I know the world is a dangerous place. I understand that there are people who want to attack the United States and kill Americans. I realize that American Presidents face decisions unfathomable to most citizens they pledge to protect. But something has changed in the way the United States practices war-making, and we aren’t talking about it. We aren’t asking the deep questions about why terrorism exists. Most of us are not even aware of the extent to which a new legacy of terror has been created in our name.
I remain horrified, embarrassed, and sorry that my nation invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The Bush administration decided that we were going to make war against Iraq and then went looking for reasons to justify their actions. Those reasons were lies. The administration incorporated many methods and policies into the “war on terror” that I find sickening (indefinite detention, water boarding, rendition, etc.).
The Obama Administration has continued, and even expanded, a significant number of Bush Administration policies when it comes to war-making.
On May 29, the New York Times published “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” by Jo Becker and Scott Shane. I found the story deeply troubling. Then on July 9, Esquire Magazine upped the ante with “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama,” by Tom Junod. The Esquire article is the most harrowing, challenging, and well-articulated article I’ve read on what the United States is now doing to execute the “war on terror.”
I wish all Americans would read these two powerful articles in full. We should know what is being done in our name. Here are a few brief excerpts from Esquire:
Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They’re careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one.
It is a war not only of technological precision but moral discrimination, designed to separate the guilty from the innocent. It is, indeed, war as an alternative to war: It saves lives by ending lives; it responds to those plotting mass murder by, well, murdering them.
The author writes directly to President Obama:
Yet you are committing something that looks like murder in the cause of war. You are shedding the blood of one in order to spare the blood of many. You are not observing moral distinctions so much as you are inventing them, in the pursuit of what you regard as both a historic opportunity and a personal obligation. You have made a historic opportunity into your personal obligation, and in so doing you have made sure that no man can become president unless he knows that he has it within him to kill another man — one whose face he has probably seen, one whose name he probably knows.
Yes, something has changed in the United States of America. Executing, and legally justifying the execution of, our “enemies” as a pro-active, publicly acknowledged, preventative measure shifts American foreign policy and war-making. I believe it also goes against everything we claim to have stood for throughout our history.
Most significantly, as the most powerful nation on earth, the United States often sets the example; one that becomes precedent, and then simply “the way things are done.”
John Brennan, the President’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, notes:
“Other nations also possess this technology. Many more nations are seeking it, and more will succeed in acquiring it. President Obama and those of us on his national-security team are very mindful that as our nation uses this technology, we are establishing precedents that other nations may follow, and not all of them will be nations that share our interests or the premium we put on protecting human life, including innocent civilians.”
Consequently, the Esquire article’s author points out:
…the danger of the Lethal Presidency is that the precedent you establish is hardly ever the precedent you think you are establishing, and whenever you seem to be describing a program that is limited and temporary, you are really describing a program that is expansive and permanent.
You have made sure that your successor in the White House will also be a Lethal President, as well as someone somewhere else in the world.
Killing people does not lead to peace. Killing people may have certain intended consequences, including the forced, temporary cessation of hostilities, but killing does not lead to peace. The most effective way to create long-lasting hostility and foster terrorism is to cause harm. The most effective way to stop terrorism is to stop causing harm.
I find our nation’s actions in this regard profoundly disturbing. History shows that it doesn’t matter whether Democrats or Republicans occupy the White House or the Houses of Congress. Most politicians, and, I suspect, the majority of American citizens support the so-called war on terror. How do we not see that war IS terror? That war begets terror?
I’ve been sitting on this post for the past week, not sure what to say about murder committed in my name other than I find it abhorrent. Not sure what to think of Barack Obama other than how much I disagree with his continuation and expansion of Bush Administration policies. Not sure what to think about the upcoming election other than based upon what I’ve heard so far, Mitt Romney would likely take these policies even further in this firmly established, wrong direction. Mostly, not sure what I can do other than write and speak words that people who agree with me will applaud, and those who disagree will rationalize their position and dismiss mine.
And another drone strike will be launched, and then another. More people will die, and many will not be the intended target. More people who lose loved ones and their sense of peace and security will hate the United States. Then we will hate those who unleash these same tools of war against us. And this new legacy of terror will be inherited by our children and grandchildren. And so goes the merry-go-round.
Most politicians say they want peace. This is not the way to peace. As Gandhi so simply stated, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”