The State of the Union

What a masterful speech by Obama. His delivery, as normal, was eloquent and well-timed, but it was the content of his speech and the enthusiasm with which he delivered his fifth SOTU address that was so positive and encouraging.

He had a wonderful defense of the ACA, pointing out the guest who recently signed up for affordable care and then a few days later had a sharp pain, which led to a surgery that would have bankrupted this particular person the week before. He pointed out that in 2014, gender discrimination, regarding the price of health insurance will end, thanks to the ACA. In Colorado, gender discrimination is already illegal, but in Wyoming, a state near and dear to my heart, but so far behind in many ways, women pay 76 to 100% more than men for health insurance. Wyoming and Arkansas lead the way in this sorry respect and in 2014 they will no longer.
Obama hit his opponents hard on many issues and, by doing so, everyone watching tonight’s address got to see the tepid reaction on the right to: equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, ending the war in Afghanistan, preventing American military intervention in Syria, making a deal with Iran to put an end to their nuclear ambitions, and to this gem, “America must move off a permanent war footing.” Beautiful.
It was an oddly energizing speech. One doesn’t expect much from these formalities, but sometimes something promising breaks through. Tonight that happened. Obama was only confrontational because he listed his administration’s successes, those his opponents spent so much time and energy resisting without providing thorough solutions themselves.
And yet, the Republican address is given by a woman whose party didn’t seem very excited at all about paying females the .23 cents on the dollar they lose to their male counterparts solely because they are female.
There is still a lot of work to do, but Obama did channel hope and promise tonight and those who stayed in their seats did not come off looking very good.
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The Best Newspaper Read of 2013

Since Monday, the New York Times has featured a daily article in a series called Invisible Child. The stories, written by Andrea Elliott, chronicle a year in the life of Dasani, one of thousands of homeless children living in New York City. Dasani, along with her six siblings and parents (Chanel and Supreme) occupy a 532 square foot room in one of NYC’s worst homeless shelters. Yesterday, in part four, Elliott wrote about Dasani’s 12th birthday party. She received no material gifts. However, her mom tried to make the day special for the little girl by presenting Dasani with a beautiful white sheet cake, which Dasani did not know was stolen from a local Pathmark. Later in the evening, a neighborhood teenager, who was flirting with Dasani’s uncle, a much older man, gave Dasani a $20. The girl’s joy was palpable, even through the written word. 

Reading through the articles while vacationing in Orlando, Florida, made Dasani’s story especially powerful. Orlando’s theme parks, such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World, are teeming with kids who have no clue that children like Dasani exist. While these kids are concerned about getting in line to meet Belle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom or line up to ride the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Dasani closely follows city politics, calculating how much more money the family would have to spend on soda if Mayor Bloomberg’s soda-size limiting proposal becomes law. At present, one super-size soda is shared among the entire family, but if the proposal had passed, Dasani’s family would have faced a significant increase in the cost of soda for the family.

Throughout the week, the articles have become a bit of a devotional for me. If there is a better time of year to reflect on Dasani’s life and the lives of the homeless throughout the country and world, I don’t know of it. We are bombarded during this season to narrowly think of our own wants and “needs.” Yes, we get excited to give presents, but how much of that excitement is rooted in the knowledge that we will get some gifts in return? Jesus encourages us to give with no thought of reward. He encourages us to be blind to a person’s outward appearance or material possessions. He encourages us this season to think of the neediest, to reflect on our own blessings, and then to make a difference. And it is not important if the world thinks you are making a big difference or a little difference. To the recipient, the difference will always be big and that is all that is important.  

I am writing this blog to spread the story of Dasani and her family. It is dreadfully tragic and reading the articles represents a big commitment of time, but I believe they are rewarding. Even if you can’t do something about it this Christmas, this Christmas will still be more meaningful if you come face to face with Dasani’s struggle and remember her and others like her as you bask in the blessings of this holiday. 

You can find part one of the series at this link.

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The Winter Olympics Under An Authoritarian Leader

Last month’s issue of Outside Magazine has an excellent article about the havoc and destruction brought to Sochi by the preparation for this February’s Winter Olympics. I’m not surprised that Putin is doing whatever he wants in this supposedly public and protected corner of Russian wilderness, but to read many first-hand accounts of Putin’s forces crushing various attempts by citizens to end illegal construction or bring attention to previously protected natural habitats is astonishing. One such mission by these concerned citizens is to investigate an illegal compound (named Moonglade) on or near a Unesco world heritage site. It is rumored that Putin has built one of his palaces there. At the moment, everything and everyone going to this palace is flown in by helicopter. Russia has already been warned by Unesco to stop the construction of one road, but it is reported in Outside’s article that another road is under construction, this one coming in from the other side of the property.

It’s embarrassing that the Olympic Games are awarded to countries (really their leaders) that are going to permanently destroy homes and natural beauty to put on a sporting event for two weeks. Sochi will never be the same and the people of the region, if they profit at all from this, are eventually going to be left poor with a nice selection of bulldozed-over nature preserves.

Thank you, Outside, for bringing to your readers a better understanding of Putin’s dirty methods.

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60 Minutes Retraction

After 60 Minutes announced they would apologize for their Benghazi story on Sunday, I eagerly anticipated a detailed, informative apology at the start of the show. Unfortunately, my expectations weren’t realistic. What I got, after sitting through 56 of 60 minutes, was Lara Logan telling me she made a mistake. It was all over in less than two minutes. Logan had previously said the same thing on the CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning. Her 60 Minutes apology contained no new information for people who have been following the story.

For example, one would think it would be important to point out that Dylan Davies’ book is published by Threshold, “a conservative imprint of Simon and Schuster,” a subsidiary of, you guessed it, CBS News. And that said book just hit the shelves around the time the 60 Minutes report aired. The Huffington Post gives more detail regarding this point:

Did “60 Minutes” find Davies on its own, or did his book add an irresistible synergistic flavor to the show’s Benghazi report? Did it face any internal pressure to help push for Davies’ story to get on air?

Speaking on MSNBC last week, New York Times correspondent Bill Carter speculated that “60 Minutes” leapt to embrace the book because it needed a “new angle” for its Benghazi story.

I just don’t think Logan’s two-minute presentation was enough. It clearly didn’t address the connection between 60 Minutes and the Davies’ book, nor did it go into detail about how their key witness for their year-long Benghazi investigation was totally outed as a complete liar. This is a guy that started asking Fox News for money when they attempted to interview him. Fox News turned him down after that. On top of all this, it’s Benghazi, a now highly politicized scandal, which the Republicans have pounced on as an integral part of their strategy to discredit Hillary Clinton as she moves toward the inevitable–her decision to run for president in 2016.

Benghazi is still a tragedy, even if 60 Minutes had done a full, in-depth retraction. However, I don’t want the journalists I occasionally rely on to give me transparent, reliable reporting, to become what they are reporting on.

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Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Never underestimate Hollywood’s ability to get a van load of good to great actors to sign on to action movies with the most ridiculous notions. This movie is just the newest example of this phenomenon, in case you forgot that top-tier actors (Morgan Freeman, for one) are not above making turds like Olympus Has Fallen.

The proper start of the movie is when an AC-130 gunship flies over DC, fends off multiple F-22s (multiple F-22s, I said) and circles around the capital’s landmarks, indiscriminately laying down bullets the size of Red Bull cans. Meanwhile, the Secret Service just let a North Korean terrorist into the White House with the belief that he was a native South Korean and a member of a diplomat’s security detail. The Secret Service and 60 Minutes must have the same background check team.

In addition to the terrorist inside the White House already, 30-50 North Korean terrorists have sidled up to the perimeter of the White House. On cue, one of them blows himself up and the fence leading onto the White House lawn. The terrorists swoop in and within fifteen minutes the president is hostage and, as far as I could tell, every Secret Service agent is dead, except for Gerard Butler, who plays a former agent turned US Treasury security, turned unofficial Secret Service agent when he starts running up on North Korean terrorists and putting bullets in the back of their heads.

