Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: War

Stealth bombers at the Rose Parade: Why?

Stealth
I missed Monday's non-New Year's Rose Parade, but not on account of sleeping in. Rather, I spent the second morning of 2012 -- one of rather exceptionally good winter weather, even for Southern California -- on Santa Anita Golf Course, where one of the parade floats was kind enough to come to us.

I speak not of the flower-covered vehicles that lumber slowly down Colorado Boulevard every year, not far from the golf course that sits almost adjacent to Pasadena, but of the airborne kind capable of dropping nuclear warheads almost anywhere on the planet. Around 8 a.m., a B-2 stealth bomber made a low pass over us, banked right and flew south as it gained altitude over the San Gabriel Valley. The whole thing was over in a few seconds. Mission accomplished, I suppose.

We Americans, many of us who conflate patriotism with unmatched military power, have grown accustomed to such displays of aerial supremacy. Warplanes frequently make low -- and, admittedly, awe-inspiring -- passes over a number of events associated with quintessentially American rituals, from baseball games to Fourth of July parties to, yes, the Rose Parade.

Common as these flyovers are, I never understood their appropriateness, especially for an event as pacified as the Rose Parade, where the main attractions are giant, animated floral arrangements and marching bands. I quipped to my golf partners that perhaps the flyover might be a not-so-subtle warning to Rose Parade viewers around the world that they risk seeing one of these death machines over their countries if their governments go to war with ours.

I don't get it; perhaps some readers can explain the appeal to me.

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-- Paul Thornton

Photo credit: Gary Ell / Associated Press

Obama: The peace president, clarified

Obama
Tom Hayden wrote in an Op-Ed Dec. 16 about the role of "determined peace activists" in ending the war in Iraq, including  "one who embraced their cause and became president": Barack Obama. Hayden called Obama's opposition to the war -- which Obama, then an Illinois state senator, made clear in an announcement in October 2002 in Chicago --  a "brave stance for an ambitious politician."

Hayden went on to call Obama "the first president to campaign on a promise to end an ongoing American war." That assertion, however, is not true, and it has been corrected for the record. As a reader pointed out, Dwight D. Eisenhower campaigned in 1952 on ending the Korean War. And Richard M. Nixon promised to end the  Vietnam War during his successful presidential campaign in 1968.

Hayden, however, stands by the idea that Obama has played a singular role among recent presidents. In an email, he clarified his point:

Dwight D. Eisenhower promised to end the war in Korea, it is true, but he left the Korean peninsula partitioned and more than 25,000 American troops occupying the South until the present time. Those U.S. troops are pledged to fight again if hostilities erupt between the two Koreas.

Richard M. Nixon promised to end the Vietnam War, but his "secret plan" for peace led to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, escalated the bombing of North Vietnam, and resulted in tens of thousands of more American casualties until the war was lost to North Vietnam years after Nixon took office.

By contrast, Obama pulled the last of 170,000 American troops out of Iraq on schedule this month. True, he is leaving 16,000 personnel at the huge U.S. Embassy for "defensive" purposes, but they are hardly about to initiate another war. Iraq itself may erupt in sectarian war once again, but that calamity cannot be prevented by another U.S. military occupation, only by effective diplomacy with Shiite countries like Iran, with whom we have no diplomatic relations.

Compared to Eisenhower and Nixon, Obama has ended the war he pledged to end.

ALSO:

In Iraq, peace at last

McManus: An elusive victory in Iraq

Goldberg: American imperialism? Please

U.S. pullout leaves Iraqi interpreters out on limb

--Susan Brenneman

Photo: President Obama greets troops as they step off a plane on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Dec. 20 during a ceremony marking the return of the United States Forces-Iraq Colors and the end of the war in Iraq. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press 

New U.S. bomb gives Iran something to think about

Massive Ordnance Penetrator

Remember "the mother of all bombs"?

Well, there's a whole new mama in town.

The Air Force's Massive Ordnance Penetrator, developed by Boeing, is more than 20 feet long, weighs in at 30,000 pounds (by comparison, the "mother" GBU-43 MOAB is a trim 22,600 pounds) and is packed with 5,300 pounds of explosives.

The  Air Force ordered 20, at a total cost of $314 million, and started taking delivery in September.

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (wonder if anyone calls it the MOP?) has one job: pulverize underground enemy hide-outs.

Hmmm, wonder which country we don't like that has stuff hidden in underground bunkers?

