Worldview: It’s monumental news, but we need to keep it in perspective

The news that Osama bin Laden has been killed is certainly monumental, incredible news, especially since he managed to evade capture for such a long time. Yet, as important as his death may be, it marks but a single event in a much larger, longer conflict.

To a great degree, bin Laden was a figurehead, a rallying figure for the millions upon millions of people around the world who use their interpretation of Islam to justify violence, oppression, hatred, and fear. While his death removes that figurehead, it does not remove the justification.

This conflict is not and never was going to be won by simply killing bin Laden any more than Iraq was secured by simply capturing Saddam Hussein and killing his sons. This conflict is not even going to be won by the application of military force alone. Instead, this is a conflict over the hearts and minds of people held in tyranny for generations, and it is going to take conviction and diplomacy as well as force to win.

Because of this fact, we must resist the powerful urge to conclude that we have won and that it is now time to wind things down. There may yet be a time when that reaction is appropriate, but it must be a time when the future of Afghanistan is as secured as it ever will be. Yes, it has been a long war, and many of us who have been paying attention to these things all along have said it was going to be, but we cannot quit before the job is done, because the consequences of quitting will be worse than those of outright failure.

So, we should celebrate the victory bin Laden’s death represents, but we should do so with the caution born of the knowledge that a rough road still lies ahead. And, we should resolve ourselves to walk that road until its end.

DLH

Read more at my Worldview site...

Worldview: Once upon a time

A few years ago, I vigorously defended the power of the  government to use warrantless searches as an intelligence gathering tool against foreign nationals and their collaborators living on American soil who our intelligence agencies believed were enemy agents. I defended that action based on precedence (e.g.: forms of warrantless searches for intelligence purposes have been conducted since the Lincoln administration) and the fundamental lack of better tools (e.g.: federal laws do not adequately provide for domestic intelligence gathering methods). I stand by that defense, yet I also stand by my observation that it was only necessary because there were not better tools.

These years later, our intelligence agencies still do not have the better tools they need, and the government has taken even more obtrusive steps in its efforts to secure intelligence through ever-looser definitions of the laws that govern what it can and cannot do.

At the risk of taking a black eye from my opponents in the warrantless searches debate, I must now say that the government has proven incapable of using the powers it possesses by precedent and function in keeping with the ideals of federal republicanism, the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, and fundamental individual liberty. While I still believe that the warrantless search tool was one the government had the right to use in the proper time and place, I also now believe that the time has come for the people and the government to specifically spell out the type and scope of powers the government has to use for domestic intelligence gathering and to define a meaningful process for due process and appeal against intelligence gathered on US soil.

At the heart of this–partial–reversal in thinking is the following evidence:

“The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.”

If suspicion is the only threshold for placing anyone, especially citizens, under surveillance, then the system is broken. Suspicion is not probable cause, nor will it ever be, even in the shadowy world of intelligence gathering. This new threshold represents a fundamental change in thinking on the part of the government, and because it has proven itself so prone to abuse, it also represents a fundamental threat to liberty.

If we are going to bother to call ourselves a nation, we must accept that our government needs tools to act in our national interests, and effective intelligence gathering is one of those tools. Yet, we can now see that the government cannot be trusted to use loosely defined tools responsibly, so the time has come to create limits so that the liberty of the people can be preserved from government abuse.

DLH

Read more at my Worldview site...

Worldview: Julian Assange: The new kingmaker?

The rise of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks represents the rise of the non-state actor as a significant force on the world state. While historically such actors were terrorist groups, Assange and his website represent a new entry: that of the information broker.

It seems to me that, given his albeit rather tepid success so far, it is almost inevitable that he will eventually stumble upon the kind of information he is looking for: information capable of toppling powerful people or governments.

The question that remains is “then what?”

I know there are people who think that what Assange and WikiLeaks is doing is good because it somehow holds governments accountable for their actions. I find that most people who think that way rarely consider the consequences of their actions.

The consequences of Assange’s actions have the potential to be world changing, but not in a good way. What will the consequences of power vacuums be? What will the consequences of more strained international relations be? What will the consequences of reducing the most powerful nation on the planet’s ability to act be?

More than likely, Assange and his supporters will be responsible for more hardship, violence, war, and death than the people, nations, and governments they seek to discredit. They will achieve this dubious distinction by creating an international climate of distrust, suspicion, and aggression through the selective release of information designed to have those effects. And, when they succeed, far too few people will make the connection.

We have entered a dangerous time, and non-state actors represent part of that danger. The question remains as to whether the United States and the world are capable of meeting the threat and dealing with it.

DLH

Read more at my Worldview site...