Okay, there is no point in explaining the plot minutiae of such a movie because you already know lots of people are going to die and the film will end with an American triumph. Spoiler alert: it does. But what are all these good actors doing to waste an hour or two of your lives? Well, Morgan Freeman becomes acting president while the prez, played by Aaron Eckhart is far below the White House in a bunker. Angela Bassett, Secret Service Director, is sitting around a table with Freeman and Robert Forster, who plays a four-star general. Melissa Leo, a recent Oscar nominee for The Fighter, is in the bunker with the prez. In one particular scene, which encapsulates the over-the-top cheesiness that just oozes from action flicks like this one, Leo is dragged down a hallway to be executed, presumably, and she starts screaming the Pledge of Allegiance, channeling her inner Oscar nominee and failing, miserably.

A little less improbable than a gang of terrorists armed with semi-autos taking over the White House in 15 minutes, is that Gerard Butler single-handedly kills the entire North Korean crew, saves the president’s son midway through, falls through two floors of the White House, shrugs it off, and saves the president. Also, a little less probable than a gang of terrorists armed with semi-autos taking over the White House in 15 minutes, is that there is a computer system in the White House bunker that enables the administrator (the president) to blow up every nuclear missile under US command with the click of a button. Luckily, Butler arrives at the computer terminal with 30 seconds before the US becomes a giant mass of radioactive goo. He gets the deactivation code from Freeman and supporting conference table cast and enters it with three seconds to spare.

If you are truly invested in Olympus Has Fallen at this point, you might let out a sigh of relief. If you see right through it, you are probably double-checking the length of the movie to see just how many minutes of your life you cannot get back.

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Falling Apart, the 60 Minutes Benghazi Report

I wrote a brief post last week questioning if there was really something new in the 60 Minutes story on Benghazi. It turns out there was a lot of new information, a completely fabricated story from one of their key witnesses. The story is developing on a lot of fronts, from HuffPo, to Media Matters, and Mother Jones. This from the HuffPo:

It emerged on Thursday that Davies, who gave [Lara] Logan a hair-raising, detailed account of his actions during the 2012 attack, had previously told the FBI that he hadn’t even gone to the site where it took place. This was the second occasion where Davies had been recorded as saying that he wasn’t at the scene of the crime. He had already admitted to doing so once, but CBS and Logan had firmly backed him, saying that he had lied to his employer to protect himself.

Today, Lara Logan appeared on CBS’ This Morning and said that 60 Minutes will address the issue during this Sunday’s show. This whole episode reminds me of the ‘Operation Genoa’ debacle from the second season of HBO’s The Newsroom. Pretty embarrassing for CBS.

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Stephen Kinzer and David Sanger at DU

An advantage to still living in Denver is that I can attend speaking events at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where I received my graduate degree. Today, the dean of the school (Ambassador Christopher Hill) had a discussion with Stephen Kinzer and David E. Sanger, two of the best journalists writing today, at the Anderson Academic Commons on DU’s campus. The discussion was especially focused on China, Iran, and Syria, but it did touch on Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Israel, Germany, and Turkey. My intention with this post is to simply highlight a few of the things that were mentioned today regarding the countries listed above.

An interesting point that Kinzer hit on right away is that China and India are the number one and number two importers of Saudi Arabian oil, respectively. He rhetorically asked the audience what these countries are doing to protect their supply of oil from the Kingdom. The answer is nothing, because as Kinzer pointed out to the audience, the US is doing all the work. Now to today’s crowd at DU this didn’t really come as a shock, but it would to many Americans. Kinzer expressed an idea that was also written about by Fareed Zakaria in last week’s issue of Time, it’s the idea that what is good for the US is not necessarily good for Saudi Arabia. Or as the title of Zakaria’s piece puts more bluntly, “The Saudis Are Mad? Tough!”

Sanger spent a decent amount of time talking about the light footprint strategy (with drones, special forces, etc.) Obama has used in the Middle East and how that strategy is losing a little steam in the second term so far. In the first term it gave America the chance for it to protect its interests, but to avoid a long-term operation, such as the Iraq War or the War in Afghanistan.

Moving on to Iran, Sanger did highlight just how much closer the Iranians are to a bomb now than they were when Obama first took office. He thinks that for a legitimate deal to be struck with the Iranians, they would have to deconstruct some of what they’ve built since 2008. This would, in theory, give the US and its allies in the Middle East, a little time to deal with an Iran that suddenly leaped forward in construction of a bomb. I think Sanger makes a good point. I do not see an agreement with Iran moving forward unless they take some steps backward. If they do not, I do not think there is a chance of Israel supporting us in an agreement with Iran and, of course, the Right in America will attempt to further destroy Obama’s foreign policy legacy, which the Right already has determined as embarrassing for America.

Kinzer’s most interesting contribution to this afternoon’s panel discussion was about Iran and the ongoing sanctions there. He pointed out that goods banned by sanctions still arrive in the marketplace, but that they are just absurdly expensive and typically controlled by very powerful factions. These people or groups are called sanction busters, and Iran’s biggest sanction busting group is the Revolutionary Guard. Naturally, if they are gaining in power and raking in the money from the sanctions on Iran, the Revolutionary Guard is not very interested in a deal between the US and Iran being struck. He mentioned that in George W Bush’s administration there was a sort of rule that no one could refer to Iran as having legitimate security interests. That is easy to believe. Can you imagine this guy being concerned about Iran? That’s what I thought. Kinzer highlighted the “huge trust gap” between the two countries and he emphasized the need for “verification mechanisms” if any deal is to be made. I especially liked this quote from him, “Emotion is always the enemy of wise statesmanship.”

Hill asked both men if a nuclear Iran could be contained? They seemed to agree, that Iran would not instantly launch missiles at their enemies if the country had them, but the real threat from a nuclear Iran is the message that would send to the rest of the region. Other Middle East nations would immediately start to move toward nuclear development. Of course, Iran would be able to powerfully (and probably successfully) intimidate the entire region if they did have a bomb.

Snowden and the NSA were bound to come up. Sanger shared that Angela Merkel’s phone has been periodically tapped since 2002. She was on a lengthy list of Europeans who were being eavesdropped on. Now, since the Snowden revelations have revealed the extent to which the US is spying on its friends and enemies, Sanger shared that the country has to review the cost of targeting its partners. In regards to China, Sanger pointed out that the NSA story has soured China-US talks on cyber security. China now has more reason to call the US a hypocrite when it comes to spying, but what the NSA has done is not comparable to China’s “industrial espionage.”

There seemed to be agreement between the two journalists that a breakthrough with Iran would be Obama’s key foreign policy achievement. Kinzer spoke of the pro-American sentiment that he has personally experienced in Iran. I think the fact that most Iranians are pro-American is not widely known by Americans nor widely shared by most American media outlets. It wouldn’t surprise me if a decent amount of Americans thought Iranians were still like the Iranians portrayed in last year’s Oscar-winning Argo. Unfortunately, America does get a large dose of their understanding of the wider world through Hollywood.

Overall, today’s event was one of the best Korbel has put on during the last three years I’ve been affiliated with the school. Until next time, DU.

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What Was New?

When I was watching last Sunday’s 60 Minutes story on Benghazi, a couple things caught my eye. One, Lara Logan’s feigned shock in response to information we have known for a year or at least since hearings on Benghazi took place in early 2013. And two, after working on this story for a year, was there really anything new in it? The answer is, not much. And that sort of explains Logan’s reactions. She had to sell the mere regurgitation of old facts as groundbreaking, investigative reporting.

Prior to the 60 Minutes report, what I specifically can’t recall hearing about the Benghazi debacle was that AQ planned to attack the Red Cross, the British, and then the Americans. David Weigel’s post over at Slate confirmed that was a new detail. Weigel wrote that the other new information in the report was that, “Wood, a chief security officer in Libya, told the country team that ‘the attack cycle is such that they’re in the final planning stages.'”

