Perpetual war for perpetual peace

The United States has marked another anniversary of 11 September 2001, the day that continues to deform the geopolitical landscape.

If you’re not already familiar with my views on the subject, you can read some of them here or here. I believe that the decision to treat terrorism as a military rather than a police matter was a dreadful mistake, but a deliberate one – a product of ideology and political calculation more than panic and ignorance.

So, appropriately enough, yesterday morning found me reading a Cato Institute briefing on the joint resolution that Congress passed in the wake of 11 September to authorise the Bush administration to use military force against the perpetrators of the attack.

The joint resolution, known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, is still in effect, and has been used by successive administrations to justify military adventures way beyond its original intent. Cato’s Gene Healy and John Glaser make the case for its repeal.

Healy deals with the legal and constitutional issues:

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we’ve watched the emergence of a radically different regime in which going to war is easy, frequent, and rarely debated. This system has made war America’s default setting. The use of lethal force is now so ubiquitous, so normalized, that we’re hardly able to notice it anymore.

Glaser takes on the actual national security situation:

The 9/11 attacks were a traumatic event, and led us to misinterpret the nature of the threat from Al Qaeda and related groups. … The national security rationale for a presidential blank check for a global war on terror is extremely weak. Contrary to the hysteria that still surrounds terrorism, it is a minor and manageable threat, not a war to be won.

My outlook is probably a bit less isolationist than Cato’s; I don’t think America’s status as a global superpower can just be wished away. When its power is used appropriately and in accordance with United Nations authorisation – as, for example, in Kuwait in 1991, Haiti in 1994 and Libya in 2011 – it need not constitute a threat to world peace.

But the presumption against the use of military force should be extremely strong: firstly because it would often be possible to achieve the same aims at a fraction of the cost, both human and financial, and secondly because war creates its own self-perpetuating logic, and in time tends to exceed whatever bounds are originally set for it. The catastrophe in Yemen is only the most recent example.

Full marks to Cato for making those points. Let’s hope someone is listening.


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