation was largely correct.

At a bare minimum, Republicans need to consider carefully the possibility that Obama made such an inflammatory nomination precisely to draw Republicans into a fight on uneven grounds. Just as we’re hypocritically trouncing Obama with the Uyghur issue (and damn the facts!), wealthy, white, male Republican senators run the risk of taking a drubbing for opposing the first Latina Supreme Court nominee (and damn the facts!)

Hence the ominous tone from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (as reported by Politico, and referenced here yesterday evening):

I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation.


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Robert Wallace has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.

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Comments

  1. JEFF SCHREIBER says:

    Devil’s Advocate indeed. My problem with the Uyghurs is that some of those 17 were trained at Al Qaeda training camps. Do we condemn the trainers as radical terrorists while giving a free pass to the trainees? I don’t buy it. The other issue I have is the prison issue. When on American soil, these folks will be conferred uniquely American rights. I don’t want the conviction turning on the expulsion of hearsay evidence, as I don’t think the Federal Rules of Evidence should necessarily apply to foreign terrorists hell-bent on killing Americans. Agreed on the economy — let’s look at all angles. On Sotomayor … well … scroll down a bit, look at the last few days’ commentary, and you’ll see how I feel.

    Overall, though, we MUST constantly police ourselves when it comes to matters of principles and politics. For those who will question Robert about this piece, remember that it was a failure to question ourselves which led to conservatives acting like big government liberals during George W. Bush’s second term.

  2. Robert Wallace says:

    Thanks for the response, Jeff. Too often people use fake-quotes like “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” in an effort to falsely claim that their criticisms are constructive, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as constructive criticism. A healthy dose of self-analysis and debate is one thing that can distinguish the right from the left and perhaps even win over some more a-political types who tend to tone out anyone with a strong opinion.

    As to your points:

    1. Trainers and trainees

    A lot of the same training that can be useful to terrorists can also be useful to legitimate separatists. Rigging a car bomb would be identical whether you wanted to blow up a school bus or a legitimate military target.

    The problem isn’t with the military skills the trainers taught. It’s with the ideology that guided how that training was employed.

    2. American rights

    You would know more about this than I, but I’m skeptical that merely changing the venue necessitates changing the law. I’m sure that Confederate prisoners of war were held in Union territory during the Civil War, but that didn’t mean they were treated like criminals instead of POWs.

    I am absolutely against trying terrorists under the usual laws of criminal justice, but as long as Obama is going to continue the military tribunals (which I support) does it really matter where we hold them in the meantime?

    3. Sotomayor

    We always knew Obama was going to nominate liberal, activist judges. From what I’ve read of Sotomayor, however, she’s not the worst of the worst. I’m still making up mind on the best strategy to respond to her.

    Apparently, so is the rest of the GOP. :-)

  3. Robert Wallace says:

    “On the detainees, you need to read up on the conditions under which Obama reinstated the tribunals.”

    I had heard something about reinstating hear-say restrictions, and that could end up being stupid. I should have said “I support the idea of military tribunals vs. criminal trials, but not necessarily *these* military tribunals”.

    The fact that the rules are different at all, however, would seem to indicate that where the trial/tribunal takes place and where the accused are held doesn’t really matter. Gitmo or supermax… who cares?

    It’s not that Obama isn’t screwing up. He is. But I don’t think moving detainees to a new location – by itself – really changes anything.

  4. Robert Wallace says:

    Oh, and I’ve heard similar stuff on Sotomayor re: intellectual capacity (or lack thereof). The rebuttal I heard was that she went to Yale and Princeton. That’s not actually an argument for her intelligence IMHO, it’s just an argument for her ability to mingle with the elites. But I’ve also read – mostly over at Volokh and a few other places – that she’s actually had some mildly pro-life rulings (e.g. supporting the Mexico City policy and allowing Chinese to seek political asylum rather than forced abortion/sterilization) and is not an internationalist. It’s not much, but it seems like it could be worse.

  5. JEFF SCHREIBER says:

    On Sotomayor, I think that the best thing she has going for her–from a conservative’s perspective, at least–is that she is nowhere near in the same realm intellectually as Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito and could possibly be persuaded.

    On the detainees, you need to read up on the conditions under which Obama reinstated the tribunals. Any hearsay evidence must be tossed, as well as any statements garnered during a stressful–stressful?–interrogation.

  6. Rix says:

    I’ll pipe in on the issue that I am, or rather my wife is, painfully familiar with – namely, the credit rating. She’s a “survivor” of August 1998 default in Russia who happened to work for Taxation Department at that time. According to her, Russia’s credit rating was fairly sunny mere months before the meltdown. Moody’s analysts are not immune to biases, pressure, persuasion or distorted incoming data. Also, let’s not forget that Moody’s is controlled by Berkshire Hathaway…

  7. Anonymous says:

    Rix:

    I agree wholeheartedly! Was Moody predicting our financial crisis? NO!!! I have made it a practice to more closely listen to those who actually predicted the crash…and they DO exist! They were called crazy beforehand. Jeff shouldn’t be assuaged by mainstream headlines…listen to your gut and draw on sound principles, which will tell you that no country in history has printed money like we have and has gotten away with it. Will we pull it off just b/c we are “the great America?” I think NOT!

    I have always been an optimist, but it is painfully obvious that we have been misled about the state of our economy for a very long time!

    Lisa in TX

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