Beyond those items, what was presented as new information was not really new at all if you have been following the story. For example, if you had watched the hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, if you had read some of the cables from Libya prior to the attack, you might have been wondering why exactly is this the lead story on 60 Minutes right now?

Rehashing aside, it was a decent summary of the events leading up to and during the attack in Benghazi. Conservatives are pleased with the story. For many people, that 60 Minutes did a Benghazi piece well over a year after the attack seems to reaffirm that Benghazi is a huge scandal and coverup and heads still need to roll.

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Will this long peace last?

Nearly sixty-eight years ago, the last hot war among great, world powers ended. Since then, the world has seen many conflicts, but none that have encompassed the globe. John Gaddis first dubbed this period of relative peace the “long peace”.[1] Surely, this is an era enjoyed by scholars belonging to varying schools of thought in international relations, but not all scholars agree that the long peace will endure. On this one, I’ll side with the realist scholar Kenneth Waltz, who rightly points out, “Every time peace breaks out, people pop up to proclaim that realism is dead.”[2]

In a November 2011 infographic, the New York Times borrowed data from Matthew White’s book, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, to plot the number of deaths from wars, institutional oppression, failed states, and despots.[3] The infographic lists the ten deadliest wars and intrastate conflicts by percentage of world population killed. There are some shocking statistics, such as this, 11.1% of the global population falling victim to the rule of Genghis Khan, but as one traces the conflicts into the modern era, Bill Marsh notes, “killings as a percentage of all humanity are probably declining.”[4] Indeed, that seems to be the trend since only two events after the year 1900, World War II (which killed 2.6% of humanity) and the rule of Mao Zedong (which killed 1.3% of humanity), made it onto the ten deadliest list.[5] But does the decline in killings as a percentage of all humanity mean we have arrived at a long peace that is to last? The chances are not great that it does, especially looking at the list in a different way.

There is no predicting exactly when the next great power war will happen, but if we calculate the average number of years between the ten deadliest conflicts from the list mentioned above, we see that the gap averages 197 years.[6] There are great wars not included in this list, such as World War I, which would shorten that gap, but nevertheless, it is significant that two conflicts since the year 1900 are included among the ten deadliest of all time, especially when confronting those that argue great power wars are a thing of the past. Sixty-eight years of peace between the major powers is noteworthy, but Waltz would argue, and I agree, that sixty-eight years does not represent a change of the system and “the ominous shadow of the future continues to cast its pall over interacting states.”[7]

In his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker also uses statistics from Matthew White’s research where he constructs a list of the twenty-one “Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other.”[8] Pinker adjusts the death toll for each of these conflicts to a mid-twentieth century equivalent, showing that if some previous atrocities occurred when the global population was much larger, the death toll would far exceed that of World War II.[9] Thus, the argument that wars are becoming less deadly emerges again. This pattern is promising, but not strong enough to argue that a great power war won’t occur again, nor that the next conflict doesn’t have the potential to surpass one of the countries on Pinker’s list. In fact, the data is disturbing because six conflicts from Pinker’s list occurred in the twentieth century and an additional conflict (Congo Free State) continued from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century.[10] That means seven of the twenty-one worst things humans have done to each other have taken place in the last 113 years. That these seven conflicts are not at the top of the list isn’t much of a comfort since together they have killed 150 million people since the beginning of the Congo Free State.[11] A more honest extrapolation from this list is that great wars don’t happen in any predictable pattern, but they do happen. Whether there are just twenty-one years between the conflicts, as in the case of the World Wars, or, if like the current situation, the peace lasts sixty-eight years, the chances of history repeating itself are heavily in the realists’ favor.

It is understood that most of these conflicts were not great power wars and in fact were intrastate wars or internal policies that led to a huge loss of life, as was the case under the rule of Mao Zedong. However, assessing these conflicts from a realist perspective means it is likely that in the modern era an intrastate conflict that approaches anything near killing one percent of humanity, would attract the ire and intervention of great powers. Additionally, in an increasingly interdependent world, an intrastate conflict of the magnitude near that of the conflicts listed above certainly has the promise of creating a great power war. This belief is based on “realism’s five assumptions about the international system,” according to John Mearsheimer.[12] The assumptions are “that the international system is anarchic,” “states inherently possess some offensive military capability,” “states can never be certain about the intentions of other states,” “the most basic motive driving states is survival,” and “states think strategically about how to survive in the international system.”[13]

A possible scenario that could end the long peace is the appearance of new, great powers that “will emerge as the uneven growth process narrows the gap between the hegemon and the eligible states that are positioned to emerge as its competitors.”[14] Christopher Layne argues that this happens either through balancing, where states seek “to correct a skewed distribution of relative power in the international system,” or through the sameness effect, where states, seeking to replicate the hegemon, merely imitate its behavior.[15] The authors of Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century would not disagree with this assessment. They believe the states most likely to do this in the next century are China by 2050 and India by the end of the twenty-first century.[16] Where they might differ with Layne, is that they believe “transitions within regional hierarchies are inevitable,” and that the dominant power will have to “stabilize regions in order to avoid great power intervention.”[17]  This is an extremely fine line to walk and the success of the dominant power in doing this rests in a policy that simultaneously intervenes in regional disputes, but also keeps the emerging powers satisfied so as not to start a major power war.

There are those that do believe international institutions have the capability to bring great powers to the proverbial table so that all can walk away satisfied, maintaining the long peace we have enjoyed for sixty-eight years. These same people are often skeptical of the realist’s assumptions and predicted patterns of behavior. Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin criticize Mearsheimer’s idea that, “‘every state would like to be the most formidable military power in the system.’”[18] They point out that no one thinks Switzerland and Argentina want to be the dominant power.[19] But they fail to mention a time when Switzerland and Argentina had the window of opportunity to become the world’s dominant power and declined that role. That is because that window never existed for either of those countries and a realist would argue that given the chance/s, it is inevitable that Argentina and Switzerland would have made a move to become a global power if they had the capability to do so. Continuing to criticize the realist perspective, Keohane and Martin mention that even the United States “could reasonably have expected to become the most powerful state in the world, but did not seek such a position” during the interwar period.[20] This was true for twenty-three years, but given enough chances, a country will try to assume the title of great power or global hegemon if it has the capability. The United States did exactly that following World War II and it hasn’t expressed any interest in relinquishing that title since.

In a 1990 paper, John Mueller likened major war as falling out of fashion like dueling and slavery, but he fails to mention that both of those practices continue to this day in the form of gang violence and sex trafficking, to name two.[21] He writes, “If war, like dueling, comes to be viewed as a thoroughly undesirable, even ridiculous, policy, and if it can no longer promise gains, or if potential combatants come no longer to value the things it can gain for them, then war can fade away.”[22] But the realist contention with this argument is that great powers, even moderate powers, will always desire their security and thus always view war as a viable option as long as they aren’t willing to give up their land and sovereignty to a dominant power. Mueller’s larger argument suggests that war has fallen out of favor with the great powers, especially following World War I, when “the notion that the institution of war, particularly war in the developed world, was repulsive, uncivilized, immoral, and futile” took hold as a powerful idea, one that the victors of WWI were committed to.[23] But then what happened with World War II? His answer, the European powers understood that war was bad after WWI, but it took WWII for Japan to get “the message most Europeans had received from WWI.”[24] But then how do we determine who has and has not received this message? Is it through membership in the United Nations? Iran is a member nation, but many would argue Iran has not received this message, perhaps now they have with Rouhani at the helm, but that has yet to be truly tested. Even though Iran is not a great power, it has powerful allies in China and Russia that, if brazen enough, could stand up to the United States in the scenario that the United States felt so threatened by Iran’s nuclear program that they ordered air strikes to take out all of Iran’s enrichment facilities.

I am afraid that another war is inevitable, even though it may not be nearly as deadly as WWII. The next great power war may be a cyber war. “That we have not seen a cyber-incident as shocking as Pearl Harbor or 9/11 is not a cogent justification for academics to neglect the topic.”[25] How does a country prepare for this? It must maintain a strong offensive and defensive military capability. Luckily, the United States is over-prepared in this respect, but it could afford to scale back the size of its military to a more reasonable size when compared to China’s military, for example. Additionally, an increase in cyber warfare capabilities should be implemented to protect against the possible new frontier of great power war.