From Times staff writer W.J. Hennigan's story:

"The Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries' weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities," Lt. Col. Melinda F. Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Experts took note of the fact that the military disclosed delivery of the new bunker-busting bomb less than a week after a United Nations agency warned that Iran was secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon. That country is known to have hidden nuclear complexes that are fortified with steel and concrete, and buried under mountains.

This week, Times columnist Doyle McManus wrote that both President Obama and his Republican rivals  have made similar statements on Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon:

Obama and all the likely Republican nominees for president have long said they consider a nuclear-capable Iran unacceptable. There's no wiggle room in that word; no president could back down from that warning without major damage to U.S. influence.

Obama has favored sanctions. The GOP's Mitt Romney has offered saber-rattling, writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he said that "I won't let Iran get nukes."

Romney's prescription? Increase military aid to Israel and send more ships to the Persian Gulf to convince Iran that when the United States threatens to use force, it means it.

But as McManus points out:

If the Iranians called his bluff, a President Romney would all too quickly face that same stark choice: go to war, or back down.

Which is when, yes, the MOP might come in really handy.

But would we use it? Should we use it?

No one can say now, of course.  But certainly the option of a non-nuclear weapon with such destructive power seems a sensible precaution. 

Iran's leaders now know that their nuclear facilities are at risk. That, coupled with sanctions, might persuade them to abandon their efforts to build the bomb.

If not? Well, then the United States has one big saber it can rattle.

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Isolating Syria's Assad

--Paul Whitefield

Image: An artist's rendering of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb. Credit: Boeing Co.

Beyond the parades: Ways to celebrate Veterans Day [The conversation]

Veteran's Day
On this Veterans Day, we wanted to highlight various opinions on how to show gratitude and respect to our military service members long after the day is over.  The following is a selection of perspectives on the holiday from around the Web. They cover everything from veterans healthcare and employment to soldiers overlooked by history to a mother's homefront struggle.

Honor through employment

Military service offers many Americans the opportunity to develop a wide range of technical, organizational and management skills. When military members return to civilian life, they bring this wealth of knowledge and experience to the civilian workplace. Still, many veterans struggle to find work. One of the cruelest twists of the current economic crisis is the high rate of unemployment among military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unemployment among recent veterans grew to 13.3% by June 2011, more than four percentage points higher than the national average. These dedicated, hardworking men and women risked their lives protecting us. Why are so many of them unemployed?

High rates of unemployment among veterans stem from a number of underlying issues, including the challenge of comparing military experiences to civilian job requirements and connecting employers to available veteran employees. According to a June 2010 SHRM survey, 60% of responding HR professionals viewed translating military skills to the civilian job experience as a challenge to employing veterans. On the other hand, over 70% of HR professionals indicated that they want assistance in identifying and reaching out to qualified veterans.

-- Ellen Galinsky and Ken Matos, Huffington Post

Respectable health insurance for our soldiers

On this Veterans Day, our military forces are engaged in continuing conflict that has lasted longer than any war in our nation's history. As a Marine Corps veteran, I have experienced men and women who served for decades, returning home to find the country's promise of medical care for them and their families being unfulfilled.

In my experience, our uniformed service members aren't asking for any special "deal" for their service. What they do expect is that we fulfill our pledge of medical care for them and their families. They are not looking for elite care. Very few will be looking for treatment by the proverbial "Park Avenue" practitioners.

The sad truth is that when TRICARE clients need medical treatment from the same people who woke up to the horrors of 9/11, they have to go "out of network" for treatment. As anyone who has had this experience knows, going "out of network" is a financial and emotional strain. First you must pay the practitioner for medical care, which is a burden for those with few financial resources, then you need to submit multiple complex documents, and in the end, you are uncertain of how much reimbursement will be allowed.

-- Steve Brozak, ABC News

Overlooked combatants get their due

When German torpedoes off the coast of Greenland sunk the USAT Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943, four chaplains died, one Jewish, one Catholic, and two Protestant. They died because they gave away their life jackets in order to save others.

But on Chaplain's Hill, at Arlington National Cemetery, only three of these heroes are recognized. Monuments have long existed to honor the fallen chaplains of Catholic and Protestant faiths, but the Jewish chaplains never had a memorial -- that is, until now.

A number of groups, including The Jewish Federations of North America, the American Legion, and the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., have made it their mission over the past several years to reunite the Jewish Chaplain from the USAT Dorchester with the other chaplains who sacrificed their lives that day.

