Fareed Zakaria has an interesting op-ed on this topic in today's Washington Post:
Phasing out or modifying these emergency powers should be something that would appeal to both left and right. James Madison, father of the Constitution, was clear on the topic. “Of all the enemies to public liberty,” he wrote, “war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Of course there are real threats out there, from sources including new branches of al-Qaeda and other such groups. And of course they will have to be battled, and those terrorists should be captured or killed. But we have done this before, and we can do so in the future under more normal circumstances. It will mean that the administration will have to be more careful — and perhaps have more congressional involvement — for certain actions, such as drone strikes. It might mean it will have to charge some of the people held at Guantanamo and try them in military or civilian courts.
No president wants to give up power. But this one is uniquely positioned to begin a serious conversation about a path out of permanent war.
The War on Terror does seem as if it will be endless and not simply because of how prominent terrorism has become as a means of confronting overwhelming conventional military might. This is what happens with big bloated governments. Once they have obtained additional powers over their citizens, they are not inclined to give them up. Bureaucracies and power bases form that sustain livelihoods, careers and ambitions.
The War on Drugs is a classic example.
I'm not sure though that the All Clear
siren is ready to be sounded, and I have some concern about our readiness to fall back into the same state of complacency that helped make 9/11 possible.
While aspects of the Patriot Act might be due for trimming, I don't see any reason why it would be necessary to try captured terrorists in civilian courts.
The visible security measures at our airports are largely a joke and I can only hope that there are measures being taken, outside of our view, that are actually effective.
I also cannot see this or any other Administration being very willing to share power it now holds for itself with congress, and I certainly don't see this president, who apparently takes great pride in personally selecting drone targets, uniquely positioned to change the status quo.
The length of time the War on Terror has been waged is immaterial if a serious threat remains. We know that Islamists have not, at all, given up the fight, and if the incidents of terrorism have, as Zakaria contends, indeed declined of late, we have to answer the question of "How come?" before we relax our security in any way.
Not-with-standing the Administration's unfathomable insistence on regarding the Fort Hood Massacre as something other than a terrorist attack, we've avoided the slaughter of attacks it acknowledges as terrorist in origin more by luck than any demonstration of effective security methods.
The War on Terror is, obviously, not a conventional war and not likely to have been contemplated by Madison when he wrote the words Zakaria has quoted.
I do think an end must be kept in sight, and keeping it in the public forum is beneficial. I just don't believe we are ready to signal All Clear.