Lastly, despite my realist tendencies in tackling this question, I do believe maintaining membership in international institutions is important if the United States is committed to eliminating some war, but we would be foolish to subscribe to the idea that an institution can overpower all of the inherent realist patterns of behavior in international politics. Similarly, recognition of the fact that great power war is on the decline does not mean that great power wars are over. Whether it is another sixty-eight years or twenty years, another war will disturb the long peace as it has disturbed every other long peace in human history.




[1] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011), 190.

[2] Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural Realism after the Cold War,” International Security 25, no. 1 (2000): 39.

[3] Bill Marsh and Matthew White, “Population Control, Marauder Style,” New York Times, November 6, 2011,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] I calculated this average by taking the number of years between the end of a conflict and the beginning of the next for the ten deadliest conflicts by percentage of humanity killed. If conflicts overlapped, then the gap was valued as 0 years.

[7] Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural Realism after the Cold War,” International Security 25, no. 1 (2000): 39.

[8] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2012), 194-95.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] John J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no. 3 (1994/95): 10.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Christopher Layne, “The Unipolar Illusion: Why New Great Powers Will Rise,” International Security 17, no. 4 (1993): 11.

[15] Ibid., 12, 15.

[16] Ronald L. Tammen et al., Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century (New York: Seven Bridges, 2000), 42.

[17] Ibid., 185.

[18] Robert O. Keohane and Lisa L. Martin, “The Promise of Institutionalist Theory,” International Security 20, no. 1 (1995): 41.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] John Mueller, “The Obsolescence of Major War,” Bulletin of Peace Proposals 21, no. 3 (1990): 321-328.

[22] Ibid., 322.

[23] Ibid., 324.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Adam P. Liff, “Cyberwar: A New ‘Absolute Weapon’? The Proliferation of Cyberwarfare Capabilities and Interstate War,” The Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 3 (June 2012): 404.

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TPM Clears the Air Again

I have been very disappointed by the shoddy rollout of the ACA. So has the media. In fact, it’s tough to find any major news network that isn’t issuing reports about problems such as the glitchy website or people losing coverage because their old health plans did not meet ACA standards. On the latter problem, TPM wrote a post this morning about NBC News‘ Lisa Myers, criticizing her reporting on the issue. Myers is not alone in saying thousands and suggesting millions of people are now without health insurance because of the ACA. TPM tries to articulate a better explanation of what’s really going on:

But saying that millions of people are getting ‘cancellation notices’ or ‘losing their coverage’ is deeply misleading.

What’s happening in most of these cases is that is that people are being notified that they’re being automatically rolled over into new policies, which pretty much by definition provide fuller and more complete coverage. Some of those policies are more expensive, even after the subsidies the law provides to offset these increases. Some people really will just pay more at the end of the day – especially being who are both healthy and affluent.

What is definitely disappointing to me, is that Obama’s insistence that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan was clearly misleading. For thousands of people, this just isn’t true. As TPM points out, these people are losing their current plan, but they are being rolled into a new policy, which meets the ACA’s higher standards, and, in some cases, these policies cost more. This is disappointing, but when the story is that millions of people are losing or will lose coverage in the next couple of months because of the ACA and fall out of coverage completely, it becomes enraging because it gives the Right more fuel for their anti-Obama fire.

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Keller and Greenwald Exchange

I’m a little behind the curve on this one, but because the exchange about journalism between the Times‘ Bill Keller and the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald is so long, I didn’t finish reading it until today. I wanted to link to it here on the blog because I really value the Times‘, but I also agree with some of Greenwald’s criticisms of the Times. And, of course, an exchange about journalism, its past, present, and future, is quite relevant to international relations/events and the way they are reported and analyzed by traditional news organizations, like the Times, and by an adversarial journalist, such as Greenwald.

Read the exchange here. Money quote:

You insist that “all journalism has a point of view and a set of interests it advances, even if efforts are made to conceal it.” And therefore there’s no point in attempting to be impartial. (I avoid the word “objective,” which suggests a mythical perfect state of truth.) Moreover, in case after case, where the mainstream media are involved, you are convinced that you, Glenn Greenwald, know what that controlling “set of interests” is. It’s never anything as innocent as a sense of fair play or a determination to let the reader decide; it must be some slavish fealty to powerful political forces. – Bill Keller

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Targeted Killings

The following post is adapted from a paper I wrote in 2011 following the targeting and killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. I borrowed heavily from Berger’s book Jihad Joe for the background information on Awlaki.

United States Foreign Policy and Targeted Killings: The case of Anwar al-Awlaki

On September 30, 2011, the United States launched a successful attack targeting and killing Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Samir Khan, although not the specified target of the attack, was also killed in the strike. Awlaki and Khan held U.S. citizenship, as well as citizenship in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, respectfully. Immediately following the attack, there were varied criticisms of the strike against U.S. citizens from law experts and media outlets. The two primary objections to the targeting and killing of an American citizen in Yemen that have been raised are: 1) the U.S. is not involved in an armed conflict in Yemen so to use military force violates international law, and 2) the targeted killing of an American violates the Constitution and international human rights law and it isn’t explicitly allowed in the war model of current U.S. foreign policy.

The ongoing war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates has presented unique challenges to carrying out U.S. foreign policy objectives given its borderless nature and the broad definition of affiliates, which is “intended to reflect a broader category of entities against whom the United States must bring various elements of national power, as appropriate and consistent with the law, to counter the threat they pose.”[1]

I. The Rise of Anwar al-Awlaki

In order to better understand both of the objections (see above) raised in response to Awlaki’s death and the reasons the United States targeted him in the first place, it is necessary to detail his rise from engineering student at Colorado State University to global terrorist issuing statements on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which urged terrorists, among other things, not to “consult anyone in killing the Americans.”[2]

Anwar al-Awlaki was born in 1971 to Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki and his wife in Las Cruces, New Mexico.[3] The family moved to Yemen, their homeland, when Awlaki was seven years old. There it is said that Awlaki “consumed American popular culture voraciously” and returned to the United States in 1991 to study engineering at CSU “on a U.S. government scholarship awarded to foreign students. He lied about his citizenship in order to qualify.”[4] Eventually, Awlaki’s interest in his faith and his personal interpretation of Islamic texts led him to the Ar-Ribat Al-Islami mosque in La Mesa, California, where he was known to encourage some of his followers to partake in jihad.[5] It is important to note that up until this point, Awlaki was not prominently working against U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad. Although he was addressing them through sermons, there remains no proof that at this time he was actively planning or preparing missions abroad to disrupt American interests or objectives in the Middle East. However, This doesn’t mean Awlaki wasn’t being watched.

