Obama, Osama, and the War on Terror

by Christian Rivera

In the early morning hours of May 2, 2011, my platoon received the news that U.S. forces had killed Osama Bin Laden in a compound in the town of Abbottabad, a relatively affluent tourist—and military—town in Pakistan.  I spent the days that followed collecting my thoughts on the issue.  I’ve seen the debate unfold in the media, on social networking websites, and among my peers in the military.  There are so many intricacies woven into the fabric of this particular situation that I can’t even begin to fathom all of the implications involved.  Now that some of the brouhaha has died down a bit, I guess we’ll really just have to wait and see how things play out, and hope for the best.  Am I glad we got him?  Without a doubt—although, don’t expect me to break out any Lee Greenwood CDs just yet.

My first thought was, OK, so apparently this guy has finally been knocked off.  Good.  Can we please bring home the troops NOW??  Isn’t 9 Years and 6 months of war just about enough?  The more I thought about it, the more I realized how short some peoples’ memories really are, and that troubled me.  For instance, not too long ago Mr. bin Laden was in fact allied with the United States government.  The U.S. armed him and financed his jihad against the Soviets.  From 1979 through 1989 under Presidents Carter and Reagan, the CIA provided overt and covert financial aid, weapons, and even training to bin Laden’s Islamic Jihad Mujahideen.  President Reagan often praised the Mujahideen as Afghanistan’s “Freedom Fighters.”  But not many folks want to talk about or remember any of that.  I guess it’s not convenient.  This brand of willful ignorance is borderline Orwellian.

Has justice truly been served, or merely vengeance?  On its face, it seems the latter, rather than the former has prevailed.  And the more this story unravels, the more troubling I find it to be.  For instance, I cannot understand why the U.S. military would kill someone who was arguably the most valuable intelligence asset on Earth, especially when we are now learning from eyewitness accounts that he was unarmed, and there was in fact, no firefight at all.[1]  And the White House continues to change its story.

If the government can arbitrarily order the killing of someone accused of a crime—no matter how heinous—could they carry out a hit on any of their own citizens?  Stated differently, could the government just order a hit on someone accused of murder, without the constitutionally protected right of due process?  That question was rhetorical—of course they can, and they have.

Contrary to popular belief, bin Laden was officially wanted by the F.B.I. for murder of U.S. citizens outside the U.S.  This was due to his role in a bombing of a U.S. embassy that killed over 200 Americans.  It’s interesting to note that 9/11 was not even listed in the crimes for which he was formally accused (read: http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten/usama-bin-laden/view).  Some would argue that due process would not have applied to bin Laden because he was a terrorist and a foreign national, and the crimes he was accused of committing were acts of war.  However, that argument is fundamentally flawed.

Under U.S. law, terrorism is a crime—not an act of war—because the persons involved are not acting on behalf of another government, but rather a criminal organization.[2]  Further, the important thing to remember is that the Constitution does not apply to American citizens, and actually it doesn’t even apply to “people” at all.  It applies to the federal government.  The Constitution was written to articulate what the federal government is permitted to do, and in some places it explains how to do it; the Bill of Rights specifies what the federal government is not permitted to do (e.g., hold prisoners indefinitely without being charged of a crime).  To those who say that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to non-Americans, I say: read the Bill of Rights.  Nowhere does it refer to the citizenship of the people affected.  Even if you think non-citizen terrorists have no rights, how could you even be sure that they are terrorists—or that they are non-citizens—until every aspect of due process has been applied?

There was once a time when being informed and questioning your government was the patriotic thing to do—not blind obedience to government-driven war propaganda.  Now, that we’ve purportedly accomplished the mission, this means we get all of our liberties back, right?  Wrong.  The media now tells us that there’s bound to be some retaliation.   Some “experts” say it’s inevitable.  So instead of getting back our liberties that we’ve supposedly been fighting for all these years, our own government threatens to encroach further on them.  The CBS affiliate in New York reports that placing security checkpoints (i.e., federal agents) near “soft targets,” such as hotels, places of worship, and transportation hubs may be the new norm.[3]  When will this nightmare end?  The author of the article claims that this is “freedom, coming with an increasingly heavy price.”  With all due respect, sir, that is not freedom.  That is the opposite of freedom.  That is the usurpation of power.  That is using fear to control people.

If our government is seriously considering taking these actions, is this measure indicative of our success in the “War on Terror?”  If taken, this measure would demonstrate that the “War on Terror” has been about as successful as any other government sanctioned “war”—like the “War on Poverty,” or the “War on Drugs”—ever costly, never-ending, and always making matters worse.  When it comes right down to it, this particular “war” is not even legitimate, nor legal.  Congress has never declared war.  The U.S. military was sent there in October of 2001 with one mission: to capture or kill [sic] Osama bin Laden.  Troops in Afghanistan didn’t even accomplish this mission; troops in Pakistan did.

