Let us posit that the Syrian government did, in fact, order last week’s chemical attack that killed hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women, children and others who had not taken up arms against the Assad regime.
In Washington, the eagerness to initiate military action in order to punish Assad is now palpable. Before ordering any such action, President Obama should answer several questions. He should share those answers with the American people, before not after pulling the trigger.
First, why does this particular heinous act rise to the level of justifying a military response? More specifically, why did a similarly heinous act by the Egyptian army elicit from Washington only the mildest response? Just weeks ago, Egyptian security forces slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians whose “crime” was to protest a military coup that overthrew a legitimately elected president. Why the double standard?
Second, once U.S. military action against Syria begins, when will it end? What is the political objective? Wrapping the Assad regime on the knuckles is unlikely to persuade it to change its ways. That regime is engaged in a fight for survival. So what exactly does the United States intend to achieve and how much is President Obama willing to spend in lives and treasure to get there? War is a risky business. Is the president willing to commit U.S. forces to what could well become another protracted and costly struggle?
Third, what is the legal basis for military action? Neither Russia nor China is likely to agree to an attack on Syria, so authorization by the U.N. Security Council won’t be forthcoming. Will Obama ask Congress for the authority to act? Or will he, as so many of his recent predecessors have done, employ some dodge to circumvent the Constitution? With what justification?
I was on Democracy Now yesterday to discuss my new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam as well as the current Afghan War and Obama’s Vietnam veteran national security post nominees: Chuck Hagel and John Kerry. Video above or here, if you’d like to take a look.
It’s official, drones have become the essence of the American way of war. As Obama begins his second term, drone strikes are spiking 6 strikes in 8 days have left 35 dead.
Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room observes: “While the statistical sample is small, it’s starting to sound like the drone campaign over Pakistan is ticking back up after a recent decline… The U.S. launched 43 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2012, according to the tally kept by the New America Foundation, reflecting a two-year downward trend from 2010′s high of 122 strikes. The average time in between strikes last year was 7.7 days. But eight days into 2013, there have already been six deadly drone strikes, for reasons that remain unclear. It’s worth noting that senior Obama administration officials recently reversed their earlier rhetoric that the U.S. was on the verge of defeating al-Qaida and have returned to describing a protracted shadow campaign.”
(Read the full story here: 6 Strikes, 8 Days, 35 Dead: The U.S. Drone War in Pakistan Is Back | Danger Room | Wired.com)
Ideally, the 66,000 American troops would already be leaving, and all of them would be out as soon as safely possible; by our estimate, that would be the end of this year. The war that started after Sept. 11, 2001, would be over and securing the country would be up to Afghanistan’s 350,000-member security force, including the army and police, which the United States has spent $39 billion to train and equip over a decade.
But there is a conflict between the ideal and the political reality. Mr. Obama has yet to decide how fast he will withdraw the remaining troops, and the longer he delays, the more he enables military commanders who inevitably want to keep the maximum number of troops in Afghanistan for the maximum amount of time.
Obama Selects Hagel to Lead Pentagon
POLITICO reports that President Barack Obama has “settled on Chuck Hagel, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with an announcement expected Monday.”
The real problem is not that there are no guidelines written down—though the administration itself seems now to acknowledge that what it has is insufficient—but that we the people don’t know what they are. The idea that the president can authorize the killing of a human being far from any traditional battlefield without any publically accessible set of constraints, conditions, or requirements is unacceptable in a country committed to the rule of law.
Imagine, for a moment, a world in which the United States is a regional power, not a superpower. A world in which the globe’s mightiest nation, China, invades Mexico and Canada, deposing the leaders of both countries. A world in which China has also ringed the Americas, from Canada to Central America, with military bases. A world in which Chinese officials openly brag about conducting covert operations against and within the United States. A world in which the Chinese launch a sophisticated and crippling cyber attack on America’s nuclear facilities. A world in which the Chinese send spy drones soaring over the United States and position aircraft carrier battle groups off its shores. What would Americans think? How would Washington react? Perhaps something like Iran’s theocratic leadership today. After all, Iran has seen the United States invade its neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, announce covert operations against it, surround it with military bases, fly drones over it, carry out naval operations off its coast, conduct a gigantic build-up of military forces all around it, and launch a cyberwar against it.
… you were a community organizer and a constitutional law professor and now, if you stop to think about it, here’s where you’ve ended up: you’re using robots to assassinate people you personally pick as targets. You’ve overseen and escalated off-the-books robot air wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, and are evidently considering expanding them to Mali and maybe even Libya. You’ve employed what will someday be defined as a weapon of mass destruction, launching history’s first genuine cyberwar against a country that isn’t threatening to attack us. You’ve agreed to the surveillance of more Americans every which way from Sunday than have ever been listened in on or (given emailing, texting, and tweeting) read. You came into office proclaiming a “sunshine” policy and yet your administration has classified more documents (92,064,862 in 2011) than any other in our history. Despite signing a Whistleblower Enhancement Protection Act, you’ve used the Espionage Act on more government whistleblowers and leakers than all previous administrations combined, and yet your officials continue to leak secret material they see as advantageous to the White House without fear of prosecution. Though you deep-sixed the Bush administration name for it — “the Global War on Terror” (ridding the world of GWOT, one of the worst acronyms ever) — you’ve accepted the idea that we are “at war” with terror and on a “global battlefield” which (see above) you’re actually expanding. You’re still keeping uncharged, untried prisoners of not-quite-war in an offshore military prison camp of injustice that, on the day you came into office, you promised to close within a year. You’re overseeing planning that, according to recent reports, will continue the Afghan War in some form until at least 2017 or possibly well beyond. You preside over an administration that has encouraged the further militarization of the CIA (to which you appointed as director not a civilian but a four-star general you assumedly wanted to tuck safely away during campaign season). You’ve overseen the further militarization of the State Department; you’ve encouraged a major expansion of the special operations forces and its secret presidential army, the Joint Special Operations Command, cocooned inside the U.S. military/ You’ve overseen the further post-9/11 expansion of an already staggering national security budget and the further growth of our labyrinthine “Intelligence Community” — and though who remembers anymore, you even won what must have been the first prospective Nobel Prize for Peace more or less before you did a damn thing, and then thanked the Nobel Committee with a full-throated defense of the right of the U.S. to do what it pleased, militarily, on the planet!
…neither Democrats nor Republicans want sequestration to happen — and it was never intended to. It was originally meant as a threat so terrible that lawmakers would hammer out a bipartisan, deficit-reducing budget compromise to avoid it. The very fact that sequestration is now in the pipeline crystalizes what’s wrong in Washington — and to understand how lawmakers will deal with it, a back story is needed.
They don’t call it the “cliff” for nothing. It’s the fiscal spot where a nation’s representatives can gather and cry doom. It’s the place — if Washington is to be believed — where, with a single leap into the Abyss of Sequestration, those representatives can end it all for the rest of us.
In the wake of President Obama’s electoral victory, that cliff (if you’ll excuse a mixed metaphor or two) is about to step front and center. The only problem: the odds are no one will leap, and remarkably little of note will actually happen. But since the headlines are about to scream “crisis,” what you need to understand American politics in the coming weeks of the lame-duck Congress is a little guide to reality, some Cliff Notes for Washington.
As a start, relax. Don’t let the headlines get to you. There’s little reason for anyone to lose sleep over the much-hyped fiscal cliff.