“At some point in the 1990s, the FBI opened a file on him” but the investigation concluded in March 2000 when the agent on the case “wrote that Awlaki had been ‘fully identified and does not meet the criterion for [further] investigation.’”[6]

In hindsight, Awlaki may have played a crucial role by motivating two of the 9/11 hijackers in early 2000, before the FBI closed their investigation of him. It was during this time that two men named Nawaf Al Hazmi and Khalid Al Mindhar visited the Ar-Ribat mosque where Awlaki was preaching. “Both men were members of al-Qaeda—and both would take part in the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77 and its subsequent crash into the Pentagon on September 11.”[7] In The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright attributes significant importance to these men, writing that tracking their movements “offered the most realistic hope for American intelligence to uncover the 9/11 conspiracy.”[8] Unfortunately, the importance of Hazmi and Mindhar wasn’t known across all intelligence agencies. Even the CIA didn’t know Hazmi had flown to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000 until three months after the fact.[9] Had the true threat of Hazmi and Mindhar been known, it is likely that Awlaki would have never met with a hellfire missile in the desert of Yemen eleven years later, but instead would have been arrested in California. In reality though the relationships among the three men remained hazy to the FBI, even though they “wanted badly to arrest Awlaki but couldn’t come up with the hard evidence.”[10] One FBI agent later told the 9/11 Commission “if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it was Awlaki.”[11]

Awlaki’s next move was to Falls Church, Virginia, to be an imam at Dar Al Hijrah mosque. It was here where Awlaki, a week after the 9/11 attacks, criticizing media and government explanations for why America was attacked, preached, “We were told this was an attack on American civilization. We were told this was an attack on American freedom, on the American way of life. This wasn’t an attack on any of this. This was an attack on U.S. foreign policy.”[12] Under pressure from the Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego, the U.S. issued a warrant for Awlaki’s arrest based on passport fraud in Colorado due to the lack of evidence tying the imam to 9/11.[13] Awlaki had been preaching abroad and when he returned to the U.S. in October of 2002 he was held by immigration officials for four hours, but released when it was discovered that his arrest warrant had been revoked one day earlier. The warrant was revoked by “an assistant U.S. attorney in Denver, David Gaouette, who said in 2009 that his office “couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and we asked the court to withdraw the complaint,” adding that he couldn’t prosecute someone for a ‘bad reputation.’”[14] At this point, Awlaki caught on to the ongoing interest the intelligence community had in him and he moved his family to London and then to Yemen two years later in 2004. Once in Yemen, Awlaki quickly became a significant barrier to the U.S. and meeting foreign policy goals in the region. He is reported to have been a motivator for Nidal Hasan who was responsible for the Fort Hood shootings. And after the failed attempt to take down a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit in December 2009, the perpetrator Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, “told the FBI after his arrest” that Awlaki “had explicitly directed him to carry out the attack.”[15]

Throughout 2009 and 2010, Awlaki was added to several lists, which put him squarely in the crosshairs of American guns, or to be more specific, on the infrared cameras of U.S. drones buzzing around the skies of the Middle East. Even prior to the December 2009 incident, the Obama administration had “authorized the capture or killing of [the] U.S. –born Muslim cleric” in April 2009.[16] And, “On July 16, 2010, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued an order designating Anwar al-Aulaqi a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ for, inter alia, ‘acting for or on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula…and for providing financial, material or technological support for, or other services to or in support of, acts of terrorism [.]’”[17] And a few days later Awlaki was added to the “United Nations 1267 Committee’s Consolidated List of individuals and entities associated with al Qa’ida or the Taliban.”[18]

The aforementioned listings and increasingly violent ideology coming from Awlaki came to a head on September 30, 2011. According to The Guardian and the Yemini government, Awlaki “was ‘targeted and killed’ around 9:55am outside the town of Khasaf in a desert stretch of Jawf province, 87 miles (140km) east of the capital Sana’a.”[19] President Obama referred to Awlaki’s death as “‘another significant milestone’ in America’s fight against al-Qaida.”[20] However, many in the U.S. and abroad did not receive the news of Awlaki’s death as positively as President Obama did, specifically disagreeing with the placement of Awlaki into the framework of the United States’ war model in the region and the goals of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

II. Criticisms of the Strike on Awlaki

When taking into consideration the objections to targeting and killing a U.S. citizen abroad, it is valuable to note that by late September and early October of 2011 the U.S. government was already quite practiced in defending at least the placement of Awlaki on a capture or kill list due to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, Anwar’s father, who brought “this action on his own behalf and as next friend to his son.”[21] The Washington Post reported, “The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed” the lawsuit “challenging the U.S. government’s authority to target and kill U.S. citizens outside of war zones when they are suspected of involvement in terrorism.”[22] Echoing the first primary objection to the killing mentioned above, the lawyers wrote, “The United States is not at war with Yemen, or within it. Nonetheless, U.S. government officials have disclosed the government’s intention to carry out the targeted killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who is hiding there.”[23] The lawyers said that the targeting alone was a violation of the 4th and 5th Amendments and a violation of the Alien Tort Statute against extrajudicial killing. However, each objection stating that the targeting of Awlaki was illegal also had this pertinent phrase at the end: “in circumstances in which they [the targeted person/s] do not present concrete, specific, and imminent threats to life or physical safety, and where there are means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize any such threat.”[24] Thus, the targeting of Awlaki—the lawyers admitted—was legal if Awlaki was shown to be a “concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life or physical safety.” This made it rather easy for the government to dismiss this objection because of the general framework of the U.S. war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The ACLU, having lost the lawsuit mentioned above, was quick to write the day Awlaki died, “The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law. As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts.”[25]

Getting less attention, but perhaps as important, is the killing of Samir Khan. The Economist asked, “What precisely…were the grounds for killing the other American jihadist, a website editor against whom the evidence seems less definitive?”[26] For terrorists, the event lent itself as an opportunity to criticize the U.S. and also as a recruiting tool, in their minds showing how hypocritical the U.S. is in regards to its own judicial process. The SITE Intelligence Group, “which monitors and translates jihadist online forums” referred to a statement that said, “The Americans killed the preaching sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, and they did not prove the accusation against them, and did not present evidence against them in their unjust laws of their freedom.”[27]

Also concerning to critics is the idea that the U.S. didn’t attempt to arrest Awlaki before going ahead with the strike. In his journal article on “Targeted Killings and International Human Rights Law,” Michael Ramsden addresses the popular argument that killing Awlaki not only violated the U.S. foreign policy war model, but it also paid no attention to international law. In order for the strike to be justified, Ramsden wrote, “The state must establish that all measures to arrest or incapacitate the suspected terrorist were exhausted prior to using lethal force…For instance, if it was possible to arrest the suspected terrorist at any earlier stage, and it was a foreseeable consequence that lethal force would have to be used later, then there would be a violation of the right to life.”[28] According to some of the cables leaked in the massive release from WikiLeaks in December 2010, the government had exercised other options and President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan in September 2009, “I have given you an open door on terrorism.”[29] That said, Saleh couldn’t allow US troops on the ground in Yemen due to the inevitable outcry from domestic critics. So it was agreed that US drones would “circle out of sight outside Yemeni territory ready to engage AQAP targets should actionable intelligence become available.”[30] Ramsden also cites credible evidence that Yemen wasn’t prepared militarily to act on actionable intelligence. “To cite just one example, in December 2001, Yemen forces attempted to capture Al-Harithi, an Al-Qaeda leader and the mastermind of the USS Cole bombings. Yet, it was reported that over 18 soldiers died in a failed capture attempt.”[31] The strike that did finally take Harithi out was accomplished by a hellfire missile launched from a CIA predator drone, the same type of strike used against Awlaki. The November 2002 attack also killed a U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi, who was riding in the car with Harithi, “100 miles east of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa”[32] and roughly in the same region as where Awlaki met his end.

The critiques of the targeting and killing of American citizens abroad are quite numerous and this post is not the appropriate place for an in depth look at all of them. However, to examine a few of them shows the overarching theme espoused by the critics, that the killing violates U.S. and international law and that United States foreign policy objectives in the region don’t allow for American citizens or foreigners to be targeted in a country the U.S. isn’t currently at war in.

III. The United States Defends the Strike

What most of these criticisms overlook are the primary documents responsible for framing U.S. security goals in the Middle East. First among them is the Senate Joint Resolution 23, signed in the aftermath of 9/11 and more commonly referred to as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which reads:

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.[33]

This resolution allows for a high degree of flexibility in terms of what methods are used and who is deemed a terrorist connected to the September 11 attacks or connected to any future acts of international terrorism. When faced with criticism of the sort mentioned in the previous section, the AUMF is the trump card. For example, the day Awlaki was killed an Obama administration official told The Washington Post, “As a general matter, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of enemy forces, regardless of their nationality, who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress in its use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.”[34]

Both the National Strategy For Counterterrorism (2011) and the National Security Strategy (2010) are broadly inclusive in terms of potential targets and foreign policy goals. It is important, however, to remember that these documents do not have the status of law that the AUMF has.

