The Forever War

Greg Miller, writing the first of three articles in a major series on targeted killing by the US government, has revealed for the first time details of the decision-making calculus of life and death used by the government:

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

There have already been a number of responses to this, particularly Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian, and thousands of reader comments.

One of the key points is how this represents a (continued) shift in priorities, and the acceptance of counterterrrorism as part of the “Forever War” to use a well-known title by Joe Haldeman. The Post story adds:

Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.

This is now the “new normal”:

Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.

How clearly this is an institutionalization that will continue with whoever the next president is, the story notes how close Obama and Romney are on this issue:

For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.

During Monday’s presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made it clear that he would continue the drone campaign. “We can’t kill our way out of this,” he said, but added later that Obama was “right to up the usage” of drone strikes and that he would do the same.

I probably don’t need to add nor emphasize that these policies depend upon the “enrollment” of political geographies and human geography concepts to operationalize the “targeted” strikes. For example, note that “pattern of life” analysis (or activity-based intelligence) depend upon social networks.

The story is not unproblematic. It relies on data for drone strikes from the New America Foundation rather than the Bureau of Investigative Journalists (New America has been the subject of critique and conflict of interest).

Yet this is a big story, and WaPo (which has had some shaky reporting on terrorism) is to be congratulated for running it.

4 responses to “The Forever War

  1. There’s no secret here. Our options are limited, as long as the enemies of this country continue to resist. Capture or kill them at every opportunity. This attrition strategy, though expensive and will invariably cause “collateral damage,” will, over time, deny our enemies the leadership and experience they need to carry out coordinated, large-scale operations against our allies. There is a “Frontline” documentary about our capture’kill program, and it depicts a group of inept Taliban attempting to trigger an ambush. Although this is not enough to draw any significant inferences, it does reveal that years of drone strikes have seriously attrited the charismatic leadership necessary to keep these loose bands of renegades, who have nothing in common, focused on enduring hardship and avoiding imminent death from above.

  2. We used to capture war criminals and bring them to trial. Now we expedite legalized murder using robotic devices that dispense “justice” from the air. I guess this is a product of the Internet Age in which we live. Everything is faster….we can make wrong decisions because we gather so much data and draw wrong conclusions. Look at the WMD “discoveries” in Iraq that led to that war. Or to collateral damage from drone strikes when the target we think is there is not. Imminent death from above is not a moral solution to terrorism. It is a convenient one.

    • I understand and respect your point, but it is, what it is. The greatest weapons the Taliban and their allies have, is time and terror. Time, because they know, just as all others before us, we will eventually grow tired and leave.The security situation will then quickly deteriorate, the Taliban will control all the rural areas and the key road networks, and each city will fall to the Taliban, after only token resistance. If this sounds like Vietnam in 1975, it is…deja vu all over again. Terror, because although one would expect that the Taliban would be blamed for random bombings that only kill innocent civilians and low-level police and security officers, it is a demonstration to the neutrals, that the Afghan government cannot protect them, and they are much stronger than they actually are.
      Governor Romney said recently, that we cannot “kill” our way out of Afghanistan. I disagree, and I believe the President, and his closest military advisors also agree, that capturing or killing mid-to-high level leaders within the Taliban and Al Qeada networks, with its inevitable collateral damage, may lead to an opportunity to be asked to leave, thus saving face for the United States, and forcing the Afghan government to parlay with a severely weakened and disorganized Taliban. This sounds cynical, but President Obama runs the risk of losing half of Afghanistan, or all of it. The “surge” for all intents and purposes, was a political success, but a military failure. The only option the President has remaining, is to capture or kill those members of the Taliban who would stand to gain the most from and American/ISAF withdrawal.

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