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.