Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Happens When Traditional War Rules Are Overtaken By New Realities?

Nineteen died in a June drone attack on a suspected terrorist
training camp in Pakistani near the Afghan border
The question is simple but provocative: How does the United States fight the war against terrorism using the rules of traditional warfare? The answer is complex and far from a settled thing.

White House, State Department and Pentagon officials are are debating the question anew as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan, which are the terrorist organization's traditional haunts, continues to by weakened through Special Forces operations and drone and cruise missile strikes ordered by Barack "Weak On Defense" Obama in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden in May.

Meanwhile, the battlefield has shifted to Yemen and Somalia, two essentially ungoverned lands separated by the Gulf of Aden.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was responsible for the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, while the Shabab, an Al Qaeda affiliate, operates in Somalia.

There is a consensus among government and military officials that the operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan should continue. The question is whether the U.S. should continue to go after only high-level leaders of the Arabian Peninsula groups who may be personally linked to plots to attack the U.S. or whether it can also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers for the terrorist leaders.

Complicating this slippery slope of a question is that the U.S.'s European allies tend to believe that the terrorism battlefield does not extend beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the legality of an unconstrained "global" war under international law is cloudy.

My own view, which rather uncomfortably and coincidentally is that of Senator Lindsay Graham, the Senate's leading legal authority on military matters, is that restrictions on the definition of the battlefield, let alone the combatants, ultimately will impede the fight.

This, of course, flies in the face of of the time-honored notion that the U.S. does not have the right to kill people in countries with whom it is not at war. But with the 9/11 attacks freshly on our minds because of the 10th anniversary just passed, it should be noted that we were not at war with Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from, but that should not have been a bar against going after them there -- or anywhere else.

And hey, why not get Congress involved in the debate? On second thought . . .

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