Is the War on Terror Over?

The new President made big news when on his second day in office he signed an executive order to close our legal black hole in the Caribbean, Guantanamo Bay Prison, as well as nullifying all Bush Administration legal orders and opinions on interrogation.

Obama’s move was huge, both domestically and internationally, and rightly so.  Some nettlesome problems remain, including the fact that some people who had been falsely imprisoned in Guantanamo for seven years might have to wait another year to get out, but these orders struck at the symbolic heart of Bush’s boundless war on terror.

So much so that the very next day the Washington Post ran a front page, above-the-fold analysis entitled “Bush’s ‘War’ on Terror Comes to a Sudden End.”

And then, the very next day after that, the Post announced on the same front page (albeit below-the-fold) “2 U.S. Airstrikes Offer a Concrete Sign of Obama’s Policy.”

The irony of these back-to-back headlines was not noted in the article.

The strikes in Pakistan were carried out by unmanned Predator drones, over the past year or so the preferred new method of attacking suspected terrorist bases in the rugged terrain of Afghan/Pakistan border. The Post reported without further explanation that the 20 people killed were “suspected” terrorists, or at least they were at a “suspected terrorist hideout.” As was the case during the Bush Administration, simply being a suspect, or just near someone who is, makes you fair game for a missile strike.

So – is Bush’s “war on terror” really over? The news following the airstrike hasn’t been encouraging.

On January 28th, a lead article in the New York Times entitled “Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War Over Development” explained how the U.S. is going to focus on “the fight against insurgents” while leaving economic development and nation-building primarily to our European allies. This, from the President who during his inauguration instructed adversaries that “Your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you can destroy.”

On January 31st, hundreds of Afghanis demonstrated in Kabul after the latest U.S. military raid, which the protestors claimed killed two innocent civilians. (The raids, deaths, and protests have been repeated in the five weeks since then.)

On February 2nd, Eric Holder was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General, where he will play a key role in determining legal guidelines for interrogation practices and future claims of executive power.

On February 9th, Holder’s Justice Department invoked the “state secrets” privilege in a court in San Francisco; it did so to oppose reinstatement of a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees who claimed a Boeing Co. unit flew them to other countries where they were tortured – so called “extraordinary renditions.”  The “state secrets” argument was identical to that presented to the court by the Bush Administration in the same case.

And just a few days earlier, in his Congressional confirmation hearing, new CIA Director Leon Panetta left the door on torture more than a little open. While stating (the obvious) that water boarding is torture and an Obama Administration would not violate anti-torture statues, he also noted that if approved interrogation techniques were “not sufficient” in certain cases, he would seek “additional authority.” He further said the C.I.A.’s extraordinary rendition program might continue in some form, but that he would depend on diplomatic assurances of good treatment – the same ineffective (and ridiculous) safeguard used by the Bush Administration.

In a somewhat more soberly titled February 18th story in the New York Times, “Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero wondered if Obama might end up continuing “some of the most problematic policies of the Bush presidency.”

Of course the people of Afghanistan don’t need to wonder, as amid the current bombings and raids President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops to their country. In the words of Global Fund for Women President Kavita Ramdas, “Afghanistan needs troops–but it needs troops of doctors, troops of teachers, troops of Peace Corps volunteers, and troops of farmers to go and replant the fruit orchards.”

But Afghanistan will get more military troops, even though civilian deaths from U.S. military actions in Afghanistan (many of them nighttime raids) have increased significantly in the past two years. This has led to numerous protests and the plummeting popularity of President Harmid Karzai, while no doubt increasing the popularity of the Taliban for some. A recent poll determined that about 1/3 of Afghans think it is okay to attack U.S. troops – a percentage that has been rising. Talk about losing the battle for hearts and minds.

There is also little question the attacks on Pakistan will continue, and possibly even increase. The head of the Obama campaign’s Defense Policy Task Force, Peter Singer, appeared on The Daily Show recently to hawk his new book, “Wired for War.” Although his book supposedly discusses the “moral” issues involved, few ethical qualms were evident as Mr. Singer crowed  enthusiastically about the “historic revolution” of high-tech warfare, noting that current Predator drones “are like Model T Fords compared to what’s coming.” (He also mentioned his interview with “a 19 year old drone pilot.”  That’s right, these unmanned killing machines dispatching “suspected” terrorists from afar are operated by teenagers.)

But what, finally, about President Obama’s recently announced timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, with an end to all combat operations in August of 2010?

This so-called “end to the war,” which a media and public long-tired of Iraq are hailing as a done deal, includes the “renaming” or “remissioning” of up to 50,000 troops that will be stationed in Iraq after that date, even though military officials concede that these new missions of support, intelligence and anti-terrorism operations  – virtually identical to what President Bush outlined as long ago as 2007 (and thanks to Jon Stewart again for producing the video tape!) – could well involve combat.  They are, after all, combat troops – even if the administration has “renamed” them.

President Obama says those remaining troops will be withdrawn by December 31, 2011, a timeline which would be more than twice as long as his promised withdrawal plan of 16 months, and which could easily change over the next three years, as many military officials predict it will. In addition, he has said nothing about the U.S. military bases in Iraq, nor the 100,000+ U.S. contractors left behind.

And in case you haven’t read or heard it in the mainstream press, President Obama’s budget also calls for an increase in our already astronomical military budget – an even larger increase for 2009 than the one suggested by President Bush. And he plans to increase the size of the armed forces by 90,000 troops.

What does it all add up to? A month and a half may not be a long time to make a judgment, but waiting another year to see what happens is not an option either.  And if ending Bush’s “war on terror” is high on the list of major changes we’d all like to see, well, after a promising early start the Obama Administration now seems to be veering back decidedly in the wrong direction.

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With thanks to Code Pink for their always helpful alerts –

One Response to “Is the War on Terror Over?”

  1. Is the War on Terror Over? « The Fierce Urgency of Now Says:

    […] Is the War on Terror Over? « The Fierce Urgency of Now […]

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