As a result of these efforts, which went all the way to Congress, in fact, there is now a special memorial to honor Rabbi Alexander Goode, right alongside 13 other Jewish chaplains, all who have died while serving their country.

-- Jenny Block,  Huffington Post

Remembering to never forget

In Ivor Gurney's "To His Love" you see the thing happening not in mid-career but in mid-poem -- between lines, in a line break, specifically the last one. It's the most astonishing line break I've ever encountered. It's the sound of a culture's poetic history cracking in half.

"To His Love" begins as an almost doggedly traditional elegy, with the Byronic echo of "We'll walk no more on Cotswold." It meanders through rivers, beasts, flowers, and the old tropes -- nobility, "pride," "memoried." We are lulled into thinking that the urgency of "Cover him, cover him soon!" arises from intense soldierly love, rather than the desperate need to hide a shredded corpse, that "red, wet / Thing." The euphemistic Latinate decor is stripped away; the haplessly tall T does it's pitiful duty by the form, like a Tommy too shell-shocked to hide, a standing target.

The fragile Gurney was gassed and traumatized by the war, and he lived out his days in asylums. I never forget this poem of never forgetting:

He's gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We'll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now …
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers --
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

-- Glyn Maxwell, the Paris Review

A mother's homefront battle

On April 19, 2005, Debbie Schulz of Friendswood, Texas, got the call every parent of a service member in Iraq and Afghanistan dreads. Her child had been wounded. When she hung up the phone, in shock, all she knew was that her son was considered to be "VSI", an acronym that she would later learn meant: "very seriously injured."

More than 48 hours later Debbie began to learn some of the details. Her beloved eldest son, Steven Schulz, a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, had been patrolling Fallujah, Iraq when it happened. His unarmored humvee was hit by a roadside bomb, a mortar shell cleverly built into a concrete curb in order to elude detection. Insurgents remotely detonated the device and within the fraction of a second, thousands of pieces of shrapnel penetrated the vehicle. One piece of metal shrapnel flew into Steven's face near his right eye and lodged in his brain. Doctors told the family that he had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and devastating damage to his right eye. Steven was paralyzed on his left side, lost most vision in his right eye as well as peripheral vision in his left.

-- Lee Woodruff, Huffington Post

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Support our troops -- by employing them when they return home

-- Julia Gabrick

Photo: James Oliver, a veteran who is now in the reserves, pays his respects to fallen soldiers at Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood.  Credit: Los Angeles Times

 

Obama succeeds -- when Republicans let him

President Obama in Virginia

Why is Barack Obama’s presidency a tale of two situations?

On the foreign-policy front, the administration has had a string of successes: Osama bin Laden killed; major Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen killed; and this week, of course, Moammar Kadafi killed.

And on Friday, the president announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by year’s end.

An unpopular war will be officially over for us soon.  Terrorists and terrorist groups that threaten us are dead or on the run. Libya’s longtime strongman has been overthrown, thanks in part to Obama’s policy that had the U.S. and NATO working together.

But here’s a question:  If Obama has been so successful in foreign policy, why has he been so unsuccessful on domestic issues? 

Sure, unemployment fell in California last month, but it's nothing to write home about. Joblessness, foreclosures, poverty -– you know the numbers, and they're not pretty.

Even his signature domestic achievement, healthcare reform, remains under attack by Republicans.  They vow to undo it as soon as they control the White House again.

So what’s the deal?

It isn't that he's escaped criticism on foreign policy. Republicans -- heck, even some Democrats -- have been critical of Obama's moves.   But what he's done has, in the main, worked.

No, domestically the problem is that Obama's opponents have turned criticism into obstructionism.  Unlike his foreign policies, Obama's efforts to fix the economy have been thwarted at every turn by Republicans.

Take the president's jobs bill. As The Times reported:

Republican-led opposition in the Senate blocked a key element of President Obama’s jobs plan Thursday night -- a proposal to send $35 billion to cash-strapped states to keep public school teachers, police and firefighters on the job.

That's right.  Republicans won't even agree to spend $35 billion on teachers, police and firefighters.

And why not?

Republicans are fighting the measures because they do not believe such government efforts will help businesses to create jobs in the struggling economy. They also oppose asking those earning beyond $1 million a year to pay more.

Yes, protecting people making more than $1 million a year is far more important that saving a $35,000-a-year teaching job, wouldn’t you say?