The strategy on counterterrorism states, “The preeminent security threat to the United States continues to be from al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents.”[35] And included within that “broader category of entities” is AQAP and it is mentioned throughout the counterterrorism strategy as a substantial threat. “The United States faces a sustained threat from Yemen-based AQAP, which has shown the intent and capability to plan attacks against the U.S. Homeland and U.S. partners.”[36]

AQAP is linked with al-Qaeda in the National Security Strategy as well, which says, “Wherever al-Qa’ida or its terrorist affiliates attempt to establish a safe haven—as they have in Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb, and the Sahel—we will meet them with growing pressure.”[37] The framing here, and in the counterterrorism strategy, of where the United States’ war with al-Qaeda is actually taking place is clear. The war is wherever al-Qaeda and the furthest reaches of its terrorist network reside.

When critics of the Awlaki hit, like Mary Ellen O’Connell, vice chairman of the American Society of International Law, say, “The United States is not involved in any armed conflict in Yemen so to use military force to carry out these killings violates international law,” they seem to underappreciate the scope of the U.S. operation approved in the AUMF. This isn’t saying O’Connell has to agree with them, of course she has her choice, but the U.S. has so broadly defined the targets in this war and the physical battlefield that her argument falls flat. Remarks made by John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, at Harvard Law School in September 2011, are largely viewed as the oral defense of targeted killings. In regards to the battlefield, he admits:

An area in which there is some disagreement is the geographic scope of the conflict. The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida as being restricted solely to “hot” battlefields like Afghanistan. Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the United States takes the legal position that—in accordance with international law—we have the authority to take action against al-Qa’ida and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time. And as President Obama has stated on numerous occasions, we reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.[38]

The U.S. doesn’t need to redefine its foreign policy to justify a strike in any country as long as it deems the target as one linked with al-Qaeda and its affiliates as it did in its brief dismissing the lawsuit filed by Awlaki’s father, “Anwar al-Aulaqi has pledged an oath of loyalty to AQAP emir, Nasir al-Wahishi, and is playing a key role in setting the strategic direction for AQAP” and Awlaki “is a leader of AQAP, a Yemen-based terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts against Saudi, Korean, Yemeni, and U.S. targets since January 2009.”[39]

When carrying out missions like the one against Awlaki, the United States not only relies on the expansive wording of its foreign policy objectives, it also strategically uses certain branches of U.S. intelligence and defense in order to justify actions. The Guardian rightly pointed out in the immediate aftermath of the Awlaki event, that the hunt for him “would have been overseen by the CIA, in large part to enable it to be classified as ‘covert action’ that not only gives the American pursuers a freer hand in how they operate, but means they are not obliged to seek the approval of the Yemeni government.”[40] Essentially, covert action is a loophole, which enables the U.S. to bypass traditional obstacles like government approval from Yemen in this case. This is allowed by U.S. Code, Title 50, 413b “Presidential approval and reporting of covert actions,” which states:

The President may not authorize the conduct of a covert action by departments, agencies, or entities of the United States Government unless the President determines such an action is necessary to support identifiable foreign policy objectives of the United States and is important to the national security of the United States, which determination shall be set forth in a finding.[41]

This was not the first time the U.S. used this strategy in the war against al-Qaeda. It was the CIA that fired the hellfire missile in the November 2002 Yemen strike that killed Hirithi and an American citizen.

The biggest critique of Title 50, 413b, in the Awlaki case, is that the “finding,” which identifies foreign policy objectives met by the targeted killing of the individual, isn’t available to the public because the Obama administration has invoked the state secrets privilege. This has drawn ire from many in the legal sector. Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project said, “Whatever people think about the merits of the program [targeted killing], we think at a minimum Americans have a right to know under what circumstances the government has the right to impose the death penalty without charge or trial.”[42] The AUMF of 2001 provides a more solid foundation for rebutting critics than the administration does when it uses the state secrets privilege. However, Brennan assured the audience at Harvard Law School that the administration “instituted a new process to consider invocation of the so-called ‘state secrets privilege,’… This process ensures that this privilege is never used simply to hide embarrassing or unlawful government activities. But, it also recognizes that its use is absolutely necessary in certain cases for the protection of national security.”[43]

Despite the newly found prudence of the Obama administration, the state secrets privilege was invoked twice within the last two years in the Awlaki case. Once, in the September 2009 brief filed in response to the lawsuit from Awlaki’s father, “contending that the case should be dismissed to avoid disclosure of sensitive information.”[44] Although the privilege was invoked in this instance, the administration “urged Judge [John D.] Bates to dismiss the case on different grounds.”[45] There was an attempt to do just that because the Obama administration filed a 64-page brief citing other reasons the lawsuit could be dismissed. Among those reasons, one was perhaps the most damning. Recall that the lawsuit brought against the Obama administration said the targeting of Awlaki was a violation of his rights unless he posed a “concrete” and “imminent” threat to America or American interests. The lawyers for the Obama administration elaborated on the concept:

Even assuming…that [the] plaintiff has appropriately described the legal contours of the President’s authority to use force…the questions he would have the court evaluate—such as whether a threat to life or physical safety may be “concrete,” “imminent,” or “specific,” or whether there are “reasonable alternatives” to force—can only be assessed based upon military and foreign policy considerations, intelligence and other sources of sensitive information, and real-time judgments that the Judiciary is not well-suited to evaluate.[46]

Perhaps feeling the need to cover the bases one more time, the lawyers argued that the invocation of the state secrets privilege met the new criteria as determined by the Attorney General that “(1) there must be a ‘formal claim of privilege’; (2) the claim must be ‘lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter’; and (3) the claim must be made ‘after actual personal consideration by that officer.’”[47] Although the case was dismissed, Judge Bates observed that it raised “stark, and perplexing questions”—including whether the president could “order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based [on] the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization.”[48] Again, looking at the AUMF and pairing that with statements from President Obama who referred to Awlaki as the “external operations” chief for AQAP would best inform a critic of the strike.[49] Since AQAP is defined as an affiliate of al-Qaeda and since Awlaki is proven to have some role in AQAP, there exists a system that can legally target and kill an American citizen provided the justification for his killing is known. This leads to the second invocation of the state secrets privilege.

The document justifying the Awlaki strike was reviewed by “senior lawyers across the administration” and “there was no dissent about the legality of killing” Awlaki.[50] The government, however, has chosen to also keep this document hidden from the public. Anticipating the public frustration with this decision and future decisions invoking state secrets, Brennan reminded the public that one of President Obama’s first acts was to issue “a new Executive Order on classified information that, among other things, reestablished the principle that all classified information will ultimately be declassified.”[51] For now, this explanation will have to suffice until the government decides in the future to release the specific justification for killing Awlaki that would have to show he posed a “concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life.”

IV. Conclusion

The foreign policy goals stated in national security documents and paired with the AUMF permit the targeting and killing of an American citizen as long as he or she is deemed a threat to the United States. Since the AUMF in 2001, the targets of the United States’ war against al-Qaeda have been covered by the umbrella term “affiliates,” making it considerably more difficult for rights groups or individuals to win lawsuits, which would bring an end to the targeted killing program. However, within the justifying documents and Brennan’s speech to Harvard Law School, there are several contradictory statements, which do appear to have been disregarded in the rational for killing Awlaki.

Speaking on the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Brennan said, “We must not cut corners by setting aside our values and flouting our laws, treating them like luxuries we cannot afford.”[52] Toward the conclusion of this same speech he says, “As a people, as a nation, we cannot—and we must not—succumb to the temptation to set aside our laws and our values when we face threats to our security, including and especially from groups as depraved as al-Qa’ida.”[53] The U.S. has thus taken a selective approach to its principles. While the U.S. upholds the principle of security at home and abroad in our allied countries, it has been argued that the country’s leaders, in their effort to maintain that security, have disregarded the right against unreasonable searches and seizures as afforded the U.S. citizen in the Fourth Amendment[54] and the right to due-process as afforded the U.S. citizen in the Fifth Amendment.[55] As shown by the result of the lawsuit brought by Nasser al-Awlaki, this argument can be dismissed if the government deems that the information used to justify the killing should remain secret.

