In a lecture Anne-Marie Slaughter recently gave at the University of Virginia law school she raised some interesting questions, all rooted in the fundamental question of whether we are at war and what it now means to be at war. She noted that to justify its “counter-terrorism” policies, the Obama administration (and presumably the Bush administration before it) relies on the Congressional “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” passed following the 9-11 attacks.
Pursuant to that resolution “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
This resolution was relied upon to justify the invasion of Afghanistan, now the longest-running war in American history. These days it is being cited as justification for drone attacks in places far-removed from Afghanistan, like Mali and Yemen. Ms. Slaughter asks, “So now we’re talking about using drone strikes on individuals who are not connected to 9/11, who are not connected to the theater of war, who theoretically could be anywhere. Is that war?”
How far does the resolution extend? If American forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014 as planned, are we still at war? With whom? Does the resolution continue to empower the President to wage war even if the war in Afghanistan is over? Since the authority to detain the prisoners in Guantanamo, who have never been charged with any crime, is linked to the war in Afghanistan, what happens to them when the war ends? “If we end the war in Afghanistan and continue keeping prisoners in Guantanamo, we are violating some of our most precious legal canons,” Ms. Slaughter said.
In the aftermath of 9-11 we created a massive anti-terrorism bureaucracy. We also unleashed the military to wage a couple of ill-defined wars. Lots of money and power rest on the continuing existence of some sort of state of war. There is now an influential web of entities whose very existence depends upon war.
But are we at war? If so, is it the kind of war that is capable of ending? If we are at war with “terrorism,” how does such a war end? Is there ever a time when such a war can be said to be over?
In times of war citizens are more willing to surrender or compromise their liberties. They’re willing to make sacrifices for the war effort. They’re willing to offer up their blood and treasure in defense of the nation.
As Randolph Bourne put it, “War is the health of the State.”
It seems that our nation has entered into a state of perpetual war. That is good for the health of the State and bad for the health of humanity.
Postscript: After writing this, I came across this article, which I highly recommend.