Thursday, March 8, 2007

Accountability Is Not Wallowing

Michael Tomasky wrote:

“Whenever I hear a Democrat in Congress say something like, "We're not interested in the past; we're focused on the future," I shoot the nearest television. '"

(How deep should the Democrats dig into pre-war intelligence? Deep. The American Prospect online edition, 3/7/07. )

I share that sentiment.

The Democrats do plan to investigate, once again, whether pre-war intelligence was manipulated to fool the congress and the American people into agreeing to the Iraq invasion. Time and again I hear conservatives like David Brooks whine that such investigations are unproductive and backward-looking (and therefore presumably not worth doing). The implication is that Democrats need to move forward to ending the war, not dwell on the past.

What’s overlooked in that glib criticism is that when you move forward, you need to know who your traveling partners are. Do you want to move forward with someone who might stab you in the back at any moment? That’s not prudent.

Accountability for past deeds establishes who we can trust and who we cannot trust as we move forward. Investigating pre-war lies, if lies they were, is not neurotic wallowing. It is a necessary exercise to discover who can be trusted.

When the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief tells congress there is grave peril to the nation, should congresspersons, in the absence of first-hand supporting intelligence, take that on trust and vote accordingly? They, and we, need to know, not because of the past, but to guide inter-branch relations in the future.

Every guilty person would like to simply forget about the past and look only to the future, of course. But that doesn’t make sense for the society as a whole, so we don’t do that. We hold people accountable for their words and deeds, for our collective protection against bad actors.

Blame and punishment and can accrue in the process of establishing accountability, human psychology being what it is, but that should not be the point of the exercise. “Forgive and forget” is also a rational policy for dealing with misdeeds, as long as you are fully aware of what you are forgiving and forgetting. If you are not aware, the danger of further betrayal remains hidden.

That’s why it is essential to fully investigate the events that led to the invasion of Iraq. Full investigation has not been possible until the Democrats won the power to acquire the necessary documents and testimony. If we find that the congress and the American people were deceived into a petulant war, that will certainly change future congressional behavior and the way the government operates. It’s worth enduring the grief to find out.

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