Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ending the assumption of perpetual war

Last summer I wrote about the question of whether we should codify the indefinite war or end it. That - to me - is the question we're facing and that too many are avoiding. Arguments made by people like Steve Benen and Greg Sargent about transparency in the use of drones take as an assumption that either this is not a war (where president's have the authority to direct military policy) or that this war is different in that it will not have a conclusion.

In that sense, Bob Cesca nails it.
So war is the context...

After reading the memo, I’ve reached the conclusion that one of two things must happen: either we end the war on terrorism and rescind the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or we place serious restrictions on how drones are to be used in perpetuity.
That's exactly the issue I've been highlighting for quite a while now.

I also think the Obama administration has been signaling where they're headed on this. For example:

The very first step President Obama took was to dismiss the Bush/Cheney frame that we were engaged in a war on terror and instead focused it as a war on al Qaeda.
We will always seek to delegitimise the use of terrorism and to isolate those who carry it out...Yet this is not a global war against a tactic – terrorism – or a religion – Islam.

We are at war with a specific network, al-Qaeda, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.
In January 2012 when President Obama and Def. Secretary Leon Panetta announced reductions to our defense budget the President said:
Now we’re turning the page on a decade of war...

...the tide of war is receding.
In his May 2012 speech from Afghanistan, President Obama said: 
My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda...

This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.
Last December, former General Counsel to the Dept. of Defense Jeh Johnson said this:
The U.S. military campaign against al Qaeda should not be seen as a conflict without end, the Pentagon's chief lawyer said on Friday in a speech that broached a rarely discussed subject among U.S. officials...

"There will come a tipping point," he said in the speech, "a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States," that al Qaeda will be "effectively destroyed."

"At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an 'armed conflict' against al Qaeda and its associated forces."
And finally, in his inaugural address last month, President Obama said this:
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.
I'd suggest that President Obama and his administration have been pretty clear...this war against al Qaeda will end.

But here's where I disagree with Cesca. I think these statements, along with AG Holder's speech last March and the recently released documents, are preparing the country for a conversation about how to deal with terrorism once that war is over. The potential for a terrorist threat will not end. And so unlike the president's war powers and the authority given to her/him under the AUMF to target those threats during time of war, dealing with them will require codified oversight.

That's the long game folks...the President isn't necessarily defending his actions - he's leading us to the next stage of the process.


  1. Wow, maybe there haven't been comments yet because the piece is so substantial. I'll have at.

    It's sort of interesting to me that people are flipping out even more about drones now than before the election. It's definitely the issue du jour. Clearly, the reason why it's making news is that the Administration is putting information out there that encourages it.

    It's fairly clear to me that there have been a number of conversations that the Administration wanted to have from more or less the start but felt that having them in the first term would have skewed the 2012 election against them. A political decision about an among other things moral question, but I will say that I want my politicians to be smart, not stupid, about the politics of things.

    The guiding principle for Obama in a number of things clearly comes from his background in Constitutional law. He hesitates to undo Bush era abuses by executive fiat, because doing so more or less establishes the precedent that the abuse in question has and on/off switch that the President flips at will. He wants, above all, legislative but also judicial oversight of executive power. He wants Congress to make him stop the abuses while allowing the executive sufficient power to execute its duties. Hence, putting drones on the agenda, and having people from the administration discuss the murky ethical issues publicly.

    If Obama stopped drone killings without such a discussion, the next GOP President could--likely would--simply restore them, without fanfare, and then some. Or the next Democratic President. Same, as shameful as it is, for Guantanamo. But far from this discussion being something that either catches the President off-guard or exposes a weakness, I think it's precisely the discussion he wants to have and likely had on the agenda, in Feb. 2009, for a Feb. 2013 discussion.

    1. You nailed it!

      Fascinating that we're getting all this pressure about transparency at just the moment that the administration is getting more transparent. That white paper got "leaked" by Obama for a reason. The ground is shifting big time on this issue (see my most recent post about Brennan) and way too many people are so locked into their poutrage that they're missing it.


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