One of the many benefits of eventually turning the page on the Obama presidency in favor of a Republican leader would be an end to the bizarre impasse between national security hawks and the "progressive" left over the treatment of international terrorist leaders. At issue: Republicans have blocked civilian trials for the remaining "prisoners of war" being held at Guantanamo; the administration prefers to release as many as possible rather than capture more or accede to military tribunals, while killing them with drone or bomber strikes - in Pakistan; in Afghanistan; in Yemen; in Libya; in Somalia. A quick update:
- In January, the administration released five Yemenis to the care of Oman and Estonia, making a total of 33 in the past year and reducing the prisoner population to 122 from a high of 680 in 2003. Recidivism rate estimates range from 15 to 30% based on the political leanings of the source, with several returning to leadership positions in Iraq and Yemen.
- Of the eight convictions by military commissions, four have been reversed on appeal by the DC Circuit Court, and legal challenges persist for the others. Seven - including primary 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Muhammed - remain mired in pretrial maneuvering. Essentially the Obama/Holder Justice Department has been able to tie in knots the best efforts of the Bush/Mukasey Justice Department.
- During the years immediately after 9/11, the Bush administration captured and interrogated hundreds of al Queda operatives, unraveling the organization and ultimately leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden. There is room for philosophers to debate whether the ends justified the means, but there is no doubt that the interrogations - three of which included waterboarding - were effective. They are no more.
- The June 14 killing in Yemen of Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) and the second in command for global al Queda, is a significant success for the Obama approach with AQIP responsible for the January Paris bombing of the Charlie Hebdo satire magazine, at least three attempts to bomb western airliners, and plans to bomb multiple US embassies in 2013. (In the confusing rivalry with ISIS, al Queda favors attacking the United States and western Europe; ISIS is focused on establishing rule over Muslim populations.)
- More broadly, the drone program in Pakistan has killed about one terrorist leader per month for the past five years; with the combined total killed in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen approaching 2500 - including many civilians. And that is before the more traditional air campaigns in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. No boots on the ground; no interrogations; sanitary and distant.
The 2016 presidential election will inevitably revisit this "kinetic activity" which President Obama refuses to call a war, but which shows little promise of resolution with his strategies - or lack thereof. It will be particularly dangerous territory for Jeb whose brother greatly escalated the conflict with the invasion of Iraq, and for Hillary who was centrally complicit in Benghazi and as a central architect of the Obama miasma. For the rest of the Republicans there should be plenty of space for a serious foreign policy alternative. At a minimum, a common sense approach of capture for interrogation, military tribunals for war criminals, and incarceration "for the duration" of enemy combatants would be a good start.
This week's bonus? What other than the final game between the Oakland Warriors and King James.
bill bowen - 6/19/15