Mr. Paul goes to Washington

Assassination – No.

There are a lot of things going on in America today, from inclement weather in northern Virginia to the uneasy high-fiving over the record Dow close of yesterday, to my own efforts to refinance my house (a fax-intensive operation, to say the least).

But the most important thing may well be the filibuster Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is conducting in the U.S. Senate right now.  Officially, Paul is holding up the confirmation vote for John Brennan as director of central intelligence – which is, in its own right, a foolish and ill-judged appointment, but Paul has already endorsed the appointments of both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, because he thinks the president should have as much latitude in that area as possible.  Paul’s real concern is, rather, to protest the Obama administration’s refusal to acknowledge that it is unconstitutional – an abuse of the rights of Americans – for a federal government agency to kill a U.S. citizen in a drone strike, when the citizen is not posing an imminent danger to anyone.  The “hook” or connection with the CIA appointment is the use of CIA drones to assassinate terrorists.

Paul and others (e.g., Ted Cruz, questioning Eric Holder) make the distinction as to whether the citizen in question is attacked on U.S. soil versus being attacked overseas.  But I’m not convinced that makes any difference.

Michael Ramsey, writing in the U.-San Diego School of Law Originalist blog, offers the basis for a good case that it doesn’t.  His approach is mainly deductive; mine adds to that the perspective of military necessity, given America’s security circumstances (as opposed to, say, Israel’s, or Colombia’s).  And the conclusion is this:

There is no military necessity to assassinate terrorists.

This is because:

Assassinating terrorists is not a useful method of prosecuting the war on terror.

Read it again:

Assassinating terrorists is not a useful method of prosecuting the war on terror.

The important distinction here is between, on the one hand, militant combatants like the Taliban who use terrorism (as well as other guerrilla methods) to fight U.S. forces – and, on the other hand, terrorists who are hiding out in third-party nations, engaged in plotting or training but posing no imminent threat to U.S. forces or entities (like Anwar al-Awlaki).

The Taliban should be subject to attack – including death – whenever we have the opportunity, and U.S. citizens who operate with the Taliban should be treated like Taliban.  Killing the Taliban in the course of pacifying Afghanistan doesn’t even qualify as “assassination,” any more than killing the Viet Cong was “assassination” in South Vietnam.

But there is no strategic, military, or utilitarian necessity to kill terrorists, of any nationality, when they are living hunkered down in compounds in third-party nations.  There are usually, in fact, more useful things to do with them, if we know where they are and can track their communications and movements.  Killing them on principle can rarely, if ever, be justified as a military necessity – as an important element of strategy or an operational plan.  It isn’t one.

Those who think vaguely that it is necessary, and that it’s no big deal if it’s done routinely, have a mistaken view of what war is.  War isn’t about killing; it’s about achieving your political purpose.  It typically involves killing, but killing isn’t the objective, nor is killing uniformly necessary, even in the application of force.  The war on terror isn’t about killing terrorists; it’s about defeating terrorists and making them give up their purpose.  Sometimes, in situations where killing is inherently necessary – such as regime-changing terror-sponsoring states and reclaiming their territory – killing will be required.  But it isn’t necessary in every facet of the war on terror, and it is definitely not necessary in the case of any particular terrorist “mastermind” or planner.

This is why the president does not need the executive discretion to assassinate terrorists who happen to be U.S. citizens: because assassinating them is not a military necessity.  Whether the president should assassinate foreign terrorists is a separate question.  The question of a U.S. citizen is special, because of the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

No situation involving a terrorist can ever trump the enduring importance to America of restraining the executive’s armed hand against the American people.  Constitutional protections for U.S. citizens do not tie our hands in this matter in any way that is problematic for prosecuting the war on terror.  We will not lose the war on terror – we will not even be slowed down in fighting it – because U.S. citizens are off-limits for drone assassinations.  Period.

There are significant things I disagree with Rand Paul on, but I support his filibuster and I am increasingly disgusted with Americans who are so cavalier about our constitutional protections as to snicker at him.  Paul shouldn’t be a lone voice on this matter.  No presidential administration can be entrusted with the power to assassinate the citizens using drones.  The authors of the Bill of Rights knew precisely that; the weapons have changed since 1789, but the shortcomings of human nature haven’t.

Obama and his appointees ought to acknowledge, explicitly and categorically, that they are prohibited by the Constitution from assassinating the citizens.  In the matter of drone strikes, no consideration of any kind is higher than that one.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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29 thoughts on “Mr. Paul goes to Washington”

  1. The Brennan appointment is one of the worst, most destructive of this Regime. Brennan is functionally a Muslim Brotherhood operative, if not member. His public statements regarding ME policy and Islamist behavior lead me to believe that he is either too dangerously naive to do the job, or cannot be trusted to look out after American sovereign interests (I will keep that mild on purpose.) I lean heavily toward the latter conclusion.

