by david mizner, Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 04:39:50 AM EDT
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.