In what Dana Milbank calls a “get-out-of-jail-free letter” to Senator McCain, Colin Powell has expressed concern that “the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” Unlike other objections to the president’s policies — the absurdly naive claim that our treatment of detainees will affect how our bloodthirsty enemies treat our soldiers or the suggestion that foreign terrorists somehow have a right to process along the lines of what we provide to our own forces — this one raises a serious potential concern. For there’s no doubt that we depend in our global fight against terrorism upon the cooperation of other governments. If they truly doubt the “moral basis” of that fight, it’s possible we might not obtain the cooperation we need.
Fortunately, there does not appear to be any evidence of waning cooperation. Recently, for example, we worked with Great Britain and Pakistan to thwart a major attack on our airlines. Apparently, even Syria is cooperating to some degree in our fight against al Qaeda.
Nor does logic provide any basis for concern. The moral basis for our fight against terrorism is that terrorism is evil and that nothing we’re doing to combat it remotely approaches that evil. Certain intellectuals, hack liberal journalists, and opportunistic Democratic politicians may flirt with the view that we risk becoming the moral equivalent of the terrorists. However, no foreign government — democratic or otherwise — can afford to indulge such nonsense. Not when it comes to thinking about cooperating with the U.S. to thwart, capture, or kill terrorists, and not when it comes to figuring how they themselves will treat terrorists.