The killing of Osama bin Laden has me pondering an issue we all ponder: why do we go to war? The simple answer, I think is that we go to war to defend ourselves.
Finally hunting down Osama bin Laden has made us feel good. It made me feel like we should use this victory as an opportunity to gracefully exit Afghanistan. My reaction reminded me of Viet Nam. We were so sick of that war, that we wanted to leave without losing face, so we declared victory and left.
I also wonder about this execution of a foreign leader (does bin Laden qualify?). A generation ago a horrified America passed laws to prevent the CIA from assassinating foreign leaders. Somehow we felt that was out of ethical bounds. Yet here we are in a war that seems to boil down to the capture or killing of two leaders: Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Besides the killing of these two leaders, what other measures of success do we have in this war on terror? How we will know that we’ve won? Can “terror” be vanquished? It boils down to the question of why we went to war, except this time that question cannot be satisfactorily answered by the simple response of defense. Did we go to eradicate Al Quaeda or make them surrender? I don’t believe we can eradicate them any more than we made all Nazis surrender.
Like in Iraq, America will draw down its forces, declare the world safer, and say we’re done. We will likely not know what concrete goal was accomplished besides the death of these two global menaces.
So is it okay for the CIA to kill a man if it is in the context of war? Is it still okay even if that man is living in the middle of a country that is our ally? Can we go to war in order to apprehend a criminal, for that is basically what Osama bin Laden was, wasn’t he?
Are we at war in Libya? What constitutes war? Are we at war whenever military is engaged, even if it is part of a U.N. mission or a NATO mission? Is it war when we are doing it for humanitarian reasons?
Could it be that today many actions are put into the context of war because that way our leaders can receive public support for things that otherwise they never could?