One line from Cheney's AEI speech Thursday has stuck with me. Pooh-poohing the assertion of, among others, John McCain that torture "serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us" (as Obama cleverly referenced in his speech), Cheney sniffed:

This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the president himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. 

Of course it does not. It doesn't excuse anybody anything. You have to skip a couple of significant steps in the logic flowchart to jump straight from merely acknowledging that a controversial practice by the U.S. might be used as propaganda by a bunch of butchers to saying that this acknowledgment, and any reasonable concern related to it, equals absolving the butchers of their barbarity.

Similarly, recognizing a sticky situation--that our use of torture makes for good enemy propaganda--is not the same thing as blaming America for whatever evil the enemy may later throw our way. It is simply allowing that certain actions do not occur in a vacuum, that they can have consequences outside of an interrogation cell. Sure, some people will choose to fault the victim (yes, I do mean America), just as some people choose to argue that America has only itself to blame for 9/11 because it supports Israel or keeps troops in Saudi Arabia or what have you. Most sensible people, however, do not take that leap.

Similarly, most sensible people not blinkered by generic rage or ideological animus or the need to redeem the reputation of their own unpopular administration sense the speciousness of Cheney's position. The former VP is basically asking us to swallow one of two contentions: 1. that American actions--even those that much of our own populace find morally objectionable--don't have negative repercussions in the world at large. Or 2. that, OK, maybe they do have repercussions, but we shouldn't bother taking those into account at all when debating and analyzing the issue.

Actually, I suspect what Cheney's really promoting is a third option: that while most people understand that actions have consequences, we should never, ever admit that out loud because any such suggestion is proof of insufficient guts, patriotism, etc.

No matter: Not one of these positions passes the smell test--especially coming from a party that talks such smack about toughness and realism and accepting the consequences of one's behavior. Cheney is outraged that his perspective isn't shared by more people. I get that. But he'd have more luck bringing people over to his side if he'd stop demanding that we ignore, discount, or simply deny certain basic realities or else, after a familiar fashion, be tarred as anti-American, blame-the-victim morons.

 --Michelle Cottle