One of the scariest developments of the post-9/11 era isn’t the challenge to constitutional principles by the Bush administration—though many of these challenges were indeed quite worrisome—but their extension by the Obama administration, when one of Bush’s land wars is already over and the other looks to be wound down relatively soon. The organization that attacked the country, Al Qaeda, has been all but dismantled and its leader killed. If the war that began on 9/11 might have had a surrender-on-the-deck-of-the-Missouri moment, the death of Osama bin Laden should have been it. Yet that moment has passed. The New York Police Department has felt no need to apologize for its recently revealed surveillance of Muslim students during a whitewater rafting trip upstate.
Indeed, how can we explain the wartime-like secrecy about the use of weaponized drones? The government refuses to explain attacks that have been widely reported, even attacks in Yemen that, in a remarkable challenge to constitutional notions of due process, killed three American citizens (Anwar al-Awlaki, AbdulRahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan). Dudziak provides a clue in her observation that the cold war was perpetuated not only by the activities of the Soviet Union but also by domestic politics. “National security became a tool of partisan politics,” she writes. “Domestic and often partisan political discourse can be more important to public opinion on military conflict than international events themselves.” The Obama administration may believe that there is a genuine national security need to continue Bush-era policies, but there’s also a domestic political benefit to doing so. By perpetuating the wartime of 9/11, Obama cannot be accused of failing to perpetuate it. The only way Republicans can criticize him for being “soft” on Muslim terrorism is to pivot to Iran and urge an attack on its nuclear facilities. The position is so extreme that, though useful in the primaries, it may hurt the Republican nominee in the general election. These days, we prefer that wartime not involve a land war.
Saturday, May 12
Still not done with war
Peter Maass writes,