The bottom line?  It's wrong to say the president's domestic policies haven't worked when those policies haven't even been given the chance to work.

Abroad, Obama has been allowed to set policy, and those policies have been given time to work.  And, for the most part, they have.

Perhaps if Republicans gave the president that same leeway on domestic policy, we might be winning some battles at home, too.

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Clinton presses Pakistan to broker talks with militants

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: President Obama on Tuesday told a crowd at Greensville County High School in Emporia, Va., that Republicans were blocking his efforts to boost the economy to deal him a political setback. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Iran's plot -- and a U.S. double-standard?

Eric Holder

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Tuesday that federal authorities had foiled a plot backed by the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on American soil. Two men, one of whom is apparently a member of a special operations unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, were charged in federal court in New York on Tuesday. Holder called the bomb plot a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law. And Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, "We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground."

But wait a minute. Two weeks ago, the United States assassinated one of its enemies in Yemen, on Yemeni soil. If the U.S. believes it has the right to assassinate enemies like Anwar Awlaki anywhere in the world in the name of a "war on terror" that has no geographical limitation, how can it then argue that other nations don't have a similar right to track down their enemies and kill them wherever they're found?

It's true that the assassination of Awlaki was carried out with the cooperation of the government of Yemen. That makes a difference. But would the U.S. have hesitated to kill him if Yemen had not approved? Remember: There was no cooperation from the Pakistani government when Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

It's also true that there's a big difference between an Al Qaeda operative who, according to U.S. officials, had been deeply involved in planning terrorist activities, and a duly credited ambassador of a sovereign country. Still, the fact remains that all nations ought to think long and hard before gunning down their enemies in other countries.

As the United States continues down the path of state-sponsored assassination far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, all sorts of tricky moral questions are likely to arise. But this much is clear: The world is unlikely to accept that the United States has a right to behave as it wishes without accountability all around the globe and that other nations do not.

ALSO:

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Awlaki: Targeted for death

Awlaki's killing: Why it doesn't feel like a victory

--Nicholas Goldberg

Photo: Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department, joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press

Anwar Awlaki killing: Celebrate or impeach the president? [Most commented]

Awlaki

Anwar Awlaki's killing presents thorny legal issues, including the limits of presidential power. Does the president have the right to act as judge, jury and executioner in a war with no defined battlefield? The board took on these issues in its Sunday editorial:

If Awlaki was in fact the architect of terrorism attacks inside the United States, as officials maintain he was, then perhaps his demise is to be welcomed. But we don't really know, do we? There was no transparent, legal, reviewable process by which he was placed on the list of those targeted for killing by the U.S. government. There was no judicial procedure, nor any public airing of the charges against him. He had no opportunity to respond to specific allegations.

The conversation became heated on our discussion board with readers debating what it means to be an American and whether President Obama should be impeached.

An impeachable offense

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This is a clear violation of the Constitution of the United States.

The unauthorized war in Libya and Yemen is a clear violation of the Constitution of the United States.

For a president to knowingly violate the Constitution is a high crime, subject to impeachment.

This paper's editorial staff cannot simply  witness the violation, without attesting to the remedy.

This is an impeachable offense. This president, without congressional authority, is a tyrant.  This president, without congressional authority, is a dictator.

Obama needs to be impeached.

-- Pasquino Marforio

Free speech for some, but not all?

We don't usually murder people because we don't like what they say. That's what makes us different (usually) from people like Al Qaeda

-- More to the Story

Obama was justified

Dear Editor,

I respectfully disagree with the premise of your editorial.

Our laws do allow the U.S. to deal with people who offend against the Law of Nations, in this case covered by the U.N. identifying Anwar Awlaki as an Al Qaeda leader.

He repeatedly identified himself as an intolerant, fundamentalist, religious fascist. This level of fanaticism has proven countless times to be the motivating force behind acts of terror or the facilitation of such acts.

Anwar Awlaki's case received the due process of his situation, which is different from the due process of a statutory criminal case (such as a DUI).

-- Zamanon

Is the Times too soft on terrorism?

It is a shame to see the Los Angeles Times being soft on terrorism. Awlaki was a cold-blooded killer trying to murder as many Americans as he could. He was at war with the United States of America. In a war, you don't worry about reading the enemy their rights. Because he chose to go to war against the United States of America, Awlaki forfeited his rights as an American citizen.

This is a world-wide war being fought on many fronts, not just Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter where they are hiding, terrorists at war with the United States of America should know that they will be killed or captured.

