On the one hand: U.S. foreign policy elites know that the national swoon over the killing of Osama bin Laden makes for a great chance to cut our losses in wars across the globe. So we get people like Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, declaiming in the Wall Street Journal:
Afghanistan is no longer a war about vital American security interests. It is about the failure of America’s political elites to face two plain facts: The al Qaeda terrorist threat is no longer centered in that ancient battleground, and the battle against the Taliban is mainly for Afghans themselves.
With Osama bin Laden now swimming with the fishes, the U.S. has but one sensible path: to draw down U.S. forces to 15,000-25,000 by the end of 2013, try cutting a deal with the Taliban, and refocus American power in the region on containment, deterrence and diplomacy.
That’s not exactly what I (or probably the Afghans) would call peace, but it’s moving in the right direction. In the National Journal, Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley have spelled out in detail what the ill-conceived “war on terror” has cost, in money, deaths, and other paths not taken.
As we mark Osama bin Laden’s death, what’s striking is how much he cost our nation—and how little we’ve gained from our fight against him. By conservative estimates, bin Laden cost the United States at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years, counting the disruptions he wrought on the domestic economy, the wars and heightened security triggered by the terrorist attacks he engineered, and the direct efforts to hunt him down.
What do we have to show for that tab? Two wars that continue to occupy 150,000 troops and tie up a quarter of our defense budget; a bloated homeland-security apparatus that has at times pushed the bounds of civil liberty; soaring oil prices partially attributable to the global war on bin Laden’s terrorist network; and a chunk of our mounting national debt, which threatens to hobble the economy unless lawmakers compromise on an unprecedented deficit-reduction deal.
Read it all; it’s worth taking in. The smarter defenders of American exceptionalism — of empire — are ready for a changed strategy.
On the other hand: the dumber defenders of empire in the Republican House of Representatives are making an effort to ensure the “war on terror” is permanent. They are afraid that the historical specificity of language in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, adopted in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, might suggest a limit on Presidential authority to send troops chasing around the world. So, according to a summary in Politico,
The new language drops any reference to 9/11 and “affirms” a state of “armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces.” The measure also explicitly gives the president the right to take prisoners “until the termination of hostilities” – something the courts have found to be implicit in the current version of the AUMF, though the new proposal could be seen to extend that power. …
But critics say the Republican-sponsored measure amounts to the first full-scale declaration of war by the U.S. since World War II – at a moment when counter-terrorism efforts are succeeding, the U.S. is withdrawing from Iraq, and about to begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan. And, they say, it gives Obama and any successor carte blanche to attack any individual or any nation without further approval from Congress.
“The U.S. is trying to finish up and pull out of two wars right now [but] Congress is involved in declaring, for the first time in 70 years, worldwide war,” said Chris Anders, a legislative liaison for the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition, Anders said, the legislation would result in “a huge transfer of authority from the Congressional Branch to the Executive Branch” that would give “ authority to this president and all future presidents to use military power, war power wherever a terrorism suspect resides.”
The article indicates the Obama administration has not taken a position on this legislation. We probably can’t count on Democrats to reject this endless extension of an ill-defined “war” unless the administration uses its influence against it. War and a society endlessly anxious about threats, real and imagined, remains popular among our rulers; among most of us, instinctively, not so much so.
Photo via US Army Flickr feed.
Cross posted at Can It Happen Here?