American Exceptionalism?

Recently by Justin Raimondo: Assassins of Liberty

When US special forces took aim at Anwar al-Awlaki, and pulled the trigger, they ruptured the very foundations of our political system – and paved the way for its future collapse.

The skeptical reader is bound to ask: Really? Can it be true that the – no doubt well-deserved – death of a known terrorist, who was plotting and scheming to kill Americans, is inextricably bound up with the survival of our Republic?

The short answer is: yes. A somewhat longer answer, however, is embedded in some of the reactions to the Awlaki affair. Take, for example, the distinguished foreign policy analyst Walter Russell Mead, writing in The American Interest. Mead takes up the cudgels against Glenn Greenwald and Ron Paul for arguing that the killing is a legal and moral transgression. After a few self-congratulatory remarks to the effect that his notable book, Special Providence, predicted the confluence of left and right critics of untrammeled executive power in foreign affairs, he gets down to his basic argument:

“Al-Awlaki and his buds are at war with the people of the United States and that in war, people not only die: it is sometimes your duty to kill them. That the Al-Qaeda groupies are levying war against the United States without benefit of a government does not make them less legitimate targets for missiles, bullets and any other instruments of execution we may have lying around: the irresponsibility, the contempt for all legal norms, the chaotic and anarchic nature of the danger they pose and the sheer wickedness of waging private war make them even more legitimate targets with even fewer rights than combatants fighting under legal governments that observe the laws of war.”

One is struck by the moral condemnation of “private war,” as opposed to the presumably “public” war waged by states: is it really true that the much more efficiently deadly assaults launched by nation-states against their enemies are morally superior to the usually far less deadly and often ineffective attacks carried out by free-lancers? This hardly seems to be borne out by the record, and the sheer numbers involved: al-Qaeda killed three thousand New Yorkers – and we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in our misdirected war of revenge. So which is the greater evil?

One could make the argument, as I think Mead does, that killing in a war setting, as opposed to cowardly attacks on innocent civilians by terrorists, attaches to the latter a weightier malevolence, but this says nothing about the legal status of Americans accused of such crimes.

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