May 17, 2011 (Boston Globe) -- The House of Representatives is debating a new definition of America’s military mission in the world, replacing the mandate adopted immediately after 9/11. Instead of merely authorizing the president to make war against those who “committed or aided” the 2001 attacks, the proposed National Defense Authorization Act expands the notion of America’s enemy to include forces “associated” with named antagonists like Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
According to its critics (including numerous House Democrats who asked last week that such language be dropped), this seemingly innocuous expansion would, in effect, license an open-ended bleeding of the American battle away from Iraq and Afghanistan to any location in which such vaguely defined associates operate. The two present wars could become three, four, or five, and could shift from the Middle East to Africa, South Asia, or anywhere that a photo, say, of Osama bin Laden hung in the barracks.
But wait a minute. For most of a decade, the US military has already operated against an amorphous, transnational terrorist enemy under the broadest possible reading of its 9/11 authorization. Drones, cruise missiles, special-ops, and mercenary forces have hit targets with impunity well beyond the officially acknowledged battle zones. The Obama administration, otherwise so different from its predecessor, is freelancing militarily, just as the Bush administration did.