Kinsley’s argument from complication

The New York Times gave Michael Kinsley 650 words yesterday to defend the Obama administration’s treatment of Umar Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant. Kinsley asks: “So why not draw the line to put an Abdulmutallab or a Shaikh Mohammed on the ‘war’ side and treat him as an enemy combatant?” He answers:

Well, first, recognize that this has become a judgment call so the answer is no longer obvious or mandated by logic. Second, recognize that the national border is a “bright line,” and if people captured within the United States are going to be treated as if they were somewhere else — provided that they are certified terrorists — things are going to get complicated quickly.

Kinsley is a smart guy who has a law degree to include among his qualifications to address the issue. But neither “things are going to get complicated” nor “judgment will be required” is an argument.
Moreover, although Kinsley fails to note it, the “bright line” geographical distinction Kinsely relies on — attack us in the United States and we will confer upon you the full protection of the constitutional rights accorded American citizens — is an argument that the Obama administration has refused to make. One can only wonder why Kinsley fails to note this.
Kinsley’s ultimate assertion that Abdulmutallab’s treatment is “built into our dual role as a liberal democracy and as a legitimately aggrieved superpower” is simply false. It is an ahistorical liberal shibboleth that takes the place of an argument.
UPDATE: I hadn’t noticed that David Rivkin and Lee Casey devote this NRO column to rebutting Kinsley. Rivkin and Casey eloquently elaborate on the manifold faults of Kinsley’s column.


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