Like a Dog Chasing Its Tail

Do we get these comments because we’ve been busy looking where he isn’t or because it’s true?

The Army’s highest-ranking officer said Friday that he was unsure whether the U.S. military would capture or kill Osama bin Laden, adding, “I don’t know that it’s all that important, frankly.”

“So we get him, and then what?” asked Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the outgoing Army chief of staff, at a Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon. “There’s a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today.

“He’s hiding, and he knows we’re looking for him. We know he’s not particularly effective. I’m not sure there’s that great of a return” on capturing or killing bin Laden.

Does basic justice mean nothing? We don’t stop looking for one murderer because there will still be murders today. This speaks more to the lack of resources, which, given the Bush administration’s actions, implies a lack of will and/or interest. For example:

Schoomaker pointed to the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killings of his sons, Uday and Qusay, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence that the capture or death of al-Qaeda’s leader would have little effect on threats to the United States.

Hmm, ignore those involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, so that we can attack, capture, and kill people who had no involvement in those attacks. The result is little effect on threats to the United States. Shocking.

The general is probably correct that capturing bin Laden would do little to stop the threat, as we’ve seen since the death of al-Zarqawi. But he’s still part of the problem. He’s also directly responsible for the deaths of almost 3,000 human beings. That’s not enough?

Should we prosecute those who say “Boo!”?

I didn’t comment on last week’s story about the Wisconsin man who posted bogus warnings about terrorist attacks on NFL stadiums because I didn’t care enough to ramble about the obvious. But this quote in conjunction with the story amused frustrated me:

“These types of hoaxes scare innocent people, cost business resources and waste valuable homeland security resources. We cannot tolerate this Internet version of yelling fire in a crowded theater in the post-9/11 era,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie in Newark, N.J., where Brahm was charged in a sealed complaint filed Thursday. One of the stadiums mentioned was Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Kudos to Mr. Christie for working in a bogus use of September 11th to explain law enforcement action. (And for reciting the time-worntested example of yelling fire in a crowded theater.) But this recitation of the “post-9/11” talking point is only useful if we can reasonably assume that, pre-9/11, we would’ve ignored what we’re now prosecuting. Maybe we should just regulate The Internets, since we’re in the post-9/11 era. For the innocent people. The children, especially.

This isn’t a video game

Charles Krauthammer gets it right on the issue of Japan and nuclear weapons:

Japan is a true anomaly. All the other Great Powers went nuclear decades ago — even the once-and-no-longer great, such as France; the wannabe great, such as India; and the never-will-be great, such as North Korea. There are nukes in the hands of Pakistan, which overnight could turn into an al-Qaeda state, and North Korea, a country so cosmically deranged that it reports that the “Dear Leader” shot five holes-in-one in his first time playing golf and also wrote six operas. Yet we are plagued by doubts about Japan’s joining this club.

The immediate effect of Japan’s considering going nuclear would be to concentrate China’s mind on denuclearizing North Korea. China calculates that North Korea is a convenient buffer between it and a dynamic, capitalist South Korea bolstered by American troops. China is quite content with a client regime that is a thorn in our side, keeping us tied down while it pursues its ambitions in the rest of Asia. Pyongyang’s nukes, after all, are pointed not west but east.

Japan’s threatening to go nuclear would alter that calculation. It might even persuade China to squeeze Kim Jong Il as a way to prevent Japan from going nuclear. The Japan card remains the only one that carries even the remote possibility of reversing North Korea’s nuclear program.

For whatever reason nuclear weapons are proliferating in East Asia (Pakistan, India, and apparently North Korea), the problem is here to stay. We must work to solutions based in present reality. Considering the only sway we have is with our allies, of whom Japan is the clear winner in Asia, we must use their power to promote stability. Rather, we mustn’t stand in the way of Japan using its power.

It would be nice if we could just make this go away, but deterrent is all we have left. As Mr. Krauthammer points out, we’re delusional if we think China is going to act in our best interest as a matter of policy. The only nations with which we hold any power to negotiate towards success are allies. We wish to persuade the Japanese from joining us as a superpower at the precise time we most need them to match us in ability.

The administration’s policy is understandable, but stuck in a worldview where we haven’t squandered our flexibility, if not our capacity for leadership. As such, it is wrong.

House Majority Leader John Boehner is a badass

The formulation of this story’s opening paragraph implies that something unconstitutional can be made constitutional by wishing it so, but I’ll present it for context:

The House approved a bill Thursday that would grant legal status to President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program with new restrictions. Republicans called it a test before the election of whether Democrats want to fight or coddle terrorists.

“The Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies that help keep our nation secure should be of great concern to the American people,” Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement after the bill passed 232-191.

“To always have reasons why you just can’t vote ‘yes,’ I think speaks volumes when it comes to which party is better able and more willing to take on the terrorists and defeat them,” Boehner said.

How many different ways is Rep. Boehner mistaken?

  • Upholding the Constitution is not irrational. It’s what Representatives (and Senators and Presidents) are sworn to do.
  • Violating the Fourth Amendment is not a “strong national security policy.”
  • Our nation is secure because Republicans are on the job. Our nation is not secure, which is why we still need Republicans in charge. Make up your mind.
  • Better able to take on terrorists? Worthy of debate. More willing? Conceded. But I’m stuck on the defeat part. It’s been five years and they’re still around. The desired permanence of warrantless wiretapping suggests that defeating terrorists isn’t the sole objective. Might there be better tools designed specifically to the task?

