Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledges how puny is the Al Qaeda menace even as the War on Terror escalates
In just the past two months alone (all subsequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden), the U.S. Government has taken the following steps in the name of battling the Terrorist menace: extended the Patriot Act by four years without a single reform; begun a new CIA drone attack campaign in Yemen; launched drone attacks in Somalia; slaughtered more civilians in Pakistan; attempted to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki far from any battlefield and without a whiff of due process; invoked secrecy doctrines to conceal legal memos setting forth its views of its own domestic warrantless surveillance powers; announced a “withdrawal”plan for Afghanistan that entails double the number of troops in that country as were there when Obama was inaugurated; and invoked a very expansive view of its detention powers under the 2001 AUMF by detaining an alleged member of al-Shabab on a floating prison, without charges, Miranda warnings, or access to a lawyer. That’s all independent of a whole slew of drastically expanded surveillance powers seized over the past two years in the name of the same threat.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared Saturday that the United States is “within reach” of “strategically defeating” Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat, but that doing so would require killing or capturing the group’s 10 to 20 remaining leaders.
Heading to Afghanistan for the first time since taking office earlier this month, Panetta said that intelligence uncovered in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May showed that 10 years of U.S. operations against Al Qaeda had left it with fewer than two dozen key operatives, most of whom are in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa.
In one sense, it’s commendable that Panetta is acknowledging this, though he’s doing so to protect the President from political attacks in the wake of his announced withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Afghanistan. But in another, more important sense, Panetta knows that this disclosure won’t even slightly impede the always-expanding National Security State and the War on Terror which justifies it — just like the acknowledgment long ago that there were fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan had no effect on our decade-long war there. That’s because — as the above-described events of the last eight weeks demonstrate — civil liberties assaults and expansions of executive power are not what the U.S. Government does in response to some actual problem; it’s what the public-private consortium composing the U.S. Government is. Terrorist villains are the pretext for, not the cause of, those policies, and they will continue irrespective of the scope or magnitude of Terrorism.
Indeed, even as he described the puny, broken, absurd state of Al Qaeda — one that has, at most, produced a grand total of one attack on U.S. soil in the last decade and a handful of amateurish, low-level attempts thwarted by regular police powers, and kills fewer Americans each year than intestinal ailments — Panetta claimed “that it would take “more work’”; that “now is the moment following the death of Bin Laden to put maximum pressure“; that “it was from Yemen — not Pakistan — that the U.S. faces the most potent threat of future terrorist attacks, from an Al Qaeda offshoot known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, where “the group has gained strength in recent months as unrest has swept through Sana, the capital, and large swaths of its rugged hinterlands, where militants are growing in strength“; and that we have to kill all the remaining operatives. In other words, he offered multiple reasons why the War on Terror and the civil liberties abuses justified in its name must not only continue but be escalated.
Of course, just in case those propagandistic claims aren’t sufficient — we must wage war in multiple countries and seize ever-expanding surveillance powers to stop this group of two dozen Terrorist masterminds — the U.S. is doing everything possible to ensure that Terrorism remains as large as a threat as possible:
A NATO air strike has killed at least 14 civilians, including eight children, in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, local police say. . . .The deadly air raid came a day after two children were reportedly killed in a separate air strike in southwest Ghazni province.
The killing of civilians by foreign troops is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has soured the feelings of many ordinary Afghans towards foreign forces. . . . As violence has spread across the country, casualties have risen, and the United Nations said May was the deadliest month for civilians since they began keeping records four years earlier.
I long believed that the most patently irrational American policy — the one that would cause future generations to look back in baffled disgust — was the Drug War: imprisoning huge numbers of citizens for years and years for nothing more than possessing or selling banned substances to consenting adults. But now I think it’s this: that the U.S. Government is able to persuade the populace to continue to support and pay for blood-spilling and liberty-destroying policies in the name of Terrorism when nothing sustains and exacerbates the threat of Terrorism more than those very policies. Just like the FBI continues to manufacture its own Terrorist plots that it then flamboyantly boasts of thwarting, the U.S. continues to generate the threat that justifies its National Security and Surveillance State.
* * * * *
In the last week alone, U.S.-allied governments have done the following to their own citizens: killed “dozens of civilians” in Yemen; beaten anti-government protesters in Baghdad while the Iraqi Prime Minister threatened “bloodshed” and “blood . . . to the knee” if protests continued; attacked protesters in Cairo with arms; and beat opposition protesters in prison and branded them “traitors” in Bahrain. As we recently learned, the U.S. cannot and will not “stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.” What, then, can and should the U.S. do in the face of this oppression? Don’t we have more of a responsibility to act when such brutality is carried out by regimes that we arm, support and prop up than by ones we don’t?
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