Obama Winning The War That Bush Kept Losing, But We Must Consider The Ethical Issues

The killing of American born al Qudda leader Anwar al-Awlaki is both reason to celebrate the success of  U.S. policy against terrorism and question under Obama as opposed to Bush and to consider the need for new legal mechanisms to apply to the modern world. Old concepts of war, as well as due justice, do not apply well in this age of terrorism.  Principles of due process do not easily apply to an American citizen providing operational leadership to a terrorist organization operating out of a foreign country.

This does not mean that the objections raised by Glenn Greenwald are not without merit.  In this case it is difficult to argue that killing al-Awlaki was not a proper move, but we also do run the risk of going down a slippery slope when Americans can be killed without due process. The response to Greenwald from much of the right, such as at Jawa Report, ignores the actual arguments raised. Contrary to the claim made, Greenwald has said nothing which justifies the claim that Greenwald and the left would be lamenting the death of Hitler. The key distinction here is that al-Awlaki was an American citizen and Hitler was not.

However, what if Hitler had been an American citizen who moved to Germany and led a war against the United States? I doubt very many people would object to killing Hitler in such a situation, but if killing an American-born Hitler would be justified, doesn’t the same principle apply to al-Awlaki. My view on this killing is somewhere between the view of those on the right who fail to see that any ethical and legal questions are raised and the view of those who have  immediately condemn this action as unjustifiable.  I fall closer to the view expressed by BooMan who both sees the pluses of killing al-Awalaki and the problems this raises. The answer is not simply a debate as to whether this was right or wrong but to use this to stimulate the development of new law to account for situations of this nature . Some form of due process should be established when an American citizen is involved, recognizing the difference between a common criminal and an American citizen who is waging war against the United States and cannot be brought in to be tried in an American court.

Looking past the ethical issues, this action demonstrates the tremendous difference between the failed policies of George Bush and the much more effective policies of Barack Obama. Andrew Sullivan writes:

 This administration actually is what the Bush administration claimed to be: a relentless executor of the war in terror, armed with real intelligence and lethally accurate execution. Sure, Yemen’s al Qaeda is not the core al Qaeda of Pakistan/Afghanistan – it’s less global in scope and capacities. But to remove one important propaganda source of that movement has made all of us safer. And those Americans who have lived under one of Awlaki’s murderous fatwas can breathe more easily today.

The same goes for al Qaeda more generally. Obama has done in two years what Bush failed to do in eight. He has skilfully done all he can to reset relations with the broader Muslim world (despite the machinations of the Israeli government) while ruthlessly wiping out swathes of Jihadist planners, operatives and foot-soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has thereby strengthened us immeasurably both in terms of soft and hard power.

Compare the two presidents. One unleashed a war in Afghanistan he then left to languish, and sparked an unjustified war in Iraq, that became a catastrophe of mass death and chaos. He both maximally antagonized the Arab and Muslim world and didn’t even score a major victory against the enemy. In many ways, Bush gave al Qaeda an opening in Iraq where it never had one before, and allowed its key leadership to escape at Tora Bora. The torture program, meanwhile, fouled up our intelligence while destroying our moral standing in the world.

Obama has ended torture and pursued a real war, not an ideological spectacle. He has destroyed almost all of al Qaeda of 9/11 (if Zawahiri is taken out, no one is left), obliterated its ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, found and killed bin Laden, in a daring raid pushed relentlessly by the president alone, capturing alongside a trove of intelligence, procured as a consequence of courage and tenacity rather than cowardice and torture.

I know the next election will be about the economy. But what it should also be about is the revelation of the Republicans as fundmentally weak on national security. Caught up in their own ideology, they proved for eight years they’d rather posture and preen than do the intelligent, relentless, ethical intelligence work that is only now leading to victory.

Obama, in other words, is winning the war Bush kept losing.