But Rep. Boehner knows how to disregard the Constitution for election year politics. Like I said, he’s a badass. God help us all.

Active skepticism is not defeatism

I don’t understand how today’s conservatives can complain about judicial reliance on foreign law while using successful policies (i.e., conform to preferred neocon outcomes) as a rationale for changing U.S. policy. It’s hypocritical, at best, but it’s also flawed. Consider this from today’s Opinion Journal:

Britain’s successful pre-emption of an Islamicist plot to destroy up to 10 civilian airliners over the Atlantic Ocean proves that surveillance and other forms of information-gathering remain an essential weapon in prosecuting the war on terror. There was never any real doubt of this, of course. Al Qaeda’s preferred targets are civilians, and civilians have a right to be protected from such deliberate and calculated attacks. Denying the terrorists funding, striking at their bases and training camps, holding accountable governments that promote terror and harbor terrorists, and building democracy around the world are all necessary measures in winning the war. None of these, however, can substitute for anticipating and thwarting terror operations as the British have done. This requires the development and exploitation of intelligence.

In addition, the British police have certain extraordinary tools designed specifically to fight terrorism. …

  • Secrecy. Similarly, there is a substantial body of opinion in the U.S. that seems to consider any governmental effort to act secretly, or to punish the disclosure of sensitive information, to be illegitimate. Thus, for example, Bush critics persistently attacked the president’s decision to intercept al Qaeda’s international electronic communications without a warrant in part because of its secrecy, even though the relevant members of Congress had been informed of the NSA’s program from the start. By contrast, there appears to be much less hostility in Britain toward government secrecy in general, and little or no tradition of “leaking” highly sensitive information as a regular part of bureaucratic infighting–perhaps because the perpetrators could far more easily be punished with criminal sanctions under the Official Secrets Act in the U.K. than under current U.S. law.

Anyone who believes that we can bury our head and pretend like no threat of terrorism exists does not deserve to be included in the debate. So, why are op-eds such as this arguing only against those people? It would be wiser, and more effective, to debate the merits of how best to achieve our safety within the context of our Constitution. Instead, the conservative discussion is “with us or against us”, where believing in checks on the abuse of power amounts to “against us”. This is stupid.

Consider the notion of secrecy, as presented in the excerpt. The primary objection of libertarians is not that the government must engage in intelligence gathering. As far as it is necessary to protect national security, it is a legitimate function of the government. However, the degree to which it is carried out, and under what exposure to public scrutiny, cannot be ignored. Intercepting electronic communications is an important, and potentially fruitful, endeavor. Assuming that without a warrant is fine since relevant members of Congress were informed is erroneous and anti-Constitution. We grant the power of warrants to the judiciary, not the legislature. Critics of the administration do not quibble for an elimination of power. Critics understand that unchecked power will result in abuse, assurances to the contrary notwithstanding.

We have tools in place already. If they’re insufficient, the administration should make that case to the Congress. It has not done that, ignoring existing rules out of convenience. Given its inability to follow existing requirements, the administration should not be granted the freedom to enact its policies without oversight. That is the chewy center of opposition to the administration’s (indefinite, undefined) war prosecution.

More thoughts on this at A Stitch in Haste, where Kip batted down last week’s silliness from the Wall Street Journal.

Discrediting our principles is counterproductive

A reasonable person who understands and respects American ideals could never write what will surely follow this:

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 govern the treatment of lawful combatants and civilians during wartime. But now a new Pentagon memorandum concludes that Common Article 3 of the Conventions also governs the treatment of unlawful combatants: pirates, drug mafias and especially terrorists. So, five years after 9/11, the U.S. is about to give to people who ram commercial jets into buildings many of the same legal privileges and immunities as the average GI.

Framed that way, it’s easy enough for the non-thinking right-thinking American to be appalled at the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision. That frame is wrong. The sub-title to the Opinion Journal’s editorial implies that we’re now giving legitimacy to terrorists. We’ve done no such thing. The Supreme Court’s proper decision that America is subject to the Geneva conventions is about re-legitimizing our adherence to trusted and tested principles, not giving some special recognition to mass-murdering lunatics. The heinous nature of their crimes should not alter how we treat them in captivity.

What the world needs is a new legal framework for distinguishing between legal and illegal combatants, but instead we are now heading toward the European model where terrorism is seen as just another fact of life and not a unique evil or grave threat.

I’m open to the case about legal versus illegal combatants, although we’re discussing war, so a man with a gun is a man with a gun. What I want to hear to be persuaded is how the differences matter in law, how we’ll decide who is illegal, and what we’ll do to captured prisoners who receive “illegal” status. Torture is not acceptable, again because it is too reprehensible for us to commit. The tortured is irrelevant. I will never concede this point.

The appropriate questions are simple to agree upon. For example, should illegal enemy combatants be held indefinitely until hostilities are concluded? If so, how will we know when the war is over? If we believe enemy combatants without ties to a specific nation are a threat, and we have proof, we should try them in a court of law. The assumption of future aggression against the United States by such combatants after the war is well-founded, but that indicates permanent incarceration for such initial war-making. That should be imposed through a structured system of justice. If we can prove their guilt, that is a reasonable solution. Because its implementation would be neither easy nor expedient is not reason to avoid it.

Instead of silly amendments and false proclamations of adherence, the President should adhere to his responsibilities as spelled out in the Geneva Conventions (and the Constitution). The Congress should not alter his responsibilities because he finds them burdensome.