For the times when the U.S. citizen becomes a terrorist and is affiliated with al-Qaeda, the AUMF of 2001 allows for the government to act outside of its typical bounds. To meet the unconventional threat of 4th generation warfare, the U.S. has had to adapt some unconventional policies and they have written them with soft definitions in order to justify targeted killings. The U.S. government could further strengthen their case if a U.S. citizen’s overseas involvement in one of these terrorist groups automatically forfeits their citizenship.

The definition of imminence could be called soft because as the threat to the U.S. evolves, so must the definition of imminent to justify such killings. The government recognizes this as well, “We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of ‘imminence’ may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups.”[56] Along with having a flexible understanding of imminence, much of the government’s policies in regards to targeted killings calls for the citizen to trust the government’s actions. The U.S. citizen needs to trust that Awlaki did pose an imminent and concrete threat and that the U.S. exercised all other options before killing him. The sovereignty of the country depends on our unwavering trust that in order to guarantee one principle—security—the government isn’t lazily discarding other principles to, above all, maintain its power and economic interests in the Middle East. This trust is also necessary from the international community in order for the U.S. to be perceived as having not violated international law. Michael Ramsden writes that by assuming that “Al-Awlaki is an operational leader of AQAP and has directed acts of terrorism, an arguable case can be made that his targeted killing would be justified under the framework of IHRL [International Human Rights Law].”[57] Even though there is an all-inclusive framework when it comes to the war against al-Qaeda, it still requires the citizens of the United States and other countries to trust that the U.S. government is maintaining honorable, if still flexible, definitions of “imminence” and “concrete,” when carrying out foreign policy initiatives.

Finally, whether one agrees or disagrees with the current U.S. war model, the government—from the outset—recognized the porousness of borders, specifically those in the Middle East, and the capability of the extremism espoused by al-Qaeda and its affiliates to saturate even parts of the U.S. population—no matter how small the percentage. In doing so, the legal framework was made extremely far-reaching and comprehensive, enveloping American citizens and long-term residents involved in any terrorist activity, so that the U.S. government is not in the position in which it would have to continually modify its foreign policy objectives and defined threats in order to give grounds for targeted killings.




Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, Gates, & Panetta. Civ. A. No. 10-cv-1469. Document 15-1, (2010).

Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, Panetta, & Gates. United States District Court for the District of Columbia. No.10-cv-____. August 30, 2010.

Berger, J.M. Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011.

Booth, Robert and Black, Ian. “WikiLeaks cables: Yemen offered US ‘open door’ to attack al-Qaida on its soil.” The Guardian, December 3, 2010. Accessed November 5, 2011.

Brennan, John O. “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws.” Lecture at Program on Law and Security, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 16, 2011. Accessed November 5, 2011.

Cloud, David S. “U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki added to CIA target list.” The Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2010. Accessed November 9, 2011.

“Drones and the law.” The Economist, October 8, 2011. Accessed November 5, 2011.

“Fifth Amendment.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Accessed November 12, 2011.

Finn, Peter. “Secret U.S. memo sanctioned killing of Aulaqi.” The Washington Post, September 30, 2011. Accessed November 5, 2011.

“Fourth Amendment.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Accessed November 12, 2011.

Hsu, Spencer S. “Rights groups sue over U.S. authority to use terror kill list.” The Washington Post, August 31, 2010. Accessed November 5, 2011.

Ito, Suzanne. “ACLU Lens: American Citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi Killed Without Judicial Process.” ACLU Blog of Rights, September 30, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2011.

“Obama Administration Claims Unchecked Authority To Kill Americans Outside Combat Zones.” ACLU, November 8, 2010. Accessed November 10, 2011,

Priest, Dana. “U.S. Citizen Among Those Killed In Yemen Predator Missile Strike.” The Washington Post, November 4, 2002. Accessed November 10, 2011.

Ramsden, Michael. “Targeted Killings and International Human Rights Law: The Case of Anwar Al-Awlaki.” Journal of Conflict and Security Law 16.2 (2011): 385-406.

Rushe, Dominic and McGreal, Chris and Burke, Jason and Harding, Luke. “Anwar al-Awlaki death: US keeps role under wraps to manage Yemen fallout.” The Guardian, September 30, 2011. Accessed November 5, 2011.

Savage, Charlie. “Al Qaeda Group Confirms Deaths of Two American Citizens.” The New York Times, October 10, 2011. Accessed November 5, 2011.

Savage, Charlie. “Suit Over Targeted Killings Is Thrown Out.” The New York Times, December 7, 2010. Accessed November 6, 2011.

“September 11, 2001: Attack on America Joint Resolution 23; September 13, 2001.” The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Accessed November 10, 2011.

United States Code, Title 50, Chapter 15, Subchapter III, § 413B, “Presidential approval and reporting of covert actions.” Accessed November 6, 2011.—b000-.html.

United States Department of State. Office of the Spokesman. “Listing of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).” Washington, DC. July 20, 2010.

United States National Security Council, National Security Strategy, May 2010.

United States National Security Council, National Strategy For Counterterrorism, June 2011.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006



[1] United States National Security Council, National Strategy For Counterterrorism, June 2011, 3.

[2] J.M. Berger, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011), 148.

[3] Ibid., p. 115.

[4] Ibid., p. 115.

[5] Ibid., p. 116.

[6] Ibid., p. 119.

[7] Ibid., p. 120.

[8] Lawrence Wright. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 309.

[9] Ibid., p. 312.

[10] Ibid. 2, p. 124.

[11] Ibid. 2, p. 125.

[12] Ibid. 2, p. 133.

[13] Ibid. 2, p. 137.

[14] Ibid. 2, p. 137.

[15] Ibid. 2, p. 146.

[16] David S. Cloud, “U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki added to CIA target list,” The Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2010, accessed November 9, 2011,

[17] Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, Gates, & Panetta, Civ. A. No. 10-cv-1469, Document 15-1, (2010), 6-7.

[18] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, “Listing of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), (Washington, DC, July 20, 2010), accessed November 9, 2011,

[19] Dominic Rushe et al., “Anwar al-Awlaki death: US keeps role under wraps to manage Yemen fallout,” The Guardian, September 30, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011,

[20] Ibid. 19.

[21] Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, Panetta, & Gates, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, No.10-cv-____, (August 30, 2010), 2.

[22] Spencer S. Hsu, “Rights groups sue over U.S. authority to use terror kill list,” The Washington Post, August 31, 2010, accessed November 5, 2011,

[23] Ibid. 21, p. 2.

[24] Ibid. 21, p. 9.

[25] Suzanne Ito, “ACLU Lens: American Citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi Killed Without Judicial Process,” ACLU Blog of Rights, September 30, 2011, accessed November 4, 2011,

[26] “Drones and the law,” The Economist, October 8, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011,

[27] Charlie Savage, “Al Qaeda Group Confirms Deaths of Two American Citizens,” The New York Times, October 10, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011,

[28] Michael Ramsden, “Targeted Killings and International Human Rights Law: The Case of Anwar Al-Awlaki,” Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 16.2 (2011), 400.

[29] Robert Booth and Ian Black, “WikiLeaks cables: Yemen offered US ‘open door’ to attack al-Qaida on its soil,” The Guardian, December 3, 2010, accessed November 5, 2011,

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid. 28, p. 402.

[32] Dana Priest, “U.S. Citizen Among Those Killed In Yemen Predator Missile Strike,” The Washington Post, November 4, 2002, accessed November 10, 2011,

[33] “September 11, 2001: Attack on America Joint Resolution 23; September 13, 2001,” The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, accessed November 10, 2011,

[34] Peter Finn, “Secret U.S. memo sanctioned killing of Aulaqi,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011,

[35] Ibid. 1, p. 3.

[36] Ibid. 1, p. 14.

