Privacy SOS

A year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, who are we fighting, and why?

In his lengthy April 30th defense of US drone warfare as “legal, ethical and wise,”  President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan attempted to answer this question.

We are fighting not just a significantly weakened al-Qaida, but its “associated forces,” which Brennan named as al Shabaab, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (referred to as AQAP),  al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram in Nigeria, in addition to the Taliban and “lone individuals, including American citizens” who share al-Qaida’s ideology. 

Why? Because they want to “kill innocent Americans.” Nothing is said about why some people might be anti American – as usual, the right to “self-defense” appears to be a uniquely American attribute. There’s no reference to what would certainly be a much less expensive way of saving American lives: removing US troops from foreign lands.  

Brennan does break new ground by contemplating an end to the wars in which we are currently engaged –  “if the decade before 9/11 was the time of al-Qa’ida’s rise, and the decade after 9/11 was the time of its decline, then I believe this decade will be the one that sees its demise.”

So by 2020 (or thereabouts) our military prowess would have persuaded anyone who “seeks to do us harm” to cut it out. Meanwhile, we will just have to keep on targeting and killing them, wherever they are found, while “staying true to the values that define us as Americans.” 

For this, we have already spent well over a trillion dollars on war-making. For this, the US has doubled the size of its Special Operations Command since 2001, and now deploys covert special operations forces in more than 70 countries around the globe –  in Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the Middle East.  

For this, the US maintains more than 1,000 military bases in foreign lands, and has made the whole world a battlefield in which our military and CIA can go anywhere and do pretty much anything in the name of keeping Americans safe.

What is wrong with this picture? 

What is wrong is what is always left unexplained when either the Bush or Obama Administration has attempted to justify the wars the US has fought since 2001: a clear sense of what are we really doing by enlarging our military footprint in such a grandiose way, especially since making so much of the world our garrison seems more likely to create “terrorists” than eliminate them.

One likely explanation appears to be this: the decade in which Brennan hopes to see the “demise” of al-Qa’ida promises to be a decade in which what Michael Klare calls “the Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources” reaches a new level of murderous intensity. 

So far, we’ve been positioning our forces, sharpening our propaganda tools and getting warmed up. 

And here at home? Barring a major social movement to reverse the tide, al Qaeda will have won the war against our most basic freedoms.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.