The issuance of letters of marque and reprisal against an individual or group would have been a much more appropriate response by the U.S. government from a Constitutional standpoint, rather than sending an invading army to occupy a sovereign nation.  What Constitutional authority do we have to make any changes to or occupy another sovereign nation?  There is none; end of story.  Our founders have expressly warned us to stay out of the affairs of other nations and not get ourselves involved in “entangling alliances.”  In fact, the constant meddling in international affairs by our government is one of the things that got us into this mess in the first place (here’s a prime example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d’%C3%A9tat).

Let me make myself perfectly clear.  I’m not at all saying we should side with people who intend to do harm to Americans, or that the American people are to blame.  However we should objectively assess the situation and practice a bit of empathy before we start pointing fingers.  It’s clear that decades of failed foreign policy have brought us here.  For instance, according to those who were involved in planning the attacks on 9/11, U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was specifically mentioned as one of the primary motives for the attacks.  Providing military and other support for Israel was another.  The attackers made their grievances very clear.  I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t want the Chinese army occupying the U.S., while they gave military aid to our enemies.  It’s just something to think about.

Something else I’ve been thinking about.  If we’re under such an imminent threat of attack, why on earth would we want our military spread all around the globe?  The defender always has the tactical advantage.  The defender knows the terrain.  The defender fights with ferocity and staunch conviction, because he knows the consequences if he doesn’t prevail.  We’ve seen as much in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Conversely, the only way to launch a real attack on the U.S. would be by land, from the north in Canada, or from the south in Mexico, or by sea, either by launching planes from an aircraft carrier, or by landing an invading force on our shores.  As far as I know, none of our current “enemies” possess this capability.

How else could we be attacked?  Acts of terrorism?  If we withdrew our armed forces from all of those countries around the world, the “terrorists” would have little motivation to attack us in the first place.  Some would argue that they hate us because we are prosperous and free, or because we are Christians.  If that’s the case, when was the last terrorist attack by radical Muslim extremists you’ve heard of in Switzerland?  The Swiss are certainly closer to these “terrorist hotbeds” than we are.  In fact, Switzerland has not been involved in a war since 1815, despite the fact that it is bordered by (think WWII here) Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, and despite the fact that Switzerland’s trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis powers in WWII.  Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, with a nominal per capita GDP of $69,838.[4]   In 2010, Switzerland had the highest wealth per adult of any country in the world (with $372,692 for each person).[5]   Zurich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as the cities with the second and third highest quality of life in the world.

To be completely honest with you, dear reader, methinks that all of this changes nothing. The fighting will most likely continue, and may quite possibly even intensify, especially if the U.S. continues its failed foreign policies.  We’re not out of the woods yet.  But, kudos to the United States government on spending only ten years, a few thousand American lives, and a few trillion dollars to kill one old man with a limp.

A wise man once told us that “a lasting order cannot be established by bayonets.”[6]  Those words have never been so poignant, notwithstanding the exponential growth of the American military empire.  I fear that this “war”—and all runaway spending that goes along with it—will go on with no end in sight, because there is no way to fully eliminate terrorism.  Terrorists can come from any country, race, religion, or culture in the world, because terrorism is a tactic rather than an identity or personal characteristic.  Terrorists can emanate from the shadows, and fade back into them.  Because of this inconvenient truth, terrorism will never, and could never be fully eradicated by waging war.  War on terrorism will cost the American people dearly, one freedom at a time.  If we really wanted to eliminate terrorism, I think we’d be better off setting a good example for the world to follow, by pursuing a policy of peace and commerce.  Besides, when you really think about it, with our policy of perpetual occupation to “promote democracy” at the point of a bayonet, and aggressive war around the globe, who’s terrorizing whom?


[1] Reporter, D. M. (2011, May 4). Shot dead ‘with money sewn into his clothes’: Bin Laden was captured alive and then executed, ‘claims daughter, 12’. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1383106/Osama-Bin-Laden-dead-Wife-watched-die-White-House-reveals-WASNT-armed.html

[2] U.S. House of Representatives. (n.d.). U.S. Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113b, Section 2331. Retrieved May 13, 2011, from Cornell Universityl Law School: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/718/usc_sec_18_00002331—-000-.html

[3] CBS. (2011, May 3). Expert: Security Checkpoints Near Soft Targets May Soon Become The Norm. Retrieved May 5, 2011, from CBS: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/05/03/expert-security-checkpoints-near-soft-targets-may-soon-become-the-norm/

[4] Ghosh, S. (2010, October 9). U.S. still by far the richest country, China fastest growing. Retrieved May 5, 2011, from Digital Journal: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/298716

[5] International Monetary Fund. (2011). Swiss Statistics. Neuchâte: Federal Statistical Office.

[6] Ludwig von Mises

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2 responses to “Obama, Osama, and the War on Terror

  1. Good article, Christian.

    “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

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