-- jswickham

Awlaki was a legitimate military target

The question is whether to treat Awlaki as a street criminal afforded due process rights or a combatant on the battlefield, to be killed without any due process whatsoever? During the Civil War, the U.S. Union forces killed an estimated 300,000 American citizens serving with the secessionist Confederate forces; they were afforded no due process. During World War II, the U.S. government deliberately targeted Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the successful Pearl Harbor attack, the "Greatest Generation's" equivalent of 9/11, while on an inspection tour of Japanese installations in the Solomon Islands. While Yamamoto was not a U.S. citizen, he was a critical enemy strategist and was appropriately targeted.

The question should not turn on one's citizenship but on whether Awlaki was at war against the United States. All criminals are afforded due process under the 14th Amendment, irrespective of citizenship. If Yamamoto had mugged a senior citizen in MacArthur Park, he would have been assigned a public defender and held for trial in the Los Angeles Superior Court. His citizenship would have been irrelevant!

In both instances, neither was a street criminal, who would have been entitled to due process at trial; each was an enemy combatant at war against the United States, and as such was a legitimate military target!

-- mike71atkron86vfp26

Spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.

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How not to catch a terrorist

Anwar Awlaki's killing: Why it doesn't feel like a victory

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Anwar Awlaki. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

Anwar Awlaki's killing: Why it doesn't feel like a victory [The conversation]

Awlaki-conversation

Anwar Awlaki's killing in Yemen on Friday has reignited two debates that are sure to dominate this weekend's conversation. While many Americans cheer the blow to Al Qaeda, civil libertarians, including Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, are taking President Obama to task for his role in the assassination.

Regardless of Awlaki's tie to Al Qaeda, or that he was a radical Islamist cleric, libertarians argue that he was a U.S. citizen and therefore privy to protection under the 1st and 5th amendments; in other words, he had the right to freely express his opinions, and he should have had his day in court.

The other debate taking place is whether, as Obama put it, Awlaki's death really "marks a significant milestone" in the effort to disable Al Qaeda. What did his death really accomplish? Here’s the conversation.

Did Obama have the right to assassinate Awlaki?

Los Angeles Times editorial:

If Awlaki was in fact the architect of terrorism attacks inside the United States, as officials maintain he was, then perhaps his demise is to be welcomed. But we don't really know, do we? There was no transparent, legal, reviewable process by which he was placed on the list of those targeted for killing by the U.S. government. There was no judicial procedure, nor any public airing of the charges against him. He had no opportunity to respond to specific allegations. [...]

The war on terror is not a free-for-all in which the United States may behave as it wishes without accountability or adherence to principle. We would have been pleased if Awlaki could have been captured and brought to this country for trial, because the promise of due process is a fundamental, bedrock American value.

Michael Crowley, Time:

That debate may not bear so directly on the Awlaki killing, which presents a (hopefully) rare set of questions about presumed terrorists who also happen to be Americans. But it's an occasion for Washington to debate some basic questions about our targeted killing campaign. Maybe it's time, as  John Bellinger argues, to revisit Congress' September 2001 authorization of military force in response to the 9/11 attacks and provide clearer legal guidelines for our ongoing counter-terror campaign. And what about the argument that drone strikes, on balance, make us less safe? As the country cheers the demise of a hateful anti-American, it's worth pausing to consider the implications of America's high-tech hunt for enemies around the globe.

Glenn Greenwald, Salon:

What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.  Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President's ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki -- including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry's execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists -- criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed. 

James Joyner, the Atlanic:

Awlaki, however, is no ordinary criminal defendant. He is accused of being a senior leader in a terrorist organization that has attacked the United States and its citizens on numerous occasions. He has been "linked" to both Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber. And he was residing in Yemen in the midst of an al-Qaeda stronghold.

Had his Yemeni parents not been working in New Mexico at the moment he was born, few would question the authority of the U.S. government to conduct this operation. Since they were, however, Awlaki is a United States citizen and entitled to the same protections as any of the rest of us. What, precisely, those protections are is not quite clear in this case.

Adam Serwer, Mother Jones:

Awlaki's killing can't be viewed as a one-off situation; what we're talking about is the establishment of a precedent by which a US president can secretly order the death of an American citizen unchecked by any outside process. Rules that get established on the basis that they only apply to the "bad guys" tend to be ripe for abuse, particularly when they're secret.

What did the killing