As had been expected for a while, the ACLU is bringing suit against the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The gravamen of the suit is: can the JSOC legally kill persons who are not in designated ‘war-zones’ or battle areas’?
Of course, you can immediately raise the question as to whether the Authorization To Use Military Force – passed by a long-addled Congress in what can most charitably be construed as a fit of absence of mind immediately after 9-11 – itself constitutes a sufficient ‘declaration of war’ in the first place.
But We live in interesting times, no?
As is my habit, I am not going to leave unchallenged the conventional wisdom that this is all Bush’s fault (or Bush-Cheney, or those two plus their-evil-minions).
For decades the liberal-progressives, having cast their lot with Identity Politics and all its pomps and all its works, have been pooh-poohing the Constitution – as document and as ethos , insisting that the poor old thing is “quaint”, and no longer up to the task of providing for the ‘rights’ of the Identities (racially, genderly, or otherwise defined, and broadly so).
While not trumpeting the fact as loudly (a tactical prudence more akin to sly and insidious shrewdness), Congress and the Beltway officialdom have been operating on that presumption, churning out laws and regulations in the service of the assorted agendas. And, perhaps, not so much as stupidly not-giving-a-thought to consequences for the Constitution and the polity and the common-weal as rather ‘logically’ presuming that such concerns were irrelevant (since all of the immediately aforesaid were ‘quaint’, ‘tainted’, ‘incomplete’, or ‘inadequate’ anyway).
The civil-rights paradigm adopted at the end of the 1960s as the most convenient template (or ‘cover’ or ‘front’) for the now-numerous follow-on ‘revolutions’ of the now-numerous ‘Identities’ amplified hugely the complicated and hugely-fraught complications inherent in even the best civil-rights thought, as evinced most clearly by Martin Luther King in his strategizing to confront and eradicate the Jim Crow regime of the pre-1965 South.
King benefitted from his situation in history and his enemy: by virtue of the genuine evil of the Jim Crow Regime (and – alas, but truly – those of its supporters who thought that Regime a ‘fundamentally good thing’) King could call America to a domestic version of ‘The Good War’ of 1941-1945 against the genuinely not-Good Axis powers. Simultaneously, he could and did cast his call for change as a unifying call to all Americans to a rededication to the nation’s historic and traditional principles, especially as those principles had been re-affirmed by the all of the blood that had been shed in the Civil War.
He was aided by a Presidency (LBJ’s, but even JFK’s after a while and Ike’s since he sent Federal troops back into the South in 1957) that realized the justness of his Call; saw the benefit to American interests of being seen by the then-developing nations as the true Model of democracy; saw the benefit to American interests of not-being cast by the Soviet Union as hypocritical in the eyes of the world (and in the eyes of those developing-nations); and – especially as the Sixties progressed – the electoral advantages of replacing the disgruntled Southrons with the demographic of newly-liberated American blacks.
But King – as evidenced in his book ‘Why We Can’t Wait’, and especially by his ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ (included as a chapter in the book) – was painfully aware of how tricky the actual ground became when you set your mind to taking a Good Vision and bringing it to realization.
In his ‘Letter’ he refused the censure of even well-intentioned ‘liberal whites’ of his day who told him that he was ‘moving too fast’ and that he ‘needed to be ‘prudent’ and that he needed to ‘be patient’.
He couldn’t wait or be patient, he said, because it’s been too long already and now far too much encrustation of ‘tradition’ and ‘status-quo’ protected the evil of Jim Crow like a carapace. Hard blows would be needed to break Jim Crow, here and now, once and for all. It had, after all, been 90 years since the end of the Civil War and ‘the Negro’ still faced the monstrousness of Jim Crow.
And then he had to face a new twist: whereas such Southron police officials as the infamously obstreperous Bull Connor opted for a strong and truly violent show of official force against any and all demonstrators, other police chiefs* – even more soberly aware of the huge change wrought by the presence of national TV cameras and reporters – opted for a ‘polite and restrained’ approach, much akin to the overall approach of police forces nowadays (prior, at least, to their militarization).