    Brennan looks for all the world like an Alger Hiss… Kaa whispering in Shere Khan’s ear.

    The drone kill issue is but one of a litany of serious issues that should remove Mr. Brennan (if that’s his name anymore) from consideration.

    On the issue of drone strikes, and robot warfare, my views are well known. It is a cowardly and soulless way to conduct warfare. It is problematic enough using them against active combatants, and unconscionable against undefended disengaged targets. It is the perfect liberal murder tool.. sterile, cowardly, convenient, and risk adverse. It is passive aggression with nothing to leave behind but the resentment of the survivors.

    My observation about what drones are doing spying on the American people is simple. This Regime is abusive and paranoid. It has already made it abundantly clear that it does not trust the American people, and most of all the people who present “threats” to the Leftist control being imposed. Drones allow the police state to monitor the Red State populous for suspicious or potentially subversive activities. When returning veterans are listed as suspicious potential subversives, you understand where this is going.

    The Regime is ugly. It’s policies are based on lies. It gains power by the exploitation of envy, ignorance, and raw emotion incite the mob. And it gathers around itself the protection level that it requires to insulate itself from the results of its incitement.

    I sure hope Messers Paul, Lee, and Cruz have a good long run at this. It is tonic to see someone on our side fight for a change.


  2. I’m not well versed in this, and this is a difficult legal issue.

    Way I see it

    Senator Paul did the right thing by drawing attention to this. American citizens should be accorded their rights under the constitution.They can’t be shot/blown up by the government, (unless, they are in the act of executing a terrorist attack), without due process.

    But, the executive, any executive, should have the right to preempt/prevent an attack (either in an emergency, or on the basis of sound intelligence), and save American lives, even at the cost of American lives on American soil… using any and all means.

    The use of drones to kill within the boundaries of the US is a legal issue that will probably have be settled in the courts. If it will be settled at at all.

    Looking at the problem (terrorism within the United States) from a more pragmatic view.
    The practical problem, seems to me, is not letting these people (terrorists or potential national security threats) into the US to begin with.. At this point in time the enemy is much more foreign than domestic.

    Again, pragmatically. the vast majority of people falling under the category “potential terrorists” are foreign or dual nationals. We should consider reexamining and redefining what exactly is a dual national, and what activities of a dual national (either domestically or abroad) can lead to the loss of United States citizenship.This way, a potential threat, once recognized, can be dealt with without the cover of his/her US citizenship. This will not eliminate the problem but will minimize it. And I do realize where you draw the line on someone losing their citizenship is no trivial matter.

    A more stringent application of immigration and visa regimes, and of course, control of our borders, would also go a long way, in practicality, towards minimizing the risk of terrorist attack within the US…rendering the need to contemplate drone strikes on our own citizenry less likely,.

  3. It is not necessary and will never be necessary to assassinate any terrorist in order to “save American lives.”

    In any situation in which the terrorist is actively posing an imminent threat of death to others — e.g., has his finger on a bomb trigger, is in the middle of a terrorist attack of that or some other kind — then it is NOT “assassination” to kill him.

    It’s assassination when he is killed only when the opportunity presents itself, while he is not posing an imminent threat. This has one legal implication when the terrorist is a foreigner. (A fuzzy, unclear one.) It has a different, constitutional implication when the terrorist is an American. Either way, the act of killing him under those circumstances is assassination.

    And either way, it is unnecessary from a military standpoint. It will never be necessary. Therefore, it is invalid to argue that the president needs this discretion over a US citizen. He doesn’t.

    1. “It … will never be necessary to assassinate any terrorist in order to “save American lives.”

      With all due respect, you are IMO profoundly mistaken. Your supposition is that in refusing to assassinate an American terrorist who is not currently an “immanent” threat, the opportunity to kill them will present itself when they are an immanent threat. That is a patently faulty supposition.

      You conflate military necessity, terrorism and effective response. Effectively responding to terrorism requires the entire panoply of forces available to the President, civilian and military.

      The sole opportunity to stop an actual terrorist operation may only occur at some singular point in its implementation and that may occur well before it has become an immanent threat. Key to stopping that operation may conceivably be a situation where it can only be stopped through assassinating an American terrorist when the opportunity occurs because we cannot know that another opportunity will occur when the threat is ‘immanent’.

