In Charlie Wilson’s War, Congressman Charlie Wilson, who helped arm the Afghanistan mujahedeen in their war against the Soviets, is admonished by his love interest that “if this were a real war,” then he and the country would take several more concrete steps to fight the Soviets. If President Obama was fighting a “real war” against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, his efforts would look considerably different.
War is uncertain, complicated and political. President Obama claims to be none of those. Thus, his military escapades share none of the characteristics of successful wars of past presidents. Where past presidents defined the enemy, rallied support, and then prosecuted the battle until completion, President Obama has taken the opposite approach.
Obama has presided over “Overseas Contingency Operations” in random countries, for random reasons, against targets selected at whim, without defining who we are fighting, why we are fighting, and what victory looks like. President Obama’s approach displays a combination of political calculation, policy incoherence, and disregard of constitutional considerations.
How else to explain Obama’s continuation of much of the Bush era tools of war (preemptive actions, rendition, indefinite detention, drone strikes, military tribunals, black operations) without any concomitant justification for their continuation? If those tools are worthwhile and effective, surely they deserve public commendation and appropriate legislative support. Yet the nation and Congress are treated to silence.
Obama boasts about his restraint and “values” in combating terrorism, but unprincipled incoherence is not a value, or a strategy. Congress actively shaped the prosecution of the War on Terror during the Bush years far more than it has during the Obama presidency. Indeed, the Bush approach was premised upon and then legitimized by explicit Congressional authorization.
Where Congress passed and Bush signed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001, Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and Military Commissions Act of 2006, Obama has sought and received no Congressional justification for his overseas directives. What was the legal basis for the Libya intervention? For sending troops to Uganda? Or Somalia? For assisting the French with their Mali operations?