DeM Banter:  Food for thought…but is it really about the”targeted killings” or is it about the  “undefined war with a limitless battlefield?” Further… what is the future cost of the  “undefined war with a limitless battlefield?” It would appear that war has changed…America’s enemy “resembles a network, not a nation.” In that light…is America justified to attack persons of interest in countries the US has not declared war on (without the nation’s consent)?  For some reason…the concept of sovereign nation seems to me to be the bigger issue and the precedent we are setting.  It is a nagging sense, but not sure what to make of it.  Thoughts? 

Washington Post
December 9, 2012
Pg. 27
‘Gosh!’ Says Roosevelt On Death of Yamamoto  – New York Times, May 22, 1943

timthumb.phpPresident Franklin Roosevelt was truly astonished when told by a reporter that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, had been shot down by U.S. planes over a Pacific island after Americans decrypted Yamamoto’s flight plans. FDR had encouraged this “targeted killing” – destroying a particular person of military importance – a phrase that has become familiar since Israel began doing this in 2000 in combating the second Palestinian intifada.

But was the downing of Yamamoto’s plane an “assassination”? If British commandos had succeeded in the plan to kill German Gen. Erwin Rommel in Libya in 1941, would that have been an assassination? If President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 attack on military and intelligence targets in Libya, including one that Moammar Gaddafi sometimes used as a residence, had killed him, would that have been an assassination? What about the November 2001 CIA drone attack on a Kabul meeting of high-level al-Qaeda leaders that missed Osama bin Laden but killed his military chief? An old executive order and a new technology give these questions urgent pertinence.

Executive Order 12333, issued by Reagan in 1981, extended one promulgated by Gerald Ford in 1976 – in response to revelations about CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro – and affirmed by Jimmy Carter. Order 12333 says: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” What, then, of the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden? The new technology is the armed drone, which can loiter over the suspected location of an important enemy person and, in conjunction with satellite imagery, deliver precision-guided munitions in a matter of minutes.

Fortunately, John Yoo of California’s Berkeley School of Law has written a lucid guide to the legal and moral calculus of combating terrorism by targeting significant enemy individuals. In “Assassination or Targeted Killings After 9/11” (New York Law School Law Review, 2011-12), Yoo correctly notes that “precise attacks against individuals” have many precedents and “further the goals of the laws of war by eliminating the enemy and reducing harm to innocent civilians.” And he clarifies the compelling logic of using drones for targeted killings – attacking a specific person rather than a military unit or asset – in today’s “undefined war with a limitless battlefield.”

To be proper, any use of military force should be necessary, as discriminating as is practical, and proportional to the threat.

Waging war, says Yoo, is unlike administering criminal justice in one decisive particular. The criminal justice system is retrospective: It acts after a crime. A nation attacked, as America was on Sept. 11, goes to war to prevent future injuries, which inevitably involves probabilities and guesses.

Today’s war is additionally complicated by the fact that, as Yoo says, America’s enemy “resembles a network, not a nation.” Its commanders and fighters do not wear uniforms; they hide among civilian populations and are not parts of a transparent command-and-control apparatus. Drones enable the U.S. military – which, regarding drones, includes the CIA; an important distinction has been blurred – to wield a technology especially potent against al-Qaeda’s organization and tactics. All its leaders are, effectively, military, not civilian. Killing them serves the military purposes of demoralizing the enemy, preventing planning, sowing confusion and draining the reservoir of experience.

Most U.S. wars have been fought with military mass sustained by economic might. But as Yoo says, today’s war is against a diffuse enemy that has no territory to invade and no massed forces to crush. So the war cannot be won by producing more tanks, army divisions or naval forces. The United States can win only by destroying al-Qaeda’s “ability to function – by selectively killing or capturing its key members.”

After the terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, the Clinton administration launched cruise missiles against suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan, hoping bin Laden was there. If the missiles had killed him, would this have been improper? In March 2003, in the hours before the invasion of Iraq, the George W. Bush administration, thinking it knew where Saddam Hussein was, launched a cruise-missile strike against one of his compounds. Was it wrong to try to economize violence by decapitating his regime? Would it have been morally preferable to attempt this by targeting, with heavy bombing, not a person but his neighborhood? Surely not.

6 Replies to “NEW TACTICS FOR WAR’S NEW FACE By George F. Will”

  1. I agree with your thoughts about sovereignty above; I know it’s not popular to say this, but I think a lot of good can come from conceptualizing the US as an empire rather than a state. If we don’t like the label of empire, then we need to stop acting like one. And empire doesn’t have to be bad, but the rules are different, friends and enemies are formed differently, and actions are perceived differently. Until we understand how our actions shape perception, we will never be able to shape our action to achieve the political effect that we need to preclude the use of force.

    Anyway… my rambling 2 cents.

    1. If a “like” button existed I would have just used it, instead we have to create discussion…Thanks, Col D…

      I think you are hitting the nail right on the head. There have been many empires and few of them have been “bad.” I think people are afraid to admit what we are. Saying empire even makes a lot more sense out of our spending and motivations for expanding. If we look at empire at its most basic level, which in my opinion is a embarkation to dominate resources, we have been there for years politically, socially, and strategically. Unfortunately, using a military to manage trade empires has failed in nearly every example that I can think of.

  2. The two driving factors behind all of this are the immergence of NSAs as targets of warfare and hyper-limited war, for lack of a better term. I agree that the battlefield can seem limitless, however, we we have placed so many limits on combat, that this is the next logical step. Warden wouldn’t be surprised or shocked by it, and I doubt any theorist would be. Why not cut off the head of the snake?

    The issue of assasination vs. “targeted killing” is the same as the freedom fighter vs. terrorist argument. In that light, one can easily call our “war on terror” a “war on freedom.” Definitions can easily be transferred by a nation to fit whatever they claim is their just war. With NSAs being a primary target rather than nations themselves, the waters are muddied even futher. Personally, I see no difference in calling something targeted killing rather than assisination. You are just trying to paint it in the most positive light possible. Against a conventional army, this would not be an issue, however, we aren’t dealing with a conventional threat right now. If/when there is another PTP conflict, we won’t have to worry about it…well, until they do it to us.

    1. Vooj: thanks for the comment…just talking about you the other day…in a good way (this time). I’m not so wrapped up about assassination as sovereign country issues. Going where we want when we want…very realist, very much as Thucydides mentioned
      “….. while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

      But eventually this will probably come back to haunt us.

      1. It is setting a terrible international precedent, that’s for sure. Somehow we managed to convince the world that nukes were not the answer even though we are the only ones with blood on our hands. Maybe we will be able to convince the world that doing whatever you want in another countries airspace is not the answer either.

        Thanks for saying semi-kind words about me. You might take them back if I come begging you for an ROTC gig if my new airframe gets canned =)

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