Why stay in college?
Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time.
—Talking Heads, Life During Wartime
Hard as it is on me to do it, and hard as it’s going to be on you to hear it . . . I’m going to defend the Obama administration on this one.
Last week U.S. military drone strikes killed Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and English-language Al Qaeda recruiting e-mag editor Samir Khan. Both, the Leftist media is quick to point out, were U.S. citizens (although query whether that’s in fact true once one leaves the country and takes up arms against it). What is indisputable, however, is that these were bad, bad guys. Awlaki was not only undeniably a top leader in Al Qaeda, but had connections to the 9/11 hijackers and Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan. His Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda spawned the underwear bomber and at least one attempt to ship explosives into the U.S. Khan, as editor of the e-mag Inspire, wrote that he was “proud to be a traitor,” was “Al Qaeda to the core,” and authored articles titled “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” and “What to Expect in Jihad.”
Nevertheless, and not unpredictably, the cries went up almost immediately from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the ACLU that the strikes violated al-Awlaki’s and Khan’s rights to due process by being conducted outside the ambit of a criminal trial. Presumably we should first have found them in their hiding place, read them their Miranda rights, hired them a lawyer at U.S. taxpayer expense, provided them with three hots and a cot, and maybe even given them a hot cocoa and a bedtime story before turning them over to their 72 virgins.
I’m sorry, but Obama, the CIA, and the U.S. military got it right this time.
UPDATE 10/11/11: Just when I thought they were getting something right, they un-do it, this time with the State Department going on bended knee to Khan’s family to apologize. Multi-gazillion dollar lawsuit will undoubtedly follow, accompanied by a ruling from some activist federal judge that enemy combatants are entitled to due process, a lawyer, and a trial before the Marines can open fire.
This mentality on the Left that these things are criminal matters to be handled in a U.S. courtroom is pervasive—witness the years worth of flap over “trying” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 terrorists—and dangerous. These guys weren’t in New Mexico, North Carolina, or Queens, and they weren’t peacefully petitioning the government for redress of grievances. These men were in Yemen, a known hotbed of anti-American hate, leading a group in active armed conflict against the United States. Under CAIR’s and the ACLU’s worldview, what would a Marine who encountered al-Awlaki on the opposite side of a gunbattle be supposed to do, call timeout and go handcuff him? Are we supposed to stop and check passports before every firefight so we can cull out any “Americans” on the other side and give them a trial first?
Nobody read a Miranda warning to the 2,977 immediate victims of 9/11. Nobody held a trial for the over 7,000 U.S. military personnel killed to date in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody hired a lawyer to defend the 17 sailors killed aboard the USS Cole (for which the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility). Nobody made sure Daniel Pearl had due process before he was beheaded by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. It is a terrible mistake to regard these things as criminal acts instead of acts of war. And there’s a difference.
Bill Cosby used to do a marvelous routine about having a football-style coin toss before every war:
“I was thinking what would happen, suppose way back in history if you had a referee before every war, and the guy called the toss? Let’s go to the Revolutionary War:
Captain Harbords of the British, this is Captain Sobords of the Settlers. Captain Sobords of the Settlers, this is Captain Harbords of the British. Call the toss, there, British. British called heads, it’s tails. You [British] lose the toss, British Settlers win. What we do, Settlers?
All right. The Settlers say that during the war, they will wear any color clothes that they want to, shoot from behind the rocks, and trees, and everywhere. Says that your team must wear red, and march in a straight line.”
Like Cosby’s Redcoats, the Left continues to live in a world where the only thing that counts as a “war” is if two sovereign nations square off with uniformed armies fighting on fronts that can be depicted as lines on a map. But for the Left they also believe that these wars are in fact fought according to rules: who you can shoot, when you can shoot them, where you can shoot them, and what processes you have to follow before you can shoot them. And like Will Turner, they’re shocked when their adversary cheats in a fight.
The problem, of course, is that isn’t what war looks like anymore. The enemy isn’t a nation of people in a discrete geography defined by a government that issues a formal declaration so we know OK, we’re now at war. They are a loose collection of people joined by an ideology of hate of the U.S., and they think they’re at war with us, which means we’re at war whether we like it or not. There is no “front;” they exist in a thousand different places. They don’t wear uniforms, they don’t know any geographic boundaries, and they don’t respect any rules. They are willing to join the fight anywhere, anytime, and in any way they believe is to their advantage. No target is off-limits, no method or weapon too inhumane.
Worse, this enemy knows in his core—because it’s what we’ve taught him—that we don’t have the spine to face international criticism and actually fight a war as a war, that we’re too riddled with pre-emptive guilt to violate our own self-imposed rules of engagement. He knows we won’t shoot women and children, so he hides behind them. He knows we won’t bomb a mosque, so he stores his weapons there. He knows we won’t risk civilian casualties, so he dresses as a civilian and blends in with the crowd. Like Rocky Balboa, he knows he doesn’t have to win the fight, just go the distance. And as long as they know this, as long as we continue to reinforce that conviction by our failure to act decisively in our combat, there will be no end to the threats to our security, because anyone who wants to challenge us knows we won’t hit back, at least not hard enough to knock them out.
Apparently we’ve still not learned the fundamental lesson of Vietnam. When you stop treating it as a war, and you start trying to play by rules—rules your opponent won’t observe— you get mired in an endless conflict that cannot be won. It’s ugly, but that’s what war is; if you’re going to fight a war, then fight it. That’s fundamental Sun Tsu. If there is a criminal act here, it is in starting the engagement and having the means to bring it to a swift conclusion by applying the overwhelmingly superior force you have at your disposal—“total commitment,” as Sterling Hayward said as General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, although unlike Ripper I am not advocating the use of nuclear weapons in this instance because they’re unnecessary—and then not using it. How many U.S. Soldiers’ and Marines’ lives have been lost due to the excessive time and handicapped tactics caused by the rules of engagement imposed by spineless politicians? How many civilians?
Make no mistake. This was not the same thing as national guardsmen shooting protesting students on a college campus on U.S. soil. These were enemy combatants engaged as active leaders in a shooting war against the United States. They weren’t entitled to due process, and they had no constitutional rights. They gave those up when they took up arms against the U.S.
This is how you conduct a war: when you find the enemy, you kill him.