Only my increasingly reliable insomnia had me reading Charles Krauthammer at 3:00 a.m. today, deciding to check some recently read history by 3:30 a.m., and by 4 a.m. jotting down this disgust and revulsion.
A few days ago, in another context, I cited Anthony Beevor's excellent Fall of Berlin 1945, in whose concluding chapter the author surveys Allied Headquarters' interviews of hundreds of Nazi generals, who displayed "a perverted moral sense" (in HQ's words) that approved of everything that "'succeeds.' Success is right. What does not succeed is wrong." German generals believed merely the timing of Jewish persecution, for example, was wrong: it was bad p.r.; the persecution should have been postponed to a victorious postwar setting. The early air-blitz against England was wrong only because it pushed the Brits into a Russian alliance. The brutalization of Eastern Europeans was wrong only because Germans would now suffer retaliation. Concluded Allied interrogators: "That it is morally wrong to exterminate a race or massacre prisoners hardly ever occurs to them."
Those were the passages that flashed through my memory bank as I read Krauthammer's song of himself: an appalling apologia of the Bush administration and CIA's brutalization of Middle Eastern detainees. The concept of any inherent, immutable and inviolable national ethics utterly escapes him:
There was nothing morally deranged about deciding as a nation to do everything necessary to find out what we needed to prevent a repetition [of 9/11], or worse.
A nation attacked is not a laboratory for exquisite moral experiments. It’s a trust to be protected, by whatever means meet and fit the threat.
Accordingly ... the CIA ... did everything it could, sometimes clumsily, sometimes cruelly, indeed, sometimes wrongly.
But successfully. It kept us safe.
The practical question of whether the CIA's atrocities actually did keep us safe is a matter that Krauthammer, of course, assumes as fact. In the Cheney-Goebbels-Stalinist tradition of the Big Lie, a pounding repetition in the absence of empirical substantiation is not only acceptable, it's bloody indispensable. No surprise there.
What's striking, then, about Krauthammer's column is its eerie reliance on an utterly amoral pragmatism. In the end--indeed, in the beginning--he trusts in success. Nothing more. Success compensates for and thereby justifies the clumsy, the cruel, the wrong. In U.S. intelligence gathering, moral derangement is human decency, he implies. Honoring such decency is but an "exquisite moral" experiment. And the ends, naturally, always justify the means.
We still often ask ourselves how a cultured, civilized nation such as mid-20th-century Germany could have fallen victim to fascism's madness. The answer lies in Krauthammer's logic.