"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obama's Decisions

Aaron Zelin has a thoughtful article in FP's The Middle East Channel today.   In it, he essentially asks: what happens if the Obama plan to eradicate AQAP works?   Will they then again look away from Yemen and focus on something else, ignoring the structural challenges that remain?  If they do, Zelin reminds us, we'll be dealing with this again and again.  It will be like those Saw movies: endless sequels that nobody I know wants to see. 

Zelin also brings up this provocative question:

Another issue has to do with the legality of targeting an American citizen. How the Obama administration decides to handle the situation with Anwar al-Awlaki will shed light on the United States' legal policy vis-à-vis the war on terror. Will it lead the United States down a slippery slope that further erodes the rule of law and its legitimacy in the eyes of the international community? Or, will it affirm Obama's statement in his inaugural address: "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
 I would quibble slightly with the wording- I think this will show if Obama wants to lead us back up that slope, since we sprinted and tumbled ass-over-tea-kettle down it the last nine years, to the point where it is hardly shocking that a citizen could be killed extra-judiciously.   There is a case for it, of course- he is at war with the US.  I'm not a legal scholar, though, and am reluctant to sound off half-cocked on this.

There has been some talk of trial, though that brings up another boatload of questions both legal and political.   The Yemeni government might be more amenable to arresting and extraditing al-Awlaki if he can get a fair trial in the US.   I don't like the "kill or ok maybe capture" strategy, especially for someone who is as low-level as al-Awlaki, but it is better than "kill at all costs".  Obama has to be willing to withstand the empurpled bloviating of ignorant senators, commentators, and other slackers for whom nothing less than a "trial" at dawn followed by a noon execution will suffice.   Long term thinking has to be the key.  Zelin's article helps to shape that framework.

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