Anti-Terror Provision Embarrassingly Wrong (But I’m not too worried about it.)

The Anti-Terror provision that was included in the defense spending bill recently signed into law has civil libertarians crying foul.  They are understandably angry that Congress just passed a law that allows the U.S. government to detain anyone it suspects of terrorism, indefinitely without charges, even if they are a U.S. citizen and even if caught on American soil.

Obama signed the law, but rather honorably issued an statement essentially saying his administration did not plan to use it.*

It would seem that this provision violates the 4th Amendment’s protection against unlawful detention, which it clearly does.  The provision is clearly unconstitutional and is unlikely to survive any challenge in court.  More importantly, it is a rather embarrassing blemish on our national character.  It should not have been passed in the first place, the President should have vetoed it, and it should be repealed immediately.

Due process is at the core of legal system.  In fact it is an integral part of the fabric that makes up what it means to be an American.  We are all taught about the sacred protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  While we may argue about exact interpretations of these rights, no one, on the left or on the right, would argue that the Bill of Rights is un-American or un-Patriotic.  These rights are in fact what make us who we are as a nation.  (Iran recently held a few Americans for over a year without charges.  If this provision is utilized, remind me, what makes us better that them?)

Clearly this law will not stand up in court, and thus I am not too worried about it.

However, if it is used, and then challenged, it could bring up a rather ironic outcome.  Think about it.  It is more likely to be used on a truly dangerous individual than on an innocent citizen regardless of the political affiliation of the administration that invokes its use.  In that case, the challenge that inevitably ends up in front of the Supreme Court will involve a truly potentially harmful criminal.  When the law is overturned and his detention determined to be unlawful, we may end having to free the very person from whom the law was meant to protect us!

Wouldn’t we be safer if we simply used the the due process which has worked pretty will to date?

*A little irony from the other side of the aisle:  While Obama objected to the provision, he did so for the wrong reason.  The provision provides for a specific time table for a indefinite detainee to be provided a hearing regarding his detention.  The President objected to Congress’s specific requirements regarding the ways indefinite detainees are handled.  He believed that the entire process should be controlled by the executive branch.  Thus, his objection was over a Congressional intrusion into executive power rather than to the more controversial elements of the provision.

As a supporter of the current administration, I am disappointed with Obama for taking such a stand.  I believe his statement saying it would not be used is merely convenient political “cover” since most people will never know the true reasoning behind his objection.  However, in fighting for the integrity of the executive branch, Obama is following a long tradition of such efforts by past presidents.  I didn’t like it when Bush (43) did it, and I don’t like it now, but I do recognize that it is a normal process in our three branch form of government.  Thus, I begrudgingly respect Obama for acting in a manner that supersedes his administration and transcends the events of our current times.

Editors Note:  Certain existing situations in today’s society seem completely our of touch with reality or common sense.  From time to time this blog will argue such points in the category “Un-Common Sense”.

Kudos to New Defense Plan: Occupation is Not War

I believe the new defense plans recently announced are logical and make a lot of sense.  I salute President Obama for having the courage to make these controversial recommendations and for taking ownership of the policy, especially during an election year.

As I understand it, the new plans substantially scale back our ability to conduct a sustained ground war that involves many boots on the ground for a sustained period of time (it actually just reduces this capability to one instead of two at once).  Instead, the country will expand its naval and air capabilities under the assumption that future military operations will involve long distant projections of power rather than traditional armed conflicts.  I have believed this to be the correct approach for a long time now.  (Even Donald Rumsfeld made similar recommendations prior to 9/11.)

Obama mentioned our recent engagements in Libya to support the new policy.  I believe this approach was proven effective back in 1995 when NATO got involved in Bosnia, but only via the air.

I have often said that the Iraqi war was won in about three months.  The “war” only lasted that short time until we chased Saddam into his tiny spider hole and his regime fell.  It did not cost very many lives, as the U.S. military used overwhelming power and efficiency to crush the Iraqi army and bring down the dictator.  Everything that came after that was not really a war, but rather an occupation.  That did not go so well.

I believe that the U.S. military is the most powerful and technically sophisticated force the world has ever known.  In terms of its ability to defeat another military, and bring down a government, it is very effective and even efficient.  It should be.  I support this ability, and agree with spending as much money as is required to maintain this level of dominance over our enemies, both present and future.

However, regime change and nation building are two different things.  A war to topple a government is a completely different undertaking than occupying and pacifying an entire population.  Our military should be equipped and trained to do the former, not the latter.

Put another way, if we do not plan to conquer a nation to annex it, and make it our own (which was the traditional purpose of “war”) then perhaps we should never put large amounts of troops in harm’s way via a full scale occupation.  Of course, sometimes toppling a government will require some type of  invasion with some troops on the ground.  However, that situation will likely be more effective with a small amount of special forces working with the local population already on the ground.  This type of engagement is essentially what took place in Afghanistan and brought down the Taliban in 2003.  The President’s new policy fully recognizes and supports this approach.

Republicans immediately denounced the new policy and claimed it would make us weak.  I disagree.  I think it makes us wise.  And in today’s high-tech world of information based economies, being smart will keep us strong!

Bonus Thought:

I have often wondered if the following approach would be more effective, and also if might even be less expensive.  What if we had come home from Afghanistan as soon as the Taliban fell and Al Qaeda was chased out?  What if was had left Iraq immediately after Saddam’s regime collapsed?  Surely these countries would have been plunged into civil wars and the situations would have been chaotic and destabilizing.  I can not disagree or assume otherwise.

However, look at what has happened over the last eight years with the occupation approach.  In both cases, a lot of chaos ensued and many lives were lost.  We are still trying in Afghanistan today, and people are still being killed.  We may be out of Iraq, but it could still fall back into a civil war.  We could stay in Afghanistan for many more years, and yet they could still fall back to civil war when we leave.  In both cases these sects have been fighting for centuries.  They don’t want us there, and they don’t want us to solve the problems for them.

“But, they could threaten our national security once again”, you say.  Perhaps, but with the military described above we can always go back and topple the next regime.  So the question I have is over cost.  Which costs less?  1. Conducting a full scale regime changing “war” every ten years and coming home, or 2. Conducting a full scale occupation and trying to force an unwilling population to adopt to our systems and values?  I don’t know the answer, and I don’t believe this approach would be particularly effective or even humane.  But neither is war and occupation.