Here's something that didn't come up at Sunday's Democratic debate: Under what authorization did President Bush order a military strike on Somalia this past Friday--essentially widening the "war on terror"?
While the Dems argued about the best way to get out of this failed and disastrous war in Iraq, what Friday's military strike reveals is how our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from a misconceived "war on terror" --and the damage that "war" continues to inflict on our security and engagement with the world.
That's why I think it's useful that John Edwards is attacking the Bush Administration for its cynical use of "the war on terror" metaphor. A bad bumper sticker, he likes to call it, that "has created a frame that is not accurate and that Bush and his gang have used to justify anything they want to do..."
Very true. Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. The "war" has been used by the Bush team as justification for almost everything--unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty. It's also been used to justify the expansion of America's military capacity--over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets topping $500 billion--as necesary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism and to fight the "war on terror." Now the expansion of the "war on terror" to the Horn of Africa.
What too few politicians (especially frontrunning Dem candidates) are willing to say clearly, honestly--is that combating terrorism is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world (including Afghanistann). Indeed, the failed Iraq war should demonstrate, anew, the limits of military power. Yet, as Friday's missile strike deep inside Somalia exposes is that the hypermilitarized "war" on terror continues in ways we are only seeing the tip of.
Where were the tough questions, for example, when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" earlier this year to hunt down Islamists in Somalia. The consequence: Friday's stike--led by a US Navy destroyer launching an attack on suspected militant forces--was the third US strike inside Somalia this year. (At least that's the figure we know about; There may well be more stirkes we will only learn about through investigative reporting and real Congressional oversight.) According to Sunday's Washington Post, the attack was "the latest in a US military operation that began late last year in Somalia, a moderate Muslim country, and that US officials say is aimed at fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa." The Post also reports that "Dozens of FBI and CIA personnel have traveled to Ethiopia to question Somalis and foreigners, including at least two US citizens, rounded up by Ethiopian troops in Somalia and held in secret prisons that human rights have likened to a mini-Guantanamo." Chilling. A mini-Gitmo in the Horn of Africa.
Yes, let's end the disastrous war in Iraq but let's not lose sight of how this Administration is abusing the 2002 war authorization. It must be repealed, so as to provide some check on this Administration's ability to wage secret wars on obscure battle fronts, large and small, and inflate a real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war. Maybe there's a question in here for one of the next Presidential debates?
Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.
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