Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Perpetual War

By Carol Gee

First there was World War I, then World War II. Now the U. S. is involved in a so-called "War On Terror." Shouldn't it be more properly named the "Perpetual War"?

The shadow that the Middle East conflict, whatever you call it, casts over the United States profoundly changes the facts and realities in Washington this very day. Congress is in the midst of a protracted fight over funding the war, searching for different ways to hold the administration accountable. At the same time the other co-equal branch of government, the Supreme Court is at the moment hearing arguments about the detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The New York Times reports that, to quote:

Several hundred spectators lined up at the Supreme Court on Wednesday to watch lawyers for the Bush administration and 305 detainees in custody at Guantanamo Bay argue over the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects, many of them held at the military facility for nearly six years.

Lawyers for the detainees want the right to contest detention in U.S. civilian courts. The 305 men are held at Guantanamo as ''enemy combatants.'' It is the third time since 2004 that the Supreme Court has examined the administration's detention program. The justices have ruled against the administration in the two earlier cases.

. . . The case could turn on whether the court decides that Guantanamo is essentially U.S. soil, which would make the case for detainee rights stronger.

. . .The administration also argues that panels of military officers that review the detainees' status as enemy combatants are adequate, even if the Supreme Court decides they have the right to contest their confinement.

The justices, however, decided to review the issue in June, after having turned down the detainees' appeal in April. They provided no explanation, but their action followed a declaration from a military officer who criticized Combatant Status Review Tribunals.

While doctrinaire Republicans rigidly hold to the path of waging war in the Middle East, Democrats holding leadership positions in Congress still need to take a position on national security. Their options are five, according to Ed Kilgore of The Democratic Strategist (Archives: Nov. 12, 2007). To quote:

As a Veterans Day meditation, I thought it might be a good idea to take a fresh look at one of the most contentious subjects in intra-party discussions: How Democrats can clearly differentiate themselves from Republicans on national security issues without falling into the "weak on defense" stereotypes conservatives have spent many years and billions of dollars promoting.

To make a very long story short, there have been at least five basic strategic takes on this subject among Democrats in recent years:

1) Ignore national security as "enemy territory" and focus on maximizing Democratic advantages on domestic issues (the default position of Democratic congressional campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s).

2) Agree with Republican positions on national security to "take them off the table" and then seek to make elections turn on domestic issues where Democrats have an advantage (the Dick Gephardt strategy for congressional Dems in 2002 and for his own presidential campaign in 2004; also common among Democrats running for office in conservative areas).

3) Vociferously oppose Republican positions on national security (and particularly the use of military force) in order to convey "strength," on the theory that "weakness" is the real message of conservative "weak on defense" attacks (a common assumption among bloggers and activists arguing that a single-minded focus on ending the Iraq War is a sufficient national security message).

(4) Oppose Republican positions on national security while focusing on Democratic respect for, and material support for, "the troops" and veterans, on the theory that a lack of solidarity with the armed services is the real message of conservative "undermining our troops" attacks (a common theme in the Kerry 2004 campaign and in post-2004 Democratic messaging).

(5) Find ways to compete with Republicans on national security without supporting their policies and positions (e.g., the 2002-2004 Clark/Graham "right idea, wrong target" criticisms of the Iraq invasion as distracting and undermining the legitimate fight against terrorists).

At this moment the House is debating the idea of tying the funding for the war to the performance of the Iraqi government, as reported in the Washington Post article,"Hill Democrats Explore New Strategy on Iraq." More specifically, Republicans are attempting a measure that would instruct conferees to "go on with business as usual." To quote the story about what might be coming up before long:

Facing increasing evidence of military progress in Iraq, some Democratic congressional leaders are eyeing a shift in legislative strategy that would abandon a link between $50 billion in additional war funding sought by President Bush to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Instead, they would tie the measure to political advances by the Iraqi government.

The Bush Administration will be remembered for going to war. Not only did they invade Iraq when it was not necessary, but they have remained in perpetual war with the other two co-equal branches of the U.S. government. Today the battle rages in Washington as lawyers for people unlawfully detained plead for justice, and legislators try to exercise their constitutional rights over the war-making powers of the Executive. The shadows of unnecessary perpetual wars at home and abroad grow longer as the years go by. Let us hope that 2008 brings better weather.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home