Time To Terminate The War On Terror By Fareed Zakaria

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DeM Banter: Not sure what to say about this… some good points…some I am scratching my bald head over. What do you think?

Washington Post
December 7, 2012
Pg. 25

As we debate whether the two parties can ever come together and get things done, here’s something President Obama could probably do by himself that would be a signal accomplishment of his presidency: End the war on terror. Or, more realistically, start planning and preparing the country for phasing it out.

For 11 years, the United States has been operating under emergency wartime powers granted under the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force.” That is a longer period than the country spent fighting the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined. It grants the president and the federal government extraordinary authorities at home and abroad, effectively suspends civil liberties for anyone the government deems an enemy and keeps us on a permanent war footing in all kinds of ways.

Now, for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, an administration official has sketched a possible endpoint.

In a thoughtful speech at the Oxford Union last week, Jeh Johnson, the outgoing general counsel for the Pentagon, recognized that “we cannot and should not expect al-Qaeda and its associated forces to all surrender, all lay down their weapons in an open field, or to sign a peace treaty with us. They are terrorist organizations. Nor can we capture or kill every last terrorist who claims an affiliation with al-Qaeda.”

But, he argued, “There will come 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, such that al-Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.” At that point, “our efforts should no longer be considered an armed conflict.”

Phasing out or modifying these emergency powers should be something that would appeal to both left and right. James Madison, father of the Constitution, was clear on the topic. “Of all the enemies to public liberty,” he wrote, “war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

If you want to know why we’re in such a deep budgetary hole, one large piece of it is that we have spent around $2 trillion on foreign wars in the past decade. Not coincidentally, we have had the largest expansion of the federal government since World War II. The Post’s Dana Priest and William Arkin have described how the U.S. government has built 33 new complexes for the intelligence bureaucracies alone. The Department of Homeland Security employs 230,000 people.

A new Global Terrorism Index this week showed that terrorism went up from 2002 to 2007 – largely because of the conflicts in Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq — but has declined ever since. And the part of the world with the fewest incidents is North America. It could be our vigilance that is keeping terror attacks at bay. But it is also worth noting, as we observe the vast apparatus of searches and screening, that the Transportation Security Administration’s assistant administrator for global strategies has admitted that those expensive and cumbersome whole-body scanners have not resulted in the arrest of a single suspected terrorist. Not one.

Of course there are real threats out there, from sources including new branches of al-Qaeda and other such groups. And of course they will have to be battled, and those terrorists should be captured or killed. But we have done this before, and we can do so in the future under more normal circumstances. It will mean that the administration will have to be more careful — and perhaps have more congressional involvement — for certain actions, such as drone strikes. It might mean it will have to charge some of the people held at Guantanamo and try them in military or civilian courts.

In any event, it is a good idea that the United States find a way to conduct its anti-terrorism campaigns within a more normal legal framework, rather than rely on blanket wartime authority granted in a panic after Sept. 11.

No president wants to give up power. But this one is uniquely positioned to begin a serious conversation about a path out of permanent war.

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4 thoughts on “Time To Terminate The War On Terror By Fareed Zakaria

  1. While I don’t disagree that we should be out of a state of perpetual warfare, I disagree that we will ever completely “behead” the Al Queda organization. To say we can turn the organization into something that is benign and harmless is to be naive and derelict. Everytime you take out a piece of leadership in any of these factions, there will always be another to step into their place. Some may point to the reign of the Nazi regime as proof that you can cut the head off the snake and it goes away… Yes, there’s still a Nazi party still in existence and yes they don’t have the same influence they once did… But that was a regime that was rooted in government and needed the power of a group of people organized in a national sense to really make an impact. The enemy we face right now is one that doesn’t need borders to operate.

    Do I agree that the politicians should release some of their powers that are granted for a nation “at war”, most certainly… But to say the “war on terrorism” is over… Or will ever be over… Is something our population cannot handle. There are always radical extremist that will challenge the national powers and try to undermine government (not only US but any gov’t). We forever need to be a nation that is looking over their shoulder, continual vigilance and perseverance.

    So, to sum this up, yes, our administration should not necessarily have “wartime” powers… but we will forever be a nation fighting a borderless enemy and any measures required to be vigilant (TSA machines) should be welcomed.

    • Agree it’s hard, but not sure I buy it will NEVER be over…we need a long term view of this….it will take a good while.
      An org like Al Queda is intentionally “headless,” not sure you can remove that head
      War time powers? Such as raising money to support the fight? I’m afraid we might have missed that one…

      • Interesting… and slightly sadly, I just finished the main story line for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and it showcased something quite interesting. The main premise was that an evil (indestructible apparently) man has a plan to create chaos in the world. He and his minions hack the drone capabilities of the US government. Essentially controlling all the drones. He then orders a fleet of drones over to China creating intense diplomatic issues because China accused the US over the drones even existing in that capacity… Evil bad guy then presses the self destruct button on all the drones completely wiping out the US fleet and he declares the US helpless. Which… hits pretty close to home. Now, the obvious plot hole of letting one man escape capture and/or assassination… i mean targeted killing… i mean… well whatever you’d call it to make it legal. This is the kind of thing we talk about in the office. Investing so much into something that could be turned against us… or worse, putting our defense eggs in this basket might not be the best long term defense strategy.

        This response kind of blends across a few of your posts and it may not be most relevant here but in response to your doubts on whether this type of “war” will ever be over… I’m not sure over is the right word. The evolution of war will just present itself in a different way. We’ll call the massive cyber attack something different but in the grand scheme of things, the “faceless war” is something that we may forever have to worry about. Not in a depressing fashion but with our digital capabilities, people know what happens when your identified as the head of the snake. Hussein knows. Bin Laden knows. With terrorist (Al Queda) style attacks and now cyber style attacks… We may never have a leadership chain that we can identify and persecute. That’s why I say this style of warfare will persist for a VERY long time. Will it ever end? I think end is the wrong way to look at it… It will evolve though. Hopefully, we learn how to combat it in such a way that it doesn’t end poorly for us as a nation. But we need leaders with wisdom and passion to evolve at a greater pace than “the enemy”.

      • Is the question: will the war on terror end…answer: yes
        Will war end: answer: no
        And war will evolve…history illustrates that quite well…(do we learn from history, another question)…

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