Obama Advisor Lends Support to...Edwards

As most of you know, John Edwards is the only major presidential candidate to criticize the Global War on Terror frame. This week in the New Times Book Review, Obama advisor Samantha Power lends Edwards political and intellectual support for his contention that the GWOT is dangerous. In a piece that could have been cribbed from JRE's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Powers says:

...[T]he war-on-terror frame has obscured more than it has clarified.

As with the war on drugs and the war on crime, the invocation of "war" initially seemed metaphorical (we do not send the 82nd Airborne into downtown Detroit to combat street crime). But in the terrorism context, war proved less a rhetorical frame than a strategic assertion that armed conflict (that is, ground and air invasions of other countries) was the main tool the United States should employ to neutralize terrorism. The United Nations-endorsed war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan gave way to a period in which the Bush administration used its post-9/11 political capital to smuggle its pre-existing anti-Saddam Hussein agenda to the fore -- with disastrous results for American forces, for Iraq and for the wider strategic goal of eliminating Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered perhaps the best standard by which to measure the Bush administration's performance: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?" Leaked intelligence reports have shown that the answer is negative. The administration's tactical and strategic blunders have crippled American military readiness; exposed vulnerabilities in training, equipment and force structure; and accelerated terrorist recruitment. In short, although the United States has not been directly hit since 9/11, we are less safe as a result of the Bush administration's rhetoric, conduct and strategy.

The war rhetoric has raised expectations that a "complete victory" is not only possible, but in fact necessary (even as Bush's 2002 National Security Strategy preamble reminds us that it will be a "global enterprise of uncertain duration"). That same rhetoric has licensed the executive branch to remove itself from traditional legal frameworks and consolidate power in imperial fashion. And the torture, kidnappings and indefinite detentions carried out at the behest of senior administration officials have blurred the moral distinction between "us" and "them" on which much of Bush's logic rested.

While our allies still share intelligence with us in order to combat domestic terrorism, our disavowal of international law has made it harder for our friends to contribute military and even financial resources to shore up failing states like Afghanistan, which is portrayed by the opposition in countries like Canada and the Netherlands as one of Bush's wars. Many of our friends believe that too close an association with American objectives will make them electorally vulnerable and their cities potential targets.

Moreover, by branding the cause a war and calling the enemy terror, the administration has lumped like with unlike foes and elevated hostile elements from the ranks of the criminal (stigmatized in all societies) to the ranks of soldiers of war (a status that carries connotations of sacrifice and courage). Although anybody taking aim at the American superpower would have seemed an underdog, the White House's approach enhanced the terrorists' cachet, accentuating the image of self-sacrificing Davids taking up slingshots against a rich, flaccid, hypocritical Goliath. In rejecting the war-on-terror frame recently, Hilary Benn, the British secretary of state for international development, argued: "What these groups want is to force their individual and narrow values on others, without dialogue, without debate, through violence. And by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength."

Edwards has actually gone farther than Power, pointing out, for example, that Muslims think the GWOT is a war against Islam. But their critiques are notably similar.

Maybe this signals the direction in which Obama moving. I hope so. It certainly wouldn't be the first time Obama followed Edwards on an important policy matter.

Or maybe this is why the Times says Power "consulted for" Obama--past tense.

There's more...

Edwards: War on Terror "is a Political Frame and Political Rhetoric"

This afternoon I had the opportunity to catch a speech by John Edwards, who was in Portland promoting his presidential campaign. The point that stuck out most profoundly to me came when Edwards spoke about the so-called "Global War on Terror." Below, you can listen to what he had to say and read a rush transcript:


Click here to download the .mp3

And I don't know how many of you even noticed this or how many of you watched the Democratic presidential debate from South Carolina, but I suspect some of you did. But a question was asked whether you agree with the language - the Bush language, which is what it is - "Global War on Terror." And I did not. And I said, I took that position at the debate...

[Applause]

This is a political frame and political rhetoric. They use it to justify everything they do. They use that language to justify the war in Iraq. They use it to justify Guantanamo. They use it to justify torture. They use it to justify illegal spying on the American people.

[Applause]

It is time for us to quit kowtowing to these people. We have to say what we really believe. Now, are there really dangerous people in the world? Of course there are. We need to be smart and aggressive and intelligent, use intelligence - did I say dangerous people? - we have to use intelligence to fight them and stop them. Everybody recognizes that. But the one thing that's been proven beyond any doubt as a result of what's happened in the last six years is raw power alone will never make you a leader. You actually have to have the moral authority.

On the night of the debate last week, Matt was among the first to notice that while a number of the candidates on stage, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, responded affirmatively to the question as to whether or not they believe in the Global War on Terror, Edwards was among those who did not. This difference did not gain a ton of traction in the establishment media, aside from a few pieces (including this one from Time's Mike Allen), but it seems well worth noting.

Today's event, which drew a capacity crowd of about 600 to 700 at an International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) hall in Northwest Portland, was also notable for the fact that Edwards laid out his first television ad of the campaign in which he calls on Congress to send back legislation to President Bush that would set a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

There's more...

Paul Hackett on The Global War On Terror

There's been some chat on the question asked about the "Global War On Terror" in the debate. You have to remember this, Paul Hackett shredding the RedState.com darling Van Taylor on Chris Matthews last August. Among the soundbites that Hackett calls out is the term "Global War on Terror", which Hackett calls "a ridiculous soundbite", that "terror is a strategy" and "you are not going to defeat a strategy". The clip starts at 6:00 into the video, but the whole thing is worth watching (and will make you want to see Hackett run again sometime).

Also, Chris Bowers here on MyDD made a definitive post on the subject, back in December of 2004, Democrats Must Abandon the War on Terror, and Taylor Marsh, in May of 2006, has a rundown of links to best posts on the subject.

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