This presented King and his staff with a problem: if Evil were to appear as non-threatening and ‘polite’, wouldn’t this undermine the impetus toward public sympathy and support for what King was trying to do? Wouldn’t it make HIM rather than the Jim Crow forces appear to be the unreasonable one?
At this point, King had to accept the necessity, when dealing with these ‘polite’ Southron forces, of somehow luring them into clearly exercising the violence that was deeply inherent in the system. If the ‘polite’ police wouldn’t freely provide the obvious violence necessary to dramatize the plight of ‘the Negro’, then Confrontation with the ‘polite police’ would have to be somehow created or induced.
Because he just knew (and in the case of King vs. Jim Crow, accurately) that he was facing an incorrigible and evil system that would always have an evil heart, however nice or polite its mannerisms might actually be at some given moment.
Eerily, then, he had arrived at the conclusion that Once you’re sure you are fighting a truly evil enemy, then facts don’t matter.
Which was true enough in the civil-rights/Jim Crow dustup, but was far less accurate as each follow-on ‘revolution’ tried to run the same play against its own preferred Evil-Monster.
It was precisely at this point that so much of what has gone wrong in subsequent American national life was introduced into the national mind and heart. ‘Creating incidents’ that would clearly display you as the ‘victim’; and that would portray your enemy in that dark light that you knew him to harbor deep within; and that would capture the imagination of the viewing public and ‘symbolize’ vividly what was at stake and what you were trying to accomplish.
It was, alas, the strategy of agitprop – which had (with no disrespect to the integrity of King’s agenda and objectives) been deployed by Lenin on the Left and Goebbels on the Right.
But of course King was ‘saved’ by one undeniable reality: the Jim Crow Regime was truly monstrous and about as close to ‘evil’ as a secular liberalism could imagine. That rock-bottom assumption – that the opponent regime or Culture or Mindset or Heartset was indeed noxious and repulsively evil and had to be eradicated here and now once and for all – did provide a justification for the otherwise darkling and dodgy strategies and tactics that King had to embrace in the face of ‘polite’ or ‘respectable’ Evil.
But History never stands still.
As the revolution-addled later-Sixties morphed into the Seventies, follow-on ‘revolutions’ – those of the Identities and their ‘Politics’ – adopted the civil-rights template for the successful presentation of their own visions and agendas.
The trouble was: they didn’t have the Undeniably Evil ‘Enemy’ that King had been blessed with (as it were).
Thus they had two choices: try to take the long way around, public deliberation AND without the invaluable catalyst of a vivid and truly Evil Enemy – or else find or create such an Evil Enemy and make sure that you had some reeely great publicity footage and shots and stories.
For feminism (soused at the beginning, but also in its very core, with radicalism) the Enemy was – as it had to be – ‘Man’ or ‘Males’; the Jim Crow Regime morphed into ‘patriarchy’; and the violence (a bit of a problem there – men were mostly very nice and polite to women) had to be Sex; and the ‘politeness’ was neatly cast as merely the same thing that King had faced with those ‘polite’ Southron police officials: utter Evil hiding itself behind civilized appearances.
And let the games begin!
A decent respect for assorted alliances among Identities – a tactical necessity to prevent ‘dueling victimizations’ from catching public attention – morphed Male into White Male; then the Beltway helpfully raised up the Five Racial-Ethnic Categories of Multiculturalism in 1977 (White, Black, Latino, Asian, Native American) and that paved the way for Diversity – that every major institution should mirror that compositional recipe (helped along by a vastly increased immigration – legal and otherwise – that would serve to fill that compositional recipe most very quickly).
And let the games continue!
Decades later and somehow America had managed to grievously irritate a whole bunch of folks in the Middle East. This might have had something to do with what could only seem the perversely evil US support of a country in the Middle East that had no treaty of alliance with the US, that had gotten nuclear weapons in contravention of all international law with the help of the US, and that had had its bacon saved in the October 1973 war only through massive last-minute US military aid (though not overt military intervention).
The US government was handed (almost tooooooo easily) a pretext for major military action through the stunningly pulled-off 9-11 incident. The AUMF sent US forces to Afghanistan where the fundamentalist Taliban were quickly sent packing.
The Saudi-based al-Quaeda escaped somehow, however. But the US had already turned its attention to Iraq, a secular militarist dictatorship with no love for any aspect of the religion of Islam; that was both sitting on top of large oil reserves and occupied a large chunk or sovereign real-estate in the energy-rich heartland of the Eurasian landmass.
Iraq would have to be the Enemy. And the template of Enemy-creating was trotted out, a long-established ploy in world history, but it had for decades been injected through the wide-bored blowpipe of Identity Politics into the deepest recesses of the American public mind and its discourse.
Let the games begin!
And they began.
And were expected to be quite successful – quick and clean. After all, Identity Politics had succeeded so well for decades domestically, hadn’t they?
And if such a trusty template would work wonders for something as dubious as the concept of Identity Politics, then imagine what could be accomplished for concepts as indubitably Good as ‘the national interest’ and ‘national security’ and ‘payback for 9-11’?
And when things began to work not-necessarily-to-America’s-advantage, then the US government faced dark choices indeed.
And chose to double-down the darkness, deploying the theretofore legitimate Special Operations forces (sent behind enemy lines to reconnoiter, blow up bridges, and such) as assassination and ‘take-down’ squads, to fan out (there were no ‘lines’ in this war) and stamp out or tamp down the increasing number of folks who were increasingly motivated not by Pure Terrorism but by patriotism and resistance to invasion.
Is there some point where this sort of thing sort of goes beyond the Constitution? Or the Constitutional ethos? (It’s already gone beyond international law, and the principles enunciated at Nuremberg in 1946, for that matter, and probably even the principles that cleared up the violent post-Medieval quasi-nationalisms at Westphalia in 1648.)
Is the US government basically Dr. King here, albeit in an international and military scenario? Or is the US government – bereft of a real and genuine Evil Enemy – engaged in some unholy combination of self-interested agitprop and old fashioned Great-Power strong-arming and sovereign assault?
This is what the ACLU is trying to establish via the courts. (There isn’t much hope of simply sitting down with the government and working things out across a conference table.)
And while We are at it, let’s not forget the consequences for all the JSOC troops who signed up to do a job requiring particular and special excellence, and became the pawns and poker chips.
And let’s not forget all the folks who for whatever reasons wound up and will continue to wind up in their gun-sights.
And let’s not forget Jefferson (prompted by thinking about slavery, ironically): “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever”.
The Left will try to defend this mess by claiming that though there is no God (at least none relevant to great public affairs), there are ‘victims’ and the US must always do whatever it takes to help them; the Right will claim that America is God’s Vice-Regent so whatever America does is God’s Will anyway.
And JSOC will follow its orders – or whatever wink-and-nod is taken to be its orders from civilian leadership that really doesn’t want to be on-record as having given the orders.
Perhaps the courts will speak for justice. Or perhaps – in ways undreamed of in the philosophies of the Left and theologies of the Right – Justice will work its way, passing through the self-important crowds unnoticed and unremarked, yet its Scales weighing the souls and lives of each.
And yet Dr. King realized that at some point human beings must themselves embrace Justice as best they can discern it. He saw that human beings are not pawns: neither of secular forces nor of God – and King’s God actively sought the partnership of human beings in the great work of redemption-in-history.
Interesting times indeed. But really, what Times in the human saga have not been ‘interesting’? Justice is always struggling to come to birth in human affairs – seeking a hospitable courage and fortitude and righteousness.
But only the genuinely pure of heart (not of ideology) can grasp that flame without being burned.
So much, then, remains to be done.
*The initiating practitioner of the polite-police approach was Chief Laurie Pritchett of Albany, GA.