[37] United States National Security Council, National Security Strategy, May 2010, 21.

[38] John O. Brennan, “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws,” (lecture at Program on Law and Security, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 16, 2011), accessed November 5, 2011,

[39] Ibid. 17, p. 6.

[40] Ibid. 19.

[41] United States Code, Title 50, Chapter 15, Subchapter III, § 413B, “Presidential approval and reporting of covert actions,” accessed November 6, 2011,—b000-.html.

[42] Ibid. 22.

[43] Ibid. 38.

[44] “Obama Administration Claims Unchecked Authority To Kill Americans Outside Combat Zones,” ACLU, November 8, 2010, accessed November 10, 2011,

[45] Charlie Savage, “Suit Over Targeted Killings Is Thrown Out,” The New York Times, December 7, 2010, accessed November 6, 2011,

[46] Ibid. 17, p. 4.

[47] Ibid. 17, p. 48.

[48] Ibid. 45.

[49] Ibid 34.

[50] Ibid. 34.

[51] Ibid. 38.

[52] Ibid. 38.

[53] Ibid. 38.

[54] “Fourth Amendment,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, accessed November 12, 2011,

[55] “Fifth Amendment,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, accessed November 12, 2011,

[56] Ibid. 38.

[57] Ibid. 28, p. 406.

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There’s Blame to Go Around

Ezra Klein, who I’ve followed since he was at the American Prospect, now writes for the Washington Post. He has a great post about the GOP and the ACA titled, “The GOP’s Obamacare chutzpah.” Since I wrote a couple days ago about Sebelius’ awful interview on the Daily Show, I thought this post was particularly enlightening because Ezra does defend Sebelius against the constant barrage of calls for her resignation by pointing out the quite frequent Republican-led denials of funds needed to properly prepare for the ACA’s launch.

Money quote:

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan became the latest Republicans to call for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down because of the Affordable Care Act’s troubled launch. “I do believe people should be held accountable,” he said.

Okay then.

How about House Republicans who refused to appropriate the money the Department of Health and Human Services said it needed to properly implement Obamacare?

How about Senate Republicans who tried to intimidate Sebelius out of using existing HHS funds to implement Obamacare? “Would you describe the authority under which you believe you have the ability to conduct such transfers?” Sen. Orrin Hatch demanded at one hearing. It’s difficult to imagine the size of the disaster if Sebelius hadn’t moved those funds.

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A More Articulate GOP

Charles Krauthammer was on the Daily Show last night. He was promoting his new book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passion, Pastimes and Politics, and he and Jon Stewart got into a lively discussion about what the GOP’s message truly is, according to Krauthammer, versus the message Americans get from Fox News, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal and this month’s government shutdown debacle. For his part, Krauthammer explained the GOP’s concern quite well and Stewart conceded that if this was the argument presented to the American people, the country would be having a much different discussion, implying it would be less divisive. I agree with Stewart on this.

Krauthammer explained to Stewart that when Social Security was founded the average life expectancy was 62. Now, life expectancy is 80 and this is a primary reason there must be reform here and elsewhere in social programs and retirement plans that are based on antiquated life expectancies. Europe, Krauthammer said, is the best example of what happens when there is no appropriate reform and when the democratic socialism liberals push for reaches its logical end. In the beginning of all this, Krauthammer portrayed Social Security as a great program, one of the strongest liberal achievements, but one that now must face the reality of the times.

Below I’ve tried to embed the interview. You can just go to the Daily Show’s website and watch it there if the embed doesn’t work so click here.

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Fired By Now

I am behind the ACA. In the long run, I think it will be a good, perhaps great, thing for America. However, I think it’s about time that Kathleen Sebelius resigns her post of Secretary of Health and Human Services. A couple of weeks ago I was excited to see her on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. From the start, it was obvious Stewart wasn’t going to go easy on Sebelius. However, his questions were not exceptionally difficult. So, a prepared, articulate, extremely knowledgable, great saleswoman, as Sebelius should be, could have handled Stewart’s questions and criticism with relative ease.

But the interview was a disaster. Stewart kept returning to the same issue, why was the grace period of a year given to corporations, but not to the individual? Sebelius kept flubbing the answer. I could not have imagined a worse saleswoman for the ACA. As a supporter of Obama and the ACA, it was an embarrassing moment. A palm to forehead moment.

And now we are finding out that she knew of the potential delays and problems on before the site launched and that things progressed as if everything was on track. If this had happened at a large corporation, she would have been fired by now. I thought her interview on the Daily Show was bad enough to warrant a new HHS Secretary, but now this? The glitchy federal website is inexcusable. Perhaps, for one day only, it would have been fine to have persistent problems on the site, but they should not still exist weeks after the ACA rolled out.

Sidenote: I tried Colorado’s site and it worked really well. I didn’t have to put in that much information before I was given a wide variety of plans to choose from. But, as widely reported, some State-run websites have easily outperformed in ease of use and actual accounts made and people signed up.

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McCain for the Win

The Straight Talk Express slammed into Fox News and TPM has the video right here. I really do love McCain in moments like this. This clip does not completely absolve McCain of his low points, but this is how a Republican should sound nowadays, not like the ignorant, vacuous Fox News host he is talking to.

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Democrats Shouldn’t Resort to Name-calling

I wrote the other day that the House Republicans are to blame for the shutdown. To me, this couldn’t be more obvious. However, Senator Reid should be doing a much better job of addressing the crisis to the American people. At a press conference today, Reid referred to Speaker Boehner as a coward. This might be true, but it’s for the blogs and the Daily Show to refer to Boehner as a coward, not for the Senate Majority Leader.

Reid needs to put the shutdown in objective terms, explaining to the people that the ACA was passed into law, was upheld by the Supreme Court, and has survived forty something attempts by the GOP in the House to repeal it. Reid should emphasize that he understands why those with different political viewpoints might disagree with aspects of the ACA or all of it. In addition, he could say something like this, “As the law continues to be rolled out, we welcome debate over it provided the opposition brings to the table concrete concerns backed up by proven data.” At the moment, Reid is not saying those things and the GOP is not responding in a constructive manner either. And I am not hopeful, yet, that either side will change their behavior any time soon.

Meanwhile, this guy (Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)), who is one of those people directly responsible for shutting down the government, made a fool of himself yesterday as he shouted down a park ranger, saying that she should be ashamed of herself for the shutdown. It’s truly a crazy video. Expletives come to mind. Just watch…

The embed code isn’t working properly. Just click here to watch the video. Scroll down once you’re on the page.

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Downgrading Employees from FT to PT

One of the most common anti-Obamacare arguments the Right has espoused is that employers are downgrading employees from full-time to part-time. This may be true for some companies, but the largest private employer in the country, Wal-Mart, is moving 35,000 PT employees to FT employees. 

Forbes reports on the move here

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The Government Shutdown

In the last week, so many people have written about the looming government shutdown and answered the question, who is to blame? The obvious answer, the GOP, is the right one as well, but that hasn’t prevented some GOP House Reps. to blabber on about how Harry Reid and Obama are shutting down the government. That’s just not the truth and I think Josh Marshall’s post about this latest episode of brinkmanship is one of the best reads on the ridiculous GOP and their inability to accept that this whole “defund and defeat Obamacare” strategy was already rejected in November of 2012. 

 Money Quote: 

For all the ubiquity of political polarizing and heightened partisanship, no honest observer can deny that the rise of crisis governance and various forms of legislative hostage taking comes entirely from the GOP. I hesitate to state it so baldly because inevitably it cuts off the discussion with at least a sizable minority of the political nation. But there’s no way to grapple with the issue without being clear on this single underlying reality. Sufficient evidence of this comes from 2007 and 2008 when Democrats won resounding majorities in Congress and adopted exactly none of these tactics with an already quite unpopular President Bush. This is the reality that finally brought Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, two of DC’s most arbiters of political standards and practices, fastidiously sober, even-handed and high-minded, to finally just throw up their hands mid-last-year and say “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

Read the rest here.

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