Is There Really a War on Terrorism Outside of Afghanistan? You Betcha!
Critics of the U.S. war on terrorism often deride it as a bad metaphor or an excuse to conduct controversial detentions, interrogations and military trials. But what the Pentagon refers to as the “Global War on Terrorism” (GWOT) has many of the characteristics of a typical armed conflict, even outside of the main battlefield in Afghanistan. As the NYT reports:
The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.
In other words, there really is a global war on terrorism – it really is going on in places outside of Afghanistan – and it really is an international armed conflict. U.S. military forces are killing enemies (and probably) dying, they are detaining people, and they are probably interrogating people. And this war is not going to go away simply because the U.S. has elected a president whom the world seems to like.
As a matter of U.S. law, there seems little doubt that these military raids are explicitly authorized by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (Sept. 11 Resolution). And the U.S. President arguably has a certain amount of inherent constitutional power to conduct such raids as well. But the question is much harder to answer as a matter of international law – indeed, it would have to be some theory of preemptive self-defense. Expect to see denunciations of these raids from international lawyers in the next few days, as well as from foreign governments on the list of countries named in the order.
As a policy matter, thought, this seems by far the least controversial aspect of President Bush’s conduct of the war on terrorism. In 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry promised to double the budget of U.S. Special Forces presumably to carry out just these sorts of attacks. And, President-elect Obama seems to have endorsed similar attacks into Pakistan.
But if President-elect Obama expressly embraces this sort of policy, will he continue to enjoy the worldwide adulation he is currently basking in? Will his “soft power” start eroding as he exercises U.S. hard power? No doubt it will. And will his fear of losing “soft power” lead him to back away from what seems like a justifiable and even necessary policy? Will he include this part of the war on terrorism in his other plans to rollback Bush policies? I wonder if this leak is designed to force him to make, and reveal, what choice he is going to make.