(This is our latest post. To learn about our project, click on "About," above.)The lead letter in the June 3 Washington Post is by AEMP director Caleb Rossiter. The letter responds to an editorial about the legal basis for drone strikes and other military attacks in the long-running "war on terror."
The editorial assumed that this war would have to continue indefinitely -- an assumption that the letter argues is based on accepting U.S. efforts to choose the governments of the Middle East and North Africa:
"If we drop that exceptionalist mission, we'll stop being a target. Until then, we always will be one."
Click here to read the letter.
The published letter is a shortened version of the one submitted. Here is the original letter:
Editor, The Washington Post:
Your editorial (“Counterterror contradication,” May 30) is correct to see risks in President Obama’s plan to phase out the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF) and rely on constitutional authority to conduct our war with the violent wing of militant Islam. However, the editorial is wrong to see the continuation of this war as an apolitical necessity, rather than an affirmation of a political decision decades ago by the United States to dominate the Muslim world in alliance with cooperative regimes.
In 2008 I was working for Congressman Bill Delahunt as he sought to require congressional consideration of an agreement governing the conduct of U.S. troops during the withdrawal from Iraq, and to toughen the War Powers Resolution. I found that many members of the House did not trust their colleagues to act responsibly in future crises, and saw more wisdom, if not constitutionality, in placing the entire burden of sending troops into combat in the hands of the Executive. The repeal of the 2001 AUMF would likely result in even less oversight by Congress.
As a top congressional adviser on war powers, the Congressional Research Service’s Richard Grimmett, has written, negotiations in the Senate after 9/11 curbed a request by the Bush administration for authority to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism.” The result was the AUMF, which limited U.S. combat to nations and groups that carried out the 9/11attacks or “harbored” its planners. The originally sought authority has been approximated, though. There has been little congressional objection as presidents have applied their authority broadly to “associated forces” of the original enemies.
We are waging war against groups with little connection to the original crime, including the Pakistani Taliban and other Pakistani groups, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and al-Qaeda affiliates and other groups in Yemen. The AUMF has been interpreted most loosely in Mali, where U.S. forces have aided France in attacking the Tuareg separatist groups Ansar al-Dine and the MNLA as well as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algerian group that arose from opposition to a 1991 military coup, which did not take its new name until 2007.
The missing discussion continues to be: why are we at war anyway? The United States, stepping in for the European powers after colonialism, started what the Pentagon calls the "long war" for control of the Middle East and North Africa. From the 9/11 attacks to the Boston Marathon bombings, we are under attack because of our insistence on choosing the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the rest of the Islamic world, and hence are the violent militants’ “far enemy.”
Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary, said before approving the invasion that ousted one Afghan ruler for a more compliant one in 1839, “We do not want to make Afghanistan a British province, but we must have it an ally on whom we can depend.” That is the mantle we have adopted throughout the Islamic world. If we drop that exceptionalist mission, we'll stop being a target. Until then, we always will be one.
Caleb Rossiter, Director, American Exceptionalism Media Project