  4. I was unclear in my second paragraph I’m afraid.

    It was not my intention to imply that American citizens should be targeted.
    I wished to point out that a situation could occur where the targeting of a foreign terrorist could lead to the unintended deaths of innocent Americans inadvertently (a drone blowing up a pick-up loaded with explosives on the way to a school and the fragments killing an innocent bystander for example).

    I’ll have to think long and hard on just exactly what constitutes an assassination (of a foreign national always) and whether it can be justified under the national interest. Where the definition of imminent threat begins and ends is subject to interpretation and beyond my capabilities.

    I did say that I wasn’t very good with this. Be lenient Optcon 🙂

  5. jgets, where a US citizen’s death in the attack on a terrorist is collateral or accidental, I don’t see a constitutional issue. There may be other issues (e.g., due diligence, professionalism), but that would be on a case-by-case basis. And such issues may not come into play at all.

    My concern is with targeting specific Americans on kill lists. I am curious as to why there are people who want so badly for the president to have the discretion to do this. It is not analogous to the discretion to wage war in all the conventional ways, such as killing soldiers (even guerrillas) in a combat zone. The big separating factor is military necessity.

    There is no military necessity — no national defense necessity, no national security necessity — to kill a terrorist with a drone strike while he is being driven in a vehicle from point A to point B. Or having coffee in a coffee shop, or heading home from the mosque, or shopping with his family at the mall. Doing this changes nothing, for the attainment of our national-security objectives. It is not necessary. Therefore, the protections of the Constitution override the DESIRE to do this, when the target would be a US citizen.

    1. You concern about the kill list is a legitimate one. My knowledge on this is superficial, but more transparency on the procedure of placing Americans on them seems in order.
      American citizen, enemy combatant, imminent threat, seem to be the key words, and if I am not mistaken, how the right of a military commander to legally detain an enemy combatant (that is also an American citizen) turned into the legally premeditated killing of one is at issue But like I said this is a legal issue way beyond my expertise.

      Judging from today’s news reports, it seems Senator Mccain and Graham are with the president on this one. Sometimes, Washington politics can seem quite odd to an outsider …

    2. “There is … no national security necessity — to kill a [American] terrorist with a drone strike while he is being driven in a vehicle from point A to point B.”

      Scenario; an American terrorist traitor is a real ‘mastermind’ (smart and has extensive knowledge of his ‘enemy’) and has developed a plan for implementing a nuclear attack upon New York.

      The plan has a very high probability of success, remember he’s a real ‘mastermind’ and, he’s on his way (being driven in a vehicle from point A to point B) to reveal the plan at a meeting with high ups in Al Qaeda.

      He’s told no one else of his plan. Once the plan is revealed, any competent operative can head up its implementation, so killing him on his way to the meeting is the only way to be certain of stopping Al Qaeda from implementing his plan.

      Since he hasn’t even revealed his plan, he isn’t an ‘immanent’ threat.

      What do you do?

      Agreed, if you assassinate him it is unconstitutional. If you do not, there is a high probability that you have just condemned millions of American to die.

      The probability of such a scenario; of an American terrorist mastermind in such a situation isn’t the issue, the possibility of it and, your preemptive denial of what may be the only effective means of responding, at the sole opportunity to do so is the issue.

    3. If we are at war with an organization, the conduct of that war should reflect the same principles of war between nations. It is very clear that we can target enemy war production (e.g.,comparable to terrorists making bombs) and their command, control and communication capabilities (e.g., terrorist masterminds plotting, directing and organizing attacks.)

      In my opinion they don’t have to be engaged in an ongoing attack to be legitimate targets. The attack may be planned for a month from now. The bomb makers may not be working round the clock.

      There may be arguments whether an attack produced positive results, but I can see legitimate arguments that terrorist capabilities are degraded, and certain attacks on the US are delayed or deterred by removing key links in terrorist command, control or communication.

  6. “Paul’s real concern is, rather, to protest the Obama administration’s refusal to acknowledge that it is unconstitutional – an abuse of the rights of Americans – for a federal government agency to kill a U.S. citizen in a drone strike, when the citizen is not posing an imminent danger to anyone.”

    It is a false distinction and of course it’s unconstitutional. That said, there is absolutely the possibility that an American citizen could pose a clear and present danger to our national security. In a world with nuclear weapons, that American could pose a mortal threat to millions.

    “There is no military necessity to assassinate terrorists. This is because:
    Assassinating terrorists is not a useful method of prosecuting the war on terror.”

    With respect, I couldn’t disagree more. Assassinating terrorists, American or otherwise is insufficient in toto but as part of an effective strategy against terrorism, it is not only necessary but essential.

    “The important distinction here is between, on the one hand, militant combatants like the Taliban who use terrorism (as well as other guerrilla methods) to fight U.S. forces – and, on the other hand, terrorists who are hiding out in third-party nations, engaged in plotting or training but posing no imminent threat to U.S. forces or entities (like Anwar al-Awlaki).”

    Your distinction is incomplete. Terrorists seek to attack American civilians and the smart ones want nothing to do with fighting US forces. And terrorists who are hiding out in third-party nations, are engaged in plotting and training for future attacks against American citizens, U.S. forces and/or US interests.

    “But there is no strategic, military, or utilitarian necessity to kill terrorists, of any nationality, when they are living hunkered down in compounds in third-party nations.”

    They are terrorists. The issue isn’t what they are doing right now but what they will most certainly do ASAP. Your predication is that, not if but when they become an immanent threat, we will be in position to stop them. That supposition is at best problematic. What you are advocating is that the potential deaths of millions of American’s is worth protecting the constitutional rights of an American traitor(s).

    Your supposition that effectively fighting terrorists can ALWAYS be done constitutionally is IMO mistaken. Your supposition is that we can always fight American terrorists constitutionally without the probability of paying a terrible price. That supposition depends upon the premise that bypassing an opportunity to assassinate an American citizen who is not an ‘immanent’ threat can later be accomplished, not if but when they are an immanent threat.

    “War isn’t about killing; it’s about achieving your political purpose. The war on terror isn’t about killing terrorists; it’s about defeating terrorists and making them give up their purpose. [Killing] is definitely not necessary in the case of any particular terrorist “mastermind” or planner.”

    “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” G. Patton
    Political purpose may be achieved without killing when dealing with nation states but not fanatical, ideological/religious terrorists. You can attack the sources of the ideology that motivates fanaticism and thus reduce its appeal but you can’t make fanatical terrorists “give up their purpose” as their fanaticism is what defines them. . “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” W. Churchill

    A real “terrorist “mastermind” or planner” represents a far more serious existential threat than any group of terrorists. The mastermind who first thought of using airplanes to fly into skyscrapers was a far more serious threat than those who flew the planes into the Twin Towers. Give me three nukes and the logistical resources to employ them and I can not only bring the US to its knees but force it to abandon its presence in the Middle East. I can then parley that into collapsing the financial base of the West. That is NOT idle speculation but careful strategic analysis of the geo-political dynamics at play.

    “No situation involving a terrorist can ever trump the enduring importance to America of restraining the executive’s armed hand against the American people.”

    Ah. That is a judgment call and one that I agree is a profoundly serious consideration. It’s entirely reasonable to assert that a President assassinating (as you define it) American citizens poses an unacceptable danger to the republic that supersedes any other consideration. That however is an entirely different issue, than the strategic efficacy of preemptively killing American terrorists.

  7. GB, I want to thank you for addressing my main point. My concern isn’t whether it is “legal” or not to assassinate terrorists — by the law of armed conflict or the United States Code — but whether it is necessary for achieving the objective of the war.

    You and I will have to settle for a profound disagreement on this question, I suspect. The objective of the war on terror is to defeat the ideology that justifies terror against populations. Administering strategic blows like regime-changing the state sponsors of terrorism is useful for that purpose, because it (a) denies the ideologues territory and resources, (b) intimidates those of like intent (e.g., Libya and Iran, after the Iraq invasion of 2003), and (c) damages the reputation of whatever “Axis of Evil” we’re dealing with.

    Killing individual terrorists is not useful for achieving the war objective. At most, it is a force- or population-defense measure. That doesn’t mean it is unimportant or unnecessary in se, but it does mean it is “overhead” for the main objective: a supporting effort, not the main effort, and not the means of achieving victory.

    It should be quite obvious by now that killing individual terrorists doesn’t reduce the ranks of terrorists. It doesn’t adversely affect terrorists’ level of motivation. It doesn’t leave terrorists leaderless or lacking the ability to coordinate plans and operations. It doesn’t make terrorists rethink their purpose, nor does it convince the populations in thrall to terrorists — or harboring terrorists, with varying degrees of willingness — that the terrorists are weak, or that the populations can break free or establish a better way of life.

    War is about how people are going to live on territory — always. It is fought because one side has an idea about that that is obnoxious to the other side. The global war on terror IS a war, and as with any war, the way to win it is to force the enemy to give up his purpose — however you want to frame it, he needs to roll over, submit, stop fighting, let you dictate terms to him.

    Killing individual terrorists isn’t a way of achieving that objective. It does not advance our prospects of victory. That is the case at both the tactical level — e.g., pacifying villages in Afghanistan — and the strategic level.

    Killing terrorists isn’t what makes villages safe and reliably friendly; instead, it’s a change of heart, a new commitment and leadership, on the part of the villagers who intend to make their lives there. David Petraeus was one of a handful of senior officers who understood that and tailored the “surge” in 2006-7 to give Iraqis a basis of trust on which to make exactly those changes. We could kill terrorists 24/7 and not win the cooperation of the locals, if we didn’t stick around and be there to discourage the next terrorist cell, by establishing a self-sustaining terror-free village life.

    Iraq is starting to fall apart because of pressures from Iran and Syria, in a larger picture in which Obama is seen as weak and disengaged. But the pacification achieved by 2007 has hung in there to a remarkable degree up until the last few months. And indeed, a number of analysts made the case at the time that the “Anbar awakening” — the decision of local leaders in Western Iraq to start expelling Sunni terrorists and Saddam-sympathizers, even before the US surge fully kicked in — was encouraged by the expectations the Anbar leaders had about Bush. Bush was seen as a strong leader who would make good on his threats and promises; it was in the best interest of the Anbar tribal leaders to cooperate with his plan.

    At the strategic level, what is missing from our current posture in the war on terror is not the assassination killing of terrorists (which we have plenty of), but credibility on the part of our president. I guarantee you we can assassinate terrorists for the next 40 years and that will do nothing to achieve victory in the war on terror. The terrorists will just keep coming.

    They will rechannel their energies when an opportunity arises, as they are doing with the Arab Spring — not because they are being killed, but because Egypt and Tunisia are paths of lower resistance, with more useful short-term payoffs, than mounting spectacular attacks against the West. But in Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, Syria, and Pakistan — all across the Islamic instability belt — the terrorists will continue to attack Westerners, intimidate local populations, and commit gruesome murders, including mass murders. A campaign of assassinating them will neither reduce their numbers nor change their minds — nor will it strengthen the backbone of the local populations against them.

    Assassinating terrorists is NOT analogous to fighting on a battlefield and having to kill the enemy soldiers as the only means of taking the ground. The “taking the ground” aspect of the situation is something both models have in common. We do need to “take ground” in the war on terror. We need to see the founts of terrorism established as swaths of territory that do NOT produce and harbor terrorists — ideally, by the local peoples.

    But we’re not fighting a pitched, conventional land battle in which killing the enemy combatants, in and of itself, literally and materially advances our cause. That doesn’t mean we aren’t justified in killing them when we have to — to protect our forces, our people, or local populations — but it does mean that killing them, in and of itself, is not an effective method of pursuing our objective.

    Rand Paul offered a procedure yesterday while speaking to Rush LImbaugh on Limbaugh’s radio program: convict someone like Anwar al-Awlaki of treason in a court proceeding, and then conduct the drone strike on him. I have no interest in keeping Awlaki alive, and I could live with that. The requirement for a prior judicial proceeding would involve more people than the president alone, and would leave an auditable trail, including a reckoning of the US case against him.

    If I had the decision to make myself — if I were the president — I believe I would attempt to capture Awlaki rather than killing him with a drone strike. If he were killed resisting the capture attempt, so be it. If not, he could and should be executed on conviction of treason.

    Erring on the side of caution and keeping the options open would be appropriate for a US citizen — not because of Awlaki’s merit, but because of the precedent any action would set for the US government’s dealings with other citizens. There is no reason to create bad precedents, if you can help it.

    But note that this final discussion is about executing Awlaki for treason. It is not about winning the war on terror. The two things are different, and the former does not serve to achieve the latter.

    1. I find less to disagree with in this clarified exposition of your position J.E.

      Yes, the objective of the war on terror is to defeat the ideology that justifies terror against populations.

      But administering strategic blows like regime-changing the state sponsors of terrorism to deny ideologues territory and resources… is insufficient to permanently intimidate those of like intent and does little to defeat the ideology that justifies terror against populations… because the rogue states, the jihadist supporting states, the terrorist organizations… are an outer layer of the onion.

      The core of the onion is Islam itself and no amount of attacking Islam’s periphery can permanently dissuade Islam’s ideology. We are doing nothing to discredit Islam’s credibility, in fact we support Islam’s credibility by falsely asserting it to be a ‘religion of peace’. And ‘mainstream’ Muslims are seeking to use accusations of Islamophobia as a tool to obstruct any critical examination of Islam or its actions. They are doing that because they know that if Islam’s ideology is “off limits” then we shall never come to grips with the source of jihadist terrorism.

      And killing keyindividual terrorists is most useful for achieving the war’s objective. Hitler killing Rommel was materially a victory for the allied forces because it reduced Hitler’s intellectual resources. Killing top leadership in any organization is an undeniable set back because at the least, it creates a period of disruption in command and control. One that may never be fully replaced, as history demonstrates, competent strategic and tactical commanders do not grow on trees.

      And I am not suggesting that killing terrorists, in and of itself, should be the entirety of pursuing our objective. I’m suggesting that it is an important tool in our box, one that can sometimes provide far more impact than could be achieved through other means.

      I entirely concur with Rand Paul’s sentiment, try them in absentia with review by higher courts to enforce oversight and then, either capture or kill them by whatever means are best indicated. If captured, wring them dry for intelligence and the instant it is determined that their usefulness is at an end, execute them.

      Finally, a President’s ability to order the death(s) of an American citizen should be carefully limited and be subject to review by Congress.

      1. GB, your analogy breaks down, between the loss of Rommel to the Nazi regime and the loss of Terrorist X to Al Qaeda. It turns out to be invalid.

        The reason is that the mode of war is different. Rommel mattered because of the kind of war Hitler was fighting: a war of pitched battles and conventional power used to take and hold territory. In that kind of war, time is very important. Victory and defeat are framed around “events” — such as battles won or lost, ships sunk, political declarations made — whose import is obvious in a time-driven context. The situation today is different from the situation yesterday, in a way that is readily intelligible to the average person.

        Rommel, in and of himself, was important to the task of bringing power to bear at focused points, in that time- and event-driven frame of war. The conditions of, say, 1943 would never recur; there were clear choices, on a timetable meaningful to daily life, about how to focus effort and resources. To do it one way would produce Outcome A, whereas another way would produce Outcome B, and both would be readily evident very quickly.

        The GWOT is not such a war, nor is the Islamist terrorist a symmetrical enemy — a nation-state waging war in a time-driven manner. Some of the GWOT’s campaigns are mostly definable in conventional terms, such as the invasion of Iraq, and even, to a large extent, the pacification of Iraq in the surge. Not having Petraeus for the surge, with his stable of colonel/1-star-level COIN experts, would have been somewhat analogous to Hitler lacking Rommel as the Allies closed in.

        But what is NOT analogous is the situation of the terrorist enemy. There are no “Rommels” — or “Petraeuses” — among the terrorists. No one is indispensable, because time and place don’t have the significance they have in conventional war. Focus is achieved in a different way: we might say with “incessancy.” No one theorist, commander, or charismatic leader is a single key, but the same intentions and patterns just keep cropping up, across the Islamic instability belt, over and over and over again. The means of warfare are easily replicable, requiring no strategic brilliance or special skill.

        The diabolical genius of Islamist terrorism is that it isn’t focused on a time-obvious “win” or “lose” objective; it is focused on inducing destruction of the target’s will, over a timeframe much longer than most people can give focused attention. It is about destruction, not construction. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were about construction; not good, moral, positive construction, to be sure, but they had visions for organizing the future. Islamist terrorism does not. It is, in key ways, quite Alinskyite in its perspective, being all about tearing down the confidence and sense of security of the existing order.

        Killing Saul Alinsky would have done nothing to deter or thwart Alinskyism – his death has quite obviously not been an operational problem for his disciples – and the same is true of killing Islamist terror leaders.

        Again, I emphasize that the issue here is whether killing them advances OUR objective in fighting the war. Preventing specific terrorist attacks is not a means of advancing our objective, because it doesn’t change anything about the enemy’s situation or will. That, again, is because the enemy isn’t Rommel with a tank army, supported by bombers and artillery – all things that could be destroyed or denied to the Nazi enemy on an operationally-significant timeline. Attrition – both absolute and relative – mattered in World War II. It isn’t an applicable strategy for the GWOT.

        The GWOT is a different kind of war; the enemy doesn’t need, at a particular time, any specific, not-easily-replicable set of skills or resources. Deny him cell-phone comms today and he’ll have them again tomorrow. Kill his jihadis and he’ll have more next week. Kill him, and another leader will be operational within a month.

        I recognize, indeed, the broad-scale difficulty of defeating the ideology here – but it’s the ideology that has to be defeated. It ought to be self-evident by now that assassinating terrorists doesn’t have any effect on how compelling the ideology is to its adherents. Nor does it impress general populations. It has no power to persuade the populations of the Islamic instability belt that Western liberalism is better, stronger, and greater than Islamist totalitarianism.

        People everywhere prefer to live in peace and with opportunity, but that doesn’t mean they automatically recognize Western liberalism as the “strong horse.” Having to constantly kill individuals – never winning, never getting them to shut up and stop waging their stupid “war” – doesn’t make anyone look strong. The colonial powers after World War II can attest to that. Piling up bodies is just piling up bodies, if it has no utility for a political objective. And that’s the case with assassinating terrorists.

        The signal turn in the GWOT would, in fact, be something not even related to the activities of the terrorists. That turn would be the West recovering its own heritage and establishing a future based on its best self. It’s not because of the terrorists that America doubts herself so profoundly today; the terrorists have just found a weakness to exploit. It is up to us, regardless of what they do, to restore our national confidence and the vision of liberty, individual rights, constitutionalism, Western liberal-skepticism, etc.

        As with the election of Reagan in the 1980s and its signal to a precarious communist order, choosing to embrace our true heritage would go a long way toward discouraging the Islamist ideologues. It would empower us quickly – starting with improving our economic situation – and change the path of the downward spiral America and the West are on right now. In 2012, Mitt Romney did not offer us such a choice or opportunity; the people weren’t stupid to see that, even if I disagree as to the wisdom of not voting for him. But if we want to win the GWOT, one of the most important things to do is recover a genuinely liberal America, with rights against government held holy and a true spirit of liberality in the people. Many are confused today, thinking that we still have those things, and wondering how it can all be going so wrong. But the problem is that we don’t have those things. We have sold them, bit by bit, for an illusion of security or comfort.

        1. I can agree that we don’t waste a drone strike on an insignificant, fungible, easily replaced enemy soldier. But I cannot agree that every high-ranking terrorist is non-essential to the terrorists’ objectives. In any case, that would be a subject on which our strategists could disagree in good faith.

          I also disagree that everyone wants to live in peace. Our current enemy does not, unless “peace” is defined by our elimination.

        2. Rubbish.

          Rommel wasn’t indispensible. He had no crucial or lasting input in any of the theaters in which he was a participant. In wars like WWII or the Vietnam War particular, individual generals are never indispensible. These wars would have played out to the same conclusion if Giap, Westmoreland, Zhukov, or Von Rundstedt, had been killed and replaced by others. General Curtiss Lemay was a particularly unpleasant individual, but he got one thing right when he said that “war is about killing the enemy, and when you kill enough of them they give up”.
          The only difference with a war against insurgents/terrorists (take your pick) is that in prosecuting it, it is necessary, while killing enemy combatants, to pursue, in lockstep, a diplomatic option to address the reasons for the insurgency and drain the swamp that feeds the insurgency.

    2. ” The objective of the war on terror is to defeat the ideology that justifies terror against populations.”

      that’s not the sole objective, Kid.

      along the way we most def want to prevent the terrorists’ killing our citizens and killing their leaders is a fairly effective means of securing that.

  8. Attorney General, Holder clarified the legal position for Mr. Paul in a succint letter which was also copied to the media.

    The situation is simple. The government can take whatever action it deems necessary, including summary execution, against individuals who are engaged in activities which endanger the security of the United States and its citizens, and who are on foreign territory, and are not otherwise amenable to interdiction or justice. There is no distinction between US and non-US citizens in this regard.
    Within the territory of the United States, the legal rules applying to the use of lethal force in interdicting and arresting suspects are the same for both suspected terrorists and suspected criminals generally. And because all human persons on US territory are under the protection of our rule of law, there is again no distinction between the legal position of US and non-US citizens in this regard. (There is plenty of legal difference when it comes to what can happen after apprehension)

    Another cobbled up non-controversy by the OTC (But what can one expect from our resident hysteric who compares Michelle Obama’s appearance on the Oscars show as a prelude to our decline into despotism? But the OTC is in good company. Some joker here seems to believe that the Roman Catholic, 2nd generation Irish-American, and incoming director of the CIA is a closet Moslem!)

  9. Let me first say the Paul’s recognition that humans are persons and persons are human is a breath taking revelation. I shall reflect on this for sometime.
    On to the commentary. For me, this is Deja Vu all over again.
    One troubling aspect is the fact, the President of the United States has to issue a letter to state clearly that he does not have the right to kill US Citizens in the United States with a drone. A bit Orwellian to say the least.
    Senator Paul and Senator Cruz, among others (like it or not) is the future of the Republican party. Although I have the greatest respect for Senator McCain, he is the past. He embarrased himself on the floor of the Senate with his snarky comments concerning Senator Paul.
    As for Drones:No One has the right or authority to order strikes on an American Citizen in United States territory.
    Drone are an excellent tool to kill terrorists and their cohorts outside the US territory.
    Let me address my next comments to the whiners and apologists for Islamic terrorists.
    The fact that killing major Islamic terrorists does not end the Islamic threat is not to say it is very useful. We rid ourselves of the most serious symptoms while the threat survives.
    The strategic outlook concerning Islamic expansion is driven by demographics and the the fall of Middle Eastern strongmen.
    The upward curve of young,poor,un-educated, Arab males is an explosive situation. This population profile will not trend down for a generation or two ( there are most certainly differences country by country).
    The strongmen will be missed as an anchor and a lid on the explosive nature of Sharia followers. Religious Totalitarianism at its finest.
    Drones will not solve the problem, but they will be a reminder that we are watching. Please feel free to make a Facist mess in your own pathetic corner of the world. Be smart, keep it local.
    If you decide to plan or try to execute violent actions against the United States, we will kill you and anyone un-lucky enough to be standing next to you. Not a perfect solution. Not a perfect world.
    The long term outlook in the Middle East will not change no matter what we do. We simply protect ourselves while the tragedy plays out.

    1. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread……..
      And you’re a bigger fool than most.

      Under our system of law there are two classes of “person”: human persons and corporations. The phrase “human persons” is commonly used in legal commentary where the subject matter is relevant to, or applicable to human persons only.

      Unfortunately, it not only in the Arab World that we have the “uneducated”.

      1. paul, that was rather a cheap shot. ain’t any great defect in reed not to have an education in law.

        1. Granted.

          The defect is his tendency to put his foot in his mouth. Perhaps he should get an adult to vet his comments before he rushes into print.

          1. And while we’re on the subject of personal “defects”: yours is having your tongue in your cheek.

  10. Ah, the adorable couple. Can picking patterns be far away?

    An open note to the class:Just finished re-reading ” The Story of the Malakand Field Force ” by Churchill. 1897 British foray into the Northwest Frontier after the 2nd Afgan War, but 19 years before the 3rd Afgan War . Churchill was 25.
    His description of the tribesmen, chieftans, khans and warlords are still accurate for the 21st century.
    A very drone friendly country.

  11. Fareed Zakaria made a good point on GPS regarding drones which I believe the Optcon and several commentators brought up here a couple of months ago.

    Aside from the purely American utilization of, and debate on the domestic use of, drones. We are rapidly approaching the time where other actors, state(China) and non-state(AI-Qaeda) alike, will be expanding the use of drones to serve their interests in the same ways as we do now. That’s certainly something we will be hearing more about and will probably eclipse the current debate on our drone use.

    Off topic for Optcon.
    Could be nothing. According to (they were first and right about the Turkish RF-4 downing, but wrong on “Alrosa”) I thought you’d be interested. Here’s the gist of it.
    Quoting Russian Defense Ministry sources, It seems there was a suspicious transfer of materiel from a Nork nuclear facility to the naval base at Mayang Do on Feb 12th, before a large number of Yono class subs set sail. At least five Nork minisubs supposedly carrying nuclear tipped torpedoes have evaded the patrols of the 7th Fleet and South Korean Navy. Their most likely target is the South Korean naval base
    at Busan (Pusan) or possibly the Japanese naval base at Yokohama.

    Russian nuclear forces are on a heightened state of readiness due to the Korean situation.

    Report is in Greek,υποβρύχιο-της-β-κορέας-εξοπλισμένα-με-τορπίλες-με-πυρηνικές-κεφαλές-αναζητά-το-ναυτικό-της-ν

    1. Thanks for the link and translation, jgets. I discount the “nuclear-tipped torpedoes.” Ain’t happenin. But there could certainly be a mini-sub surge.

      It’s quite possible that it’s a mini-sub “dispersal,” in anticipation of the mini-subs being targeted. The Norks know they’re being bad. They might be preparing to attack a single South Korean warship, as opportune, which they have done before, but in the context of their current saber-rattling could well provoke a more active response than previously. Dispersing the high-value assets is a time-honored preparation measure for the “focuses of evil” — bad guy nations — in the modern world.

      1. You’re welcome. Nork nuclear tipped torpedoes would be a shocking development. Though It does strike me that they are going a bit too far this time, even for them.

        Maybe we will take up the subject in one of your future postings 🙂

        1. Maybe so, although those guys (Norks) are really boring. La la la, one single lousy, rotten note for the last 60 YEARS, for crying out loud.

          Meanwhile, you may enjoy the new post on Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, etc.

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