Reading the lead story on the front page of today’s New York Times certainly sent a shiver up and down my spine, as I’m sure it did for many people.
The Times story discusses a debate in administration circles on “whether the United States may take aim at only a handful of high-level leaders of militant groups who are personally linked to plots to attack the United States or whether it may also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers focused on parochial concerns: controlling the essentially ungoverned lands near the Gulf of Aden, which separates the countries.” The Times goes on to state that the dispute over legal limits on the use of expanded lethal force in the region has divided the State Department and the Pentagon for months, but the article claims that the discussions are all theoretical since current administration policy is to attack only “high-value individuals” in the region.
The low-level soldiers involved in the “attack or not to attack” debate are in Somalia and Yemen, so essentially the theoretical discussion is, or may be, an implicit or veiled way to deterrmine if President Obama has the legal right to wage war in Somalia and Yemen without approval of Congress.
In other words, the Obama Administration is considering a war against groups in Yemen and Somalia.
In that context, the article is another attempt by The Times to float an extreme idea, something The Times likes to do a lot. For example, this past January The Times, in another front page lead story, floated the idea that states be allowed to go bankrupt in a way that would allow them to pay bondholders but break contracts and pension agreements with unions.
Clearly, some powerful forces in the Obama Administration want us, once again, to expand the war on terrorism beyond its natural boundaries by attacking people on foreign soil who are uninvolved in terrorist acts. It sounds like an idea from the Cheney-John Yoo branch of the Republican Party, and the very fact that the Administration is still discussing this option—even in theory— after months does not speak well for the Obama Presidency.
Every time President Obama imitates the Republicans or gives away the store in a negotiation (or more typically before the talking starts), he turns off more of the Democratic base of progressives and unionized workers. In doing so, he gains no political points with the right, which will hate him no matter what he does. Instead of making courageous stands that he could defend in a winning reelection campaign, Obama prefers to create a lose-lose situation: he loses more of his base but gains nothing in return. At this point, for Obama to tack center, he would have to move to the left.