How Slippery This Slope?

Over the decades, both sides of every major policy debate in our democracy have used the time-honored phrase, “a slippery slope”. Whether the issue was abortion, guns, speech, or business regulations, the argument has been counted on by both the intellectual and the intellectually lazy.

Most of the time, the slippery slope argument is cover for the avoidance of reasonable compromise. For this paradigm to add weight to an argument, it is necessary to believe oneself to be on a firm summit, where a step down the slope would be treacherous. In reality, avoiding the slope in our front opens our democracy up to the precipitous fall behind us. In the whole despicable business of Osama Bin Laden and all he wrought, the head over heels fall down the backside of the mountain has been the hallmark.

There simply aren’t any easy answers for any of these issues; no path exists that leads to either complete safety or the moral high ground. The operation carried out by SEAL Team 6 and the Nightstalkers has stirred up a wealth of follow up. Setting aside the silly conspiracy arguments and juvenile claims of credit coming from the general direction of the Cheney Cabal, many in our democracy are now writing eloquent criticism of President Obama and the operation he ordered into action.

The arguments coming to the for are sound and deserve reflection:

  1. The United States, despite extensive investigation, was never able to commit to the direct statement that Bin Laden was a material part of the 9/11 Conspiracy.
  2. The United States did not have permission to enter a sovereign nation (namely Pakistan) for any reason involving the capture and/or killing of a foreign national.
  3. The operation, code name Geronimo, appears to have been drawn up as a mission to kill, rather than capture. It appears, when considering the phrase, “wanted dead or alive”, that “dead” was the clear preference. The United States has not convicted Bin Laden of a capitol crime and so, committed an assassination of a foreign national.

I must be clear about my feelings on this subject; I believe the actions taken to be both justified and appropriate. Conversely, I also firmly believe them to have been taken in extremis, creating dangerous precedents which we the people should endeavor never to follow again. Over these last ten years, our great nation has spoken often of liberty, but thought little of the notion when security was the conversation. The United States must reestablish a consistent vision of itself, as both a nation of liberty and global neighbor.

The conversation must start with a moment of clarity. One cannot have absolute security and absolute liberty…the two concepts are mutually exclusive. One must struggle, claw, and accept sub-optimal solutions while searching for a balance. Our democracy has largely struggled and clawed to win the intransigent “other side” over to “our” point of view. We have either been entrenched and irate civil libertarians like Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Turley, or we have been entrenched and irate security hawks like Sean Hannity and Liz Cheney.

I spent much of the last ten years pointing out that the Cheney’s and Hannity’s of the world were well-advised to buckle up and display some courage, lest our freedom go the way of the Soviet Gulag. Treasured conservative friends countered often by reminding me of the innocents without number often lost in the rush to courage. Last weekend, a president elected by those in favor of courage and civil liberties, took an action that was, in every way, emblematic of the security hawks. Part of my motivation in writing this column, is to make public my personal conflict in the hopes of inspiring honest debate.

I don’t believe we can allow organized groups of people, be they nation/states, criminal groups, or terrorist factions, to inflict loss of life and property damage on our nation with impunity. Osama Bin Laden, without question, was a principal figure in the organization of and funding of activities that caused both loss of life and property. But he and others (like American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki) should represent the exceptions that prove the rule. They should be that one-tenth of one percent for which 4th Amendment precision is not required.

Whether it be religious terrorists, foreign drug lords, or rogue leaders of foreign nations, we the people must know three things:

  1. When we are on the slippery slope.
  2. How far down the slope we are willing to go.
  3. The existence of a clear path back to the top of the mountain.

Simply demanding adherence to American principles is not a recipe for safety or harmony in an uncertain world. Simply screaming the name of “liberty” and “freedom”, or singing patriotic songs, is not sufficient to make the promise of our Constitution a reality. We must work, we must question, we must accept dangerous compromise, we must demand uncomfortable accountability. America’s promise demands these tasks of us; the killing of Bin Laden puts them into stark relief.

On either side of this peak is a fall we cannot survive. We are indeed on that most slippery of slopes…how nimble shall we be?

The Rational Middle is listening…


4 thoughts on “How Slippery This Slope?

  1. I need to state for the record, my feelings on this are very much tied to my religion and my understanding of said religion.

    I’ve been thinking about this for a week now, debating what my feelings are and what “the right” way to deal with it is. I think, based on my understanding of American history, what I’ve been taught this nation stands for since I’ve been a child, and my own moral code, I think that while I’m happy Osama will not have any more blood on his hands, but I’m not very proud to be an American this week.

    I’m ashamed that so many of my countrymen have been parting in the streets over the destruction of another, I’m ashamed of the reactions from the various “talking heads” in the media, from both the right and left, who before spoke of being “rational and not dramatic,” and yet seem to have made a big exception suddenly, and I’m ashamed of how we (Pres., military, whoever else) handled most of the end to bin Laden.

    I’ve heard that the US is the moral center of the World, that we are the good guys, and so, we have higher levels of morality then any other nation on Earth, and as such, God blesses us. I think, based on history and based on this last week, such mentalities have little, if any, bases in reality. Let’s take a step back? Osama’s whole point against us was that we oppressive, murders, that we harmed Muslims in the Middle East, that we were a brutal and savage nation. Now when you keep in mind that he himself used violence to achieve his means, most would say anything he said was crap.

    And yet, one would think the moral center of the World, when dealing with others with a clear lack of morals, would always take the high ground. Seems to me, even in death, Osama bin Laden has beaten the United Sates. He beat us not as a result of crippling our economy, or wiping out 99% of our population, he beat us becuase he made a criticism about us, hurt us, and then sat back and watched us become that criticism. We didn’t have to become what we’ve turned into, but we as a nation choice to walk away from everything we once stood for. And everyday we continue to leaf our moral code at the door, he keeps winning.

    I’ve heard many say “justice has been served,” and yet, the way it went down, it feels a lot more like revenge. I’ve heard people say that the SEALS saved the tax payers money, becuase it would have cost so much to put Osama on trial, and that it would have taken a long time to finish said trail. You know what, so what? Yes, “justice” does cost money, it does take a long time, and it’s not easy, but that is who we are, or were it seems. It’s not called “the road less traveled” for nothing. In the way we have handled this situation as a nation, we have shown to the World what the new America fiber is made up of: taking the easy way out. Ya, we saved some tax money and all it cost us was our souls!

    And what of his death? Will America really find peace now, is the war on terror over? There have been many 9/11 victims that have admitted, despite their celebrations, his death has brought no peace. And you know what? They never will, nor will any American who celebrates this man’s death, find peace or closure. Peace can not be occupied in the heart of a man who fills his heart with hate. And that is what Osama has brought out in the hearts of Americans: hate. You can’t be the moral center and be filled with hate.

    No matter how much America may hate him, it will never bring back those who died on 9/11, or anyone that died since as a result of 9/11. All we do by celebrating as we have is loose that much more. Our dignity, our ethics and morals, our good names. And maybe the ground work for more unnecessary death should our action be taken the wrong way by others.

    As for the War on Terror, certainly it isn’t over, and in fact, may never end, at least in our life times. Now we get to deal with Muslims who bought into Osama’s message, or were on the fence at least, who will see us as nothing more then bullies and savages, and will want to take out their revenge. Most likely, should they succeed in another 9/11, we’ll want revenge on them for that and kill a bunch of them, and then they’ll want revenge for killing them and try to pull of yet another 9/11 and so on and so forth. I’d dare to ask any American, when will it stop?

    Now, having said all of this, I understand, same with anyone else, I don’t have all the facts and can only make assumptions based on what I’ve seen and heard, and I think that fact strengthens my biggest point in how I feel the American people need to deal with this: move on and let God handle it, as only He knows all, but I still feel a little sick when I think about the fact that Americans have shown so much blood lust. I can not feel that I’m a good Christian and join in with them over the death of one of my brothers, even if he did commit horrid acts of violence. I believe that EVERY soul is important to God, even the mass murderers.

    The story of The Savior on the cross has entered and stayed in my mind this last week. No man has ever or will ever suffer like He did, and yet, while being murdered, He forgave His murderers. We’ve been taught we need to be more like Him, and being as most Americans are still some kind of Christians, I’d hope they don’t forget that. Even if Christianity isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll find similar wisdom in just about any other major religion. Yes, the man is dead and at this point, it doesn’t matter anymore. But what does matter is what we allow ourselves to become as a result.

  2. Came across this in a FB posting; never heard of this particular site (RM) before, but must say that, the more I learn about this raid, the more I realize that indeed it was a mission to kill. Unlike many of my brethren (and sisteren) on the left, I believe that this was not the right way to go. It should be JUSTICE FIRST, which means the messy process of putting these jihadists on trial in US courts of law. We need to actually do what our Constitution and our mythology claims that we do, which is to treat all persons equally under the law. As for the claim that this will make martyrs of them, surely the opposite effect, that the US actually stands for justice, would be more of an example to the world. Also, such trials could be held in international courts, a la Nuremberg, so that the US would not be the heavy in all situations.

    Anything less than that is indeed a trip down the slippery slope. And we have been there before (think Central America or Iran, etc. in the 1950’s). Begs the question of when are we going to ever get a handle on controlling our military and our myriad spy agencies? They operate as free agents it would seem, and that is a sure sign we are headed downhill…

  3. Like you I am conflicted on the morality and legality of the killing of OBL. Glad he’s gone, to be sure, but do not fully embrace the methods. As you say, the slope is slippery. And now President Obama has begun using drones to attempt to kill an unconvicted US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (

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