Submitted by Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
You’re a young idealist standing for the highest office in the land. Against many odds you’ve offered a candidacy of hope and change to an electorate tired of both war and the prior Administration that got them into those wars. There are rumors of widespread atrocities committed by that Administration in response to a horrific terrorist attack on American soil where thousands of your countrymen died. In your capacity as an US Senator, you’ve been briefed on several of these and you see a pattern developing. You’re a Constitutionalist; a lawyer; and a principled man, but you recognize the nation faces a real threat of nuclear holocaust at the hands of committed, well-funded terrorists supported and protected by renegade states and even some of our allies. These terrorists have a fanatical zeal and value martyrdom above self-preservation. You believe that if they acquire weapons of mass destruction the question will not be if millions of people will die, but which millions of people will die.
Riding a groundswell of promise and belief in your promises to restore American values, the electorate sends you to the nation’s capitol to change the way things have been done. During the course of the election, it has become clear that the drain on the economy caused by war, corruption, and old-fashioned greed has left the country in dire financial straits.
On January 16th you are briefed by the nation’s intelligence communities. You are told definitively that the intelligence community has engaged in extraordinary measures to fight America’s enemies which you conclude amount to torture, illegal renditions, detaining innocent people, and even Executive Orders approving the killing of persons deemed enemy combatants. You’ve inherited a Gulag within sight of the American coast and during the campaign you’ve vowed to close it. You are told that many senior members of the permanent intelligence community were aware of and approved the illegal measures employed in defense of the country. Losing these people would severely cripple efforts to defend the country as they form a sizable amount of the intelligence community’s institutional knowledge and memory. You’re also told that these senior intelligence officers have been promised immunity for their actions by the earlier Administration.
You convene your economic advisors who explain to you that the emergency measures adopted by your predecessor and designed to prop up the failing economy may well work but it will take time,and any shock to the nation could disturb this fragile trust building process. If the stimulus fails, the resulting shock could send the nation and Europe into a full-blown depression crippling the efforts to fight terrorism.
Moderate governments in the Mideast have come to you seeking aid to fight the fundamentalist movements that are fueling terrorist recruitment and sponsorship. They tell you that to continue the fight means more money and intelligence from the US or their efforts will be severely handicapped.
What do you do?
A. Continue the illegal policies of the past Administration reasoning that this is war and that your primary goal is to defend the nation at all costs. These repugnant policies seemed to have had some effect in curtailing the terrorist threat and your calling off the dogs is a real risk to your viability as a leader if you’re wrong and another deadly attack occurs on US soil. Another successful attack could throw the markets into a death spiral and the recovery might not occur for decades. You continue with the stimulus program and avoid any investigation of earlier illegal acts concluding that any shock to the fragile economy caused by the turmoil will reap more evil than it alleviates. You also avoid any investigation to eliminate the possibility of crippling the intelligence community. You share money and both illegally obtained and legally obtained intelligence with the friendly Arab states.
B. You reason that principle trumps expediency and stop all illegality. You immediately order investigations into the prior Administration’s handling of the war. You make public the results and bring indictments against wrongdoers. You do so even in the face of prior pledges of immunity reasoning they are void ad initio given our treaty obligations and on principles of international law. You make Herculean efforts to replace the intelligence officers lost to the investigations and you build morale by explaining your policies as being in the nation’s long-term best interest. You do what you can to stabilize the economy but you will not compromise in your efforts to prosecute those who have violated the law. You tell friendly states and Europe you understand their concerns about such a policy but you adhere to the adage that “let justice be done though the heavens fall.”
C. You adopt a middle ground approach reasoning it is best for the country that the economic recovery not be affected by criminal investigations of the American intelligence community and the prior Administration. You believe any move otherwise could lead to a weakening of American strength at the worst time and make that nuclear holocaust against an American city more likely. You change the illegal policies of the prior Administration to stop torture, curtail renditions and if absolutely necessary only to countries that will not use torture. You employ death warrants abroad and only against those your intelligence agencies tell you present a clear and present danger to the US. You fully support friendly states abroad against extremists and provide intelligence to them as well as cash.
D. Your Choice.
Now, the tough part: Defend your choice — and no changing facts that you don’t like in our “hypothetical situation.”
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger