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The 3 Stages of the "War on Terror": From Shock and Awe to Assassinations

A war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

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The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries on the Eurasian mainland.  Robert Gates, when still Secretary of Defense, made the  definitive statement on that subject.  The United States is now in the business of using  missile-armed drones and special operations forces to eliminate anyone (not excluding U.S. citizens) the president of the United States decides has become an intolerable annoyance.  Under President Obama, such attacks have proliferated. 

This is America’s new MO.  Paraphrasing a warning issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a  Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what it implied: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.” 

Furthermore, acting on behalf of the United States, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without regard to  claims of national sovereignty, without Congressional authorization, and without consulting anyone other than Michael Vickers and a few other members of the national security apparatus.  The role allotted to the American people is to applaud, if and when notified that a successful assassination has occurred.  And  applaud we do, for example, when a daring raid by members in SEAL Team Six secretly enter Pakistan to dispatch Osama bin Laden with two neatly placed kill shots.  Vengeance long deferred making it unnecessary to consider what second-order political complications might ensue. 

How round three will end is difficult to forecast.  The best we can say is that it’s unlikely to end anytime soon or particularly well.  As Israel has discovered, once targeted assassination becomes your policy, the list of targets has a way of growing ever longer. 

So what tentative judgments can we offer regarding the ongoing WFKATGWOT?   Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney  once called “the dark side,” with implications that few seem willing to explore.   Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations  continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose.   Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainments, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

Is this progress?

 
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