Our Sort-of War on Terror
Either by design or through incompetence, the Obama administration’s war on terror has become indefinable. In fact, to the degree that there are identifiable policies, they seem either internally contradictory or at odds with other administration policies.
THE INHERITED PROTOCOLS
What is the current Obama position on the so-called Bush-era war-on-terror protocols? Are they still useful in stopping terrorists, irrelevant, toxic, or sort of all three? The administration has never given us an explanation of its attitude toward the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, the use of military tribunals, the exact status of renditions, the use of preventive detention, and the employment of the Patriot Act, especially wiretaps and intercepts.
To the extent that anyone could define the present anti-terrorism policy, it might be paraphrased along the following lines: “We rejected these protocols when, as outside critics, there was partisan advantage in doing so. But after assuming office, we found them useful, embraced most of them and even expanded some, preferred to ignore that about-face, assumed that the global and the domestic Left would not object any longer — given that their opposition was more to Bush than to his policies per se — and wish to continue these measures even as we keep quiet about them.”
THE EUPHEMISM WAR
Simultaneously with the flip-flop over the Bush inheritance, the administration also waged an ancillary war of euphemism. Jihad was not to be defined as an Islamist holy war against the West, but was to be officially regarded as a sort of Deepak Chopra personal struggle to achieve spiritual purity. The words Islamist and Islamism fell out of use. “The War on Terror” was rightly derided as a war against a tactic, but the phrase was wrongly not replaced with a more honest and accurate “War on radical Islamists, jihadists, and Salafists.” Absurdities, like “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters,” followed and yet were not seriously employed for more than a week even by those who coined them. According to the Department of Defense, “workplace violence” best explained Major Hasan’s butchery of 13 of his fellow soldiers at Ford Hood — an act whose real significance was the possible harm to the military’s vaunted diversity program.
Eric Holder pontificated about trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a civilian in a New York federal court but then, given the popular outrage, quietly tabled that foolhardy idea. Support for the proposed Ground Zero mosque was likewise supposed to offer proof of administration outreach to Muslims, and likewise backfired. There was talk of ensuring Miranda rights for foiled foreign terrorist suspects — and then that too was quietly dropped. There were also loud threats of trying former CIA interrogators for their supposed use of torture — and then that was too quietly tabled. Apparently, the point of these missteps had been to placate possible liberal critics by painting a civil-libertarian veneer over the substantial continuation of the Bush war on terror. Or was there any idea at all, as policies were as haphazardly proposed as they were dropped and forgotten?
THE DRONE KILLINGS
From 2005 to 2008 the U.S. may have killed between 200 and 700 enemy combatants or suspected terrorists through some 50 or so strikes by pilotless drones. Originally, the program was either used in close support of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan — drones being more or less equivalent to manned bombing missions or missile or mortar strikes — or employed against suspected al-Qaeda terrorists on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Such strikes were, nonetheless, often criticized by the Left as leaving the theater of war and entering the realm of contract assassination.