Every once in a while, whether by accident or design, President Obama will lapse and do something that implies that, on the rare occasion, he can take the more salient parts of his job seriously.
Such an episode occurred back in the spring of 2009 when Obama gave the green light for U.S. Navy SEAL snipers to effect the rescue of American freighter captain Richard Phllips. Another came earlier this year when he authorized the raid that ultimately killed Osama Bin Laden. And, most recently, when he approved the strike that killed Al Qaeda recruiter, organizer, and cheerleader Anwar al-Awlaki, incidentally also a U.S. Citizen.
Despite the cries of protest over the targeting of al-Awlaki that have come in from the expected corners – both the far left and the Paulian libertarians – there is little reasonable question that the strike was legal, justified, and necessary. Case law dating back to at least the Second World War supports the concept that American citizens who serve entities which have taken up arms against the United States are lawfully to be considered enemy combatants, and therefore subject to the actions that the United States may be reasonably expected to take against enemy combatants.
Al-Awlaki was an active – very active – member of an organization against whom the U.S. Congress issued a resolution approving the use of force. His involvement in terrorist acts targeting America is well documented. His elimination as a threat to the United States was the responsibility of the Executive branch, which, in this instance, properly carried out its duly (and constitutionally) assigned function.
And yet, the concerns raised by this action are symptomatic of both the national self-examination being performed in the decade-long wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and the concurrent one taking place as a result of the gratuitous excesses of the executive branch under the current administration.
The decennial anniversary of 9-11 having come and gone, along with perhaps some of the more conspicuously acute emotions that naturally attach to such a commemoration, this latest episode in the attendant War on Terror provides an opportunity to review a few of these issues arising from the event and its now decade-long aftermath.
First, it is profitable to reflect on what we as a society have learned, and which of those lessons we have applied competently. Clearly, the singular fact that the United States has not, since that date, suffered a follow up strike remotely approaching the magnitude of the September 2001 attacks, is a fairly remarkable achievement in itself. There can be no question that American society and culture has adopted an appreciably more pro-active posture regarding the terrorist threat than it held 11 years ago.
Many of the policies enacted during the administration of George W. Bush are to be credited for the nations relative security – the establishment of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the aggressive policy towards interrogation, the massive economic warfare against the terrorist’s financial organization, the Patriot Act, the prosecution of the wars in both (yes, both) Afghanistan and Iraq, and elsewhere, the insistent refusal to treat captured Al Qaeda leaders and rank and file terrorists as mere common criminals, collectively have resulted in a society increasingly free of the threat of mass violence on civilians.
The simple fact that the Obama administration has begrudgingly continued many of these policies, despite having vehemently opposed them during his campaign, is stark testimony to the efficacy and practicability of them.
This is not to say that there have not been mistakes made along the way.
Many of the complaints of the left can be discarded as emanating from an ideological worldview that, to put it diplomatically, does not necessarily place American interests at the top of the list.
However, some on the libertarian right, perhaps regrettably, perhaps prophetically, share many of the same concerns. They are not entirely without merit, certainly not immune from examination.
Most of the miss-steps originate from an egalitarian quest to ensure fairness trumping reasonable security measures; manifested, for instance, in the odd mix of the laughable and the revolting when applied to airport security. A flight to Grandma’s house has become a nightmare of six
year olds subjected to patdowns, and the classification of a water bottle into the same category as a hand grenade. It is as if George Orwell wrote a sit com.
But to deny the executive branch it’s just and proper function is just as dangerous as acquiescing to its overreach.
A balance is to be struck between a healthy libertarian skepticism of government, and a prudent conservative re-establishment of its proper, prescribed role – as exhibited in the elimination of al-Awlaki.