12/14/2014 08:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bush-Cheney Legacy: More War, More Torture, Fewer Jobs?



By Mark Green

Frum and Corn agree that the Feinstein Committee documents "torture" and should have been released but they clash on justifications for the torture. Ditto on Bush-Cheney legacy since, argues Frum, "safety is the goal of the state." Also: why can't Obama get any economic respect?

On Senate Torture Report. The Davids -- Corn and Frum -- agree that the Senate Report does document instances of what can be defined as torture. But Frum explains that, like the start of Civil War, Korean War, WW I and II, bad things happen during the early panic of war because of a 'safety first' ethic to protect the country. Corn, however, rejects that the U.S. previously as matter of policy engaged in torture since "the laws of war were still observed" and we prosecuted/executed some Japanese generals for waterboarding. Also: Corn emphasizes that the Army Field Manual explicitly prohibits it; the Senate Report began on a 14-1 bi-partisan vote after the Agency destroyed videotapes of torture and was released with 9-6 vote; the FBI refused to do what CIA did.

Is the cost to America's reputation not the Report's release but the practice of torture itself? Does the release enhance accountability so that future presidents are unlikely to do this again? Frum agrees that release was appropriate because "people learn lessons about going too far... but the person affected is more likely to be someone in the field than a president."

You agree then that it's important to have a strict rule against torture but if there's a one-in-a-million Jack Bauer-like hypothetical horrible, then a president or local interrogator will have to decide whether to violate the rule and accept the consequences? Lincoln said, "do you not amputate the leg to save the body?" when he suspended Habeas during the Civil War. There seems to be an uneasy consensus about an anti-torture rule with a ticking nuc bomb opt-out. (Calling John Grisholm.)

But there's no consensus on whether this report will now forever tar Bush-Cheney historically as torturers... the way we largely associate Hoover with "Depression" and Nixon with "Watergate Resignation". Corn says, "This is merely another chapter in the narrative of their misguided war that will haunt them," but Frum, who was a W. speechwriter, adds, "Yes it will be part of the legacy but in the context of how it kept us safer." He along with a decade of CIA chiefs believe it was effective; a Senate Report of 6000 pages based on 6 million documents, believes that it was not. Concludes Senator Whitehouse, "wrong and not useful is a tough combination."

Last, does Senate Report show how impossible it is to have congressional oversight over such a secret national security agency? Corn thinks there's an inevitable tension between democracy and secrecy, though Frum argues that this painful Senate oversight document shows that it can work. "This is what a self-correcting system looks like."

Host: Let's not have historical amnesia here.

From Gen. George Washington and then through 43 presidents, torture has been regarded as immoral and recently illegal based on the Geneva accords signed by President Ronald Reagan. Now defenders say that this enemy is, what, worse than the Nazis so they deserve a lower standard? That what al Qaeda did on 9/11 is worse than what we did to them (so beheading is now our measure of conduct)? That it was effective (which the Senate report disagrees with, as its "yeah, I robbed the bank but my wife really needed a new car" is a traditional defense)? That drones are worse than torture though the laws of war distinguish between bullets/bombs but not torture of people under your complete control? And if a frightened, unprepared democracy overreacts initially by employing torture, what's Cheney's excuse years later?

Two other details:

Strange that Chris Matthews keeps invoking the fantastical Jack Bauer hypothetical. That's like creating a military budget around chance that Putin will explode a suicide vest while at a UN session. Isn't it better to discuss plans for 99.9999 percent likelihoods than amigdola-fueled fiction? Also, I like "wardrobe malfunction" as much as next guy. But don't euphemisms have some limits -- now "torture" becoming "enhanced interrogation" becoming, in Brennan's usage, only "EIT" (wait, isn't that a contraceptive device?). Will we allow word play to squelch debate?

On Obama Economic Performance. We listen to a Fox News report on the December jobs report, "The economic news is better, really much better..." Jobs way up after 57 straight months of continuous growth, the stock market nearly tripled since 2009, energy prices are plummeting. So why isn't the country's economic pessimism lifting and Obama getting some credit? Chris Matthews (again) is irate about how a smart political communicator like Reagan would be selling it like hot cakes.

Frum recalls how the W. White House in 2003-4 was very careful not to excessively boast since things can always go south quickly. "And every person is the world's leading expert on how they're doing so you can't convince them they're doing well if they don't agree. The labor participation rate, especially for men, is at an all-time low and the wealth of families is a fraction of what it was a decade ago. Things are better but... not good."

Corn explains that the prevailing economic mood is some relief but a lot of uncertainty. And a jobs report can't cure that.

Ok, if Obama has to be careful about claiming credit, can a 2016 Democratic nominee at least run on argument, why go back to Bush's economy when we can build on our progress? Corn: "If anything, Hillary will probably go all the way back to her husband's good economy and skip Obama."

Speaking of Hillary, thoughts about Sen. Warren planting her populist flag on the way the budget deal overturned part of Dodd-Frank disallowing banks to speculate with taxpayer money? Frum agrees that right and left should balk at that -- "invest your own money!" And there's agreement that Warren populism will affect the economic debate of 2016.

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

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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