Rewriting the rules of war, Obama-style

The New Republic this week is devoting itself to suggestions for how Barack Obama might have a more successful second term. I was sort of intrigued by this suggestion, “REWRITE THE LAWS OF WAR,” to wit:

One of the most persistent criticisms of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism policy is that he has not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush. But he could put that judgment largely to rest by pushing to modernize the laws of war.

The Geneva Conventions and other similar instruments were designed to deal with traditional armies—not groups with no ties to state sponsors or that operate in failed states. Obama should organize an international conference to establish new standards and agreed-upon interpretations for such subjects as the definition of enemy combatants, the treatment of detainees, and the rendition of suspected terrorists. Drones could also be considered—especially standards to minimize civilian casualties and to establish whether targets pose an imminent threat…

Things have changed, so maybe we should convene a new gathering in Geneva. Or somewhere. If we do, here are some ideas of new rules that the president might want to suggest, but which might not go over well with other potential signatories:

  1. If you make my personal list, I get to take you out with a drone, like Zeus hurling thunderbolts from Mt. Olympus. And if you don’t like that, you just made the list, buddy.
  2. If you make our special short list, we will send in the bully-boys to give you a triple-tap in the forehead in your boudoir in the middle of the night, no matter where in the world your boudoir happens to be. As for countries who object to our doing this within their borders, you, too have a special right under this agreement: You get to try to stop us. Heh, heh.
  3. All battles must take place at night. In the event that night-vision equipment becomes sufficiently ubiquitous that all of our potential enemies have it, this rule will be revisited.
  4. Guantanamo will close when I damn’ well get around to it.

And so forth. You get the idea. I’m sort of kidding, sort of not, given the way this president has continued to conduct the War on Terror. Not only has he “not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush,” as TNR so daintily puts it, he has in some ways been more aggressive than his predecessor in employing the Bush Doctrine.

Basically, the way I just worded all that is probably pretty close to the way folks in some other nations out there see the current U.S. policy. And they’d probably want to address these perceptions at a convention.

So maybe POTUS would like to convene such a gathering, and maybe he wouldn’t…

7 thoughts on “Rewriting the rules of war, Obama-style

  1. Doug Ross

    5. We will spy on anyone, anywhere, any time. We will spy on our allies and enemies because we really don’t trust anyone. We will spy on Americans “just in case” something comes up that we consider important. Trust us, we’re America.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    If I were president (and you should remember this when I run), you can bet that I’d be keeping tabs on every country in the world. I would be irresponsible not to.

    What does “spy” really mean? Technically, the noun form of the word implies a foreign national recruited to provide information about confidential matters to which he is privy. But that definition is a little malleable. You know, like Edward Snowden, who has provided secrets to which he was privy to all of our nation’s adversaries and potential adversaries, whether he was “recruited” or not.

    But every nation that wishes to protect its interests collects intelligence on every other country, to the extent that it is able. For instance, in years leading up to presidential elections, I’ve regularly been visited by British officials wanting my take on what is likely to happen in SC. I tend to joke with them, “Are you with MI6?,” and they laugh and say no. But I’m only half kidding. What they are doing is taking steps to gather political intelligence.

    Are they “spying?” Not really. But they are collecting intelligence, as we do, in various ways.

  3. Doug Ross

    Your submission to Big Brother is well noted. Is there ANYTHING the U.S. government does in the name of national security that you think goes too far?

  4. David(2)

    Did anyone else find this vicariously written list to be a little bit repulsive? And I question how the attitude expressed in number four on that list squares with believing the U.S. should draw the line at torture.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    David, the list was satire. I suppose it was inspired, in part, by the absurdity of the understatement in TNR’s phrase, “not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush.”

    In going after terrorists, Obama makes Bush look like a rank beginner.


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