Tuesday, May 10, 2011

President: Commander Or Dictator? - Terrorist: Criminal Or Warrior?

Glenn Greenwald addresses these and one other vital question in his article, "Democratic principles in the War on Terror."

First, outside of the fever-riddled brain of John Yoo and the icy heart of Dick Cheney, is there any basis in a constitutional democracy (remember? that's what we're supposed to aspire to be) for assigning our chief executive total and unreviewable power over citizens and noncitizens alike, including the unilateral power to decide life and death, when those people are far from any battlefield, and when the only "war" going on is what the late lamented Molly Ivins used to call a "war on a noun"?

Second, is terrorist behavior really combat in a war, requiring massive military response and comparably great compromises of our civil liberties in pursuit of victory? Or is it straightforward criminal behavior which can, and in the past, has been, dealt with in our duly constituted courts system, with all its trappings of due process?

Greenwald points out that even Eric Holder, during the Bush administration, answered those questions "no" and "criminal," offering compelling arguments for both answers... but he has now reversed both positions and argues in behalf of Obama's assuming breathtaking powers.

Greenwald quotes Yglesias, who in turn quotes a Rand Corporation study. Greenwald's conclusion is devastating:

... In 2004, the Democratic nominee John Kerry famously (and correctly) said -- echoing Cole's words above -- that Terrorism was comparable to prostitution, gambling, and organized crime:  "nuisances" to be dealt with primarily through law enforcement but that will never go away entirely.  In a 2008 Atlantic article, Matt Yglesias declared that "Kerry was right" when he " said something about counterterrorism being primarily a question to be dealt with through law enforcement and intelligence rather than something that should be understood as primarily a kind of war," and as proof, Yglesias cited this study from the Rand Corporation, which concluded as follows:

Its report said that the use of military force by the United States or other countries should be reserved for quelling large, well-armed and well-organized insurgencies, and that American officials should stop using the term "war on terror" and replace it with "counterterrorism."
"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," said Seth Jones, the lead author of the study and a Rand political scientist.
That view now, of course -- once the centerpiece of the Democratic Party's Terrorism arguments -- is decreed to be a fringe and radical view.  The same is true for Cole's argument that Terrorists should be deemed criminals, not warriors, and treated exactly the same way we treat criminals: with the full range of due process rights under our normal system of justice.  Believe me, to make that very same argument now is to prompt accusations of radicalism and even Terrorist sympathies. ...

All of those views -- Democratic Party orthodoxy a mere three years ago -- have become relegated to the fringe under the Obama presidency ...  But it's worth recalling that they were indeed the backbone of the Democrats' once-vigorous opposition (at least in rhetoric) to the Bush/Cheney worldview of using war and battlefield theories to fight Terrorism and to erode core Constitutional and civil liberties.
I would like to think that it goes without saying that our civil liberties as American citizens, even in wartime (which this arguably is not), must not depend on who sits in the White House, and what expediencies s/he is willing to resort to in pursuit of goals that may be as much politics as national security.

How do we get from here to there? Perhaps I have too much faith in the core of the old Democratic Party from bygone days, but I can only hope that at least some of old-timers can and will pressure President Obama not to become former "President" Bush, but rather to apply some of that constitutional scholarship he so proudly claims in his speechifying, to leave off his literal assaults on American citizens in a war that isn't a war, pursued not in his role as C-in-C of the armed forces but as a genuine leader in the face of confrontations against an opposition party of certifiable crazies who have no intention of governing, but rather are intent only on milking America dry and scaring her electorate half to death.

Does Mr. O have it in him? I don't know, but under the circumstances, we'd better Hope he can Change.


  1. I think he can but whether he will is up for grabs.

  2. Obama likes to think of himself as a version of Marcus Aurelius, but it is clear that no budding Augustus will turn down an empire.

  3. Kay, mandt...

    Kay - that is the question, isn't it. Obama comes across as having such potential, but...

    mandt - I am forced to defer to your knowledge of Roman history. Wikipedia lists Marcus Aurelius as the last of the five "good" Roman emperors, and perhaps that is how Obama sees himself. But ultimately I'm afraid, a Caesar is a Caesar, and an empire is nothing we really want to be a part of.



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