Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Courting Disaster

I am not going to be able to review this book fairly. I am a liberal person, and Mark Thiessen’s book Courting Disaster goes against much of what I believe in. I was unable to approach it with an open mind, so I know this post will be biased. But I read the book (except for the appendices—I had to stop somewhere), and here’s my take on in.

Courting Disaster makes three general arguments. 1. Waterboarding (and other types of “enhanced interrogation”) is not torture. 2. Guantanamo Bay is a wonderful prison. 3. Obama is inviting and encouraging terrorists to attack by not allowing the CIA to waterboard and by closing Guantanamo.

Thiessen has a distinct style for proving his points. Here’s my interpretation. “Waterboarding isn’t torture. You want to know why it isn’t torture? Let me tell you about all these other gruesome torture techniques that have been used in the past. Then I dare you to tell me waterboarding is torture.” And then he spends pages describing torture. It’s the same with Guantanamo. (Again, my version of his words), “Life in Guantanamo is just great for all the terrorists there. You want to hear about bad prison life? Let me tell you about some other prisons. Then you’ll see Guantanamo is the Ritz of prisons.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled to be reading about torture and terrible prison life. And then there was Thiessen’s tone. It came across so snotty, almost like he’d be pleased if terrorists attacked during Obama’s administration, just so he could blame Obama for not torturing captured terrorists to gain information that could’ve stopped the attack.

The thing about Courting Disaster, though, is that people who don’t agree with Thiessen (aside from crazy people like me who belong to the Jon Stewart Book Club) are not going to read his book. The people who are going to buy it already agree with what Thiessen is arguing and will believe everything he says. And the few who read it who disagree will believe nothing he says.

This is the problem with books written with a strong political slant. Whether I’m reading one that is heavily liberal or conservative, I question the reliability of what I read. So, rather than reading a book arguing for waterboarding written by Donald Rumsfeld’s former speechwriter, I’d want to read one written by a member of the CIA who actually used these forms of “enhanced interrogation.” Sure, he’d probably have many, if not all, of the arguments that Thiessen has, but it would be a more reliable source.

I give Courting Disaster a 1/5. But, like I said, it’s probably not a fair rating. So if you want to, read the book. Make up your own mind about it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Mark Thiessen (I’m linking to the version that aired, but there is a longer cut on the daily show website)

Buy the Book.

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