12/21/2014 07:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Terrorism's Tour de Farce: Sony and Cheney



By Mark Green

Shrum and Lowry discuss North Korea's film fatwa and Cheney's eagerness to become Mr. Torture. Then: If Nixon recognized China 25 years after its Communist Revolution, why shouldn't Obama do so with Cuba 50 years later? And can the third Bush beat the first woman?

*On Obama and Cuba. Bob thinks it ridiculous to balk at recognizing Cuba after 50 years of a failed policy. "We recognize Communist China but not Cuba? Saudi Arabia but not Cuba?" In any event, "the Castro regime is not going anywhere and the economy has been liberalizing."

Rich distinguishes between Nixon's China opening, "which was a strategic play with the Soviets," adding that: "while people can disagree about the embargo and isolation of Cuba, what did we get in return for recognizing Cuba? Nothing. If the Castros are so popular, why not win an election?"

Rich's phrasing jogged my memory. The Host recalls eight hours of talks with Fidel in Havana in 1987 with a human rights delegation. MG: "El Presidente, if you're so popular, why not allow these human rights groups to publish a newsletter?" FC: "Why waste the paper?" We all prefer elections but apparently authoritarian revolutionaries think differently.

Aren't Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz et. al. like those 1957 De Sotos on the streets of Havana, relics sticking to their heritage and base, which puts them on the wrong side of history in 2016? Rubio even chided the Pope for his role in brokering the deal. Somewhere Hillary is smiling.

Q: After Climate-China, Immigration, now Cuba (and Putin's economic distress), isn't the conservative trope that Obama's a lead-from-behind foreign policy weakling harder to argue? Bob thinks that commentators who wrote Obama off after the Mid-term elections are now being proven wrong. "He's bending the course of history." Rich counters that on other major matters, he has dithered "but after failing at public persuasion and twisting arms on Capitol Hill, he's found something that he is good at -- just issuing unilateral orders."

*On Sony and North Korea. When Jon Stewart last Thursday asked Chris Rock about his new film "Top Five", Rock replied, "First of all, it's very Korean-friendly." Funny... but the problem of North Korea's cyber-terrorism shutting down a Hollywood studio and film is deadly serious.

Bob thinks that a) it was pretty stupid "for Sony to originally green-light a movie about the assassination of an actual head-of-state and not fictionalize it;" but b) once major theater chains refused to show it, "there wasn't much Sony could do." We recall how 23 years ago The Catholic League complained to the Weinstein brothers about a movie "The Pope Must Die", which successfully got a title change to "The Pope Must Diet". Truly.

Rich says Catholic League criticism is one thing, but the hackers ability to destroy the hard drives of Sony and use threats of terrorism to censor the film quite another. He hopes that the company will now figure out a way to distribute it online, losing the $40 million investment but at least taking a principled stand. The audience might exceed Ali-Frazer.

What about the Sorkin-Boies complaint that media outlets should not be publishing stolen emails of non-public people, unlike The Pentagon Papers or Wikileaks? Shrum says that's a fair but irrelevant point. "Once this stuff is out, it will be printed" and distributed. The larger issue now is what the U.S. does to retaliate against the North Koreans and what happens in the future when an adversary hacks into and takes down, say, the Social Security system or a major bank? We three assume that somewhere there are experts figuring out cyber-war protocols for what happens when something beyond a movie is electronically attacked.

*On Cheney on "Meet the Press". In what the Host thinks the greatest example of stonewalling on steroids since Baghdad Bob, what does our panel think of Cheney's defense of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program? Do we deplore or admire his unflinching willingness to go down in history as Mr. Torture?

Rich is no fan of the Feinstein Report but agrees that, at the margins, the program may have gone too far. But overall, he thinks that basically Cheney is on solid ground and that there's popular support for a program that used these techniques on suspected terrorists after 9/11.

Bob condemns Cheney "for lying us into a war and now lying about torture, since, for example, we did execute Japanese generals for only waterboarding." He doubts recent polling on this since the questions presume that torture worked to get useful information "when we know that it did not, that some information was obtained before any torture occurred and that if polling supported Slavery [in the 1800s], that wouldn't have made it right."

... Not to mention that a) torture is as likely to get bad intel as good; b) its use damages our national reputation and interests around the world; and c) exactly why did we not torture British soldiers in 1781 or Nazis in 1943 but now should do so to suspected terrorists? Are they worse than an enemy in a position to deny all Americans their freedom and an enemy gassing people to death by the millions? The former VP's blithe unconcern in response to Chuck Todd's questions was a near perfect example of how, in the name of patriotism, the means can undermine the goal of keeping America exceptional.

*On Jeb Bush's presidential prospects. Can his strategy of not pandering to the far right in primaries enable him to win the nomination and general election? Bob answers, "I don't know. Until now, the more establishment candidate has won nominations -- Dole, both Bushs, McCain, Romney -- but we may be getting to a tipping point given the Tea Party so that even a Paul or Cruz could be the nominee."

Rich and Bob agree that, other than Immigration and Common Core, Jeb is very conservative and that the string of more "moderate" Establishment nominees may end next time. Rich acknowledges that Jeb has vulnerabilities because he's been out of the game since 2006 (Host: on the "rusty" scale, during this same time one Hillary Clinton ran for Senate, ran for President, and served four years as Secretary of State) and as a major businessman, he's no middle class champion. Then there's no getting around the reality that the Clinton brand beats the Bush brand by 20+ points. "Another President Bush? How'd the last one work out?"

*On Colbert and 2014 "bests." As Colbert ends his nine-year run as a bloviating, smug TV talker, why has he been so phenomenally successful? And while right-wing talk dominates talk radio, why do liberal comics (Colbert, Stewart, Maher, Rock) dominate political comedy? Rich cites his incisive wit, Bob adds that younger audiences on cable skew left. Neither will touch the Host's observation that, since political comedy has to be based on something true so that everyone gets the joke (e.g., O'Reilly is a smug bloviator and climate change and white privilege exist), there's less material for conservatives to play with.

Finally, best books and movies of 2014? Shrum goes with Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century because of its thesis on growing inequality and its wide impact, and then the brilliant Birdman. Lowry loved Daniel Hannon's Inventing Freedom and Rory Kenney's Last Days in Vietnam and Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.

Then, a miracle consensus. Asked what was the biggest news story of 2014, Rich resisted Jonathan Gruber and Obama once saluting left-handed but instead said it was the fracking boom that would make America shortly energy independent "changing the world's geopolitics of oil"... and Shrumie agreed with him!

On that note of harmony, best for the holidays all. See you next year.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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