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.

 

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7 Comments

  1. 1
    SteveAR says:

    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.

    I don’t believe there is a slippery slope and there is precedent in the targeted killing of an American actively waging war against his country.  I refer to the targeted killings of rebels “Bloody Bill” Anderson and William Quantrill during the Civil War.  Arguably, both were the equivalent of terrorists today, that is unlawful enemy combatants (most Confederate military leaders refused to be associated with them) in that they made it a point to kill any Yankee, whether soldier or civilian (ie., the 1863 Lawrence, Kansas massacre).  There was no attempt to capture and try them, but to kill them. 
    The fact that the killings of Anderson and Quantrill occurred long before the modern enhancements to due process and before the advent of using robots to do the killing does not negate the precedent those killings set.  Awlaki was properly and legally killed because he was a terrorist in the same vein as Anderson and Quantrill.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The question isn’t one of whether there is any precedent for this but whether ethically whether this is how we want to handle this. How was the decision made in the cases you cited–was it purely by a decision from the Executive Branch or was there any form of due process at the time? Regardless of whether there was any form of due process then, we should strive to handle this form of situation better in the future without hindering our ability to fight back against American citizens who are waging war against the United States.

  3. 3
    SteveAR says:

    Precedent matters.

    How was the decision made in the cases you cited–was it purely by a decision from the Executive Branch or was there any form of due process at the time?

    I’m not sure of the particulars regarding how the order came down to kill these two, but I’m guessing (and it’s a pretty good guess) that due process as understood either then or today played no role, nor should it have.  Anderson, in 1864, was lured into an ambush in Missouri with a number of his men and he was shot down (along with several of his men) and killed instantly.  Quantrill was also led into an ambush, in Kentucky, a couple of months after Lee surrendered (Quantrill did not acknowledge the Confederate surrender and continued his activities) and shot, dying about a month later.
    My point was that the U.S. handled Anderson and Quantrill in an ethically proper manner, as terrorists at war with the U.S., and the U.S. handling a terrorist like Awlaki, also at war with the U.S., was no different and just as ethical and proper.

    …we should strive to handle this form of situation better in the future without hindering our ability to fight back against American citizens who are waging war against the United States.

    The only people not handling this situation better are those, like Greenwald, trying to confuse the issue.  He quotes a NYT piece that claims “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”  I agree that it’s rare, but hardly unprecedented.  About five minutes of research by either the NYT or Greenwald would have answered that question.  Later Greenwald says this:

    What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.

    Maybe Greenwald needs to re-read the 2001 AUMF since it is still in force and isn’t limited by geography.  And if that isn’t plain enough, who is to say what is or isn’t a battlefield?  Quantrill was killed after the war was more or less officially over, meaning outside of any battlefield, and in Kentucky, a Union state.  As far as I can tell, nobody had an issue with it (except maybe for the members of the James-Younger gang, who had rode with both Anderson and Quantrill and had taken part in killing civilians in the Lawrence massacre).

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    I sympathize with Greenwald’s concerns regarding the potential for abuse, but he sure sounds out of touch where you quote him. Americans are cheering for success against al Qaeda, and that is hardly surprising. Most people are seeing this as part of war, and are not thinking about the aspect of assassinating an American without due process. Fortunately to date this power has been using sparingly and, as far as I know, in justifiable cases. I do agree with Greenwald that some form of due process should be established to try to prevent this power from being abused in the future, but that does not prevent celebration over a victory over al Qaeda today.

  5. 5
    SteveAR says:

    I do agree with Greenwald that some form of due process should be established to try to prevent this power from being abused in the future, but that does not prevent celebration over a victory over al Qaeda today.

    In my opinion, the killing of Awlaki was a military matter handled by the Commander in Chief and all the wartime powers that go with it during a war.  I do share your concern about potential abuse, and there are probably some things that could be done to limit any potential abuse without negatively impacting the President’s legitimate powers.  In that regard, we’ll have to agree to disagree.  But I do agree that it was an excellent U.S. victory over Al Qaeda.
    I’m a hardcore conservative who posts now and then on RedState as well as my own blog.  One of their regular posters put up a post about what he calls the “unprecedented” killing of Awlaki.  Interestingly, he also doesn’t mention either Anderson or Quantrill.
    Thank you.  This has been pleasant.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    In my opinion, the killing of Awlaki was a military matter handled by the Commander in Chief and all the wartime powers that go with it during a war. I do share your concern about potential abuse, and there are probably some things that could be done to limit any potential abuse without negatively impacting the President’s legitimate powers. In that regard, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    Actually are views are getting pretty close on this now that you are agreeing there is a potential for abuse and there are things which might be done.

  7. 7
    John Sonntag says:

    RT @ronchusid: Obama Winning The War That Bush Kept Losing, But We Must Consider The Ethical Issues #p2 #p21 #topprog http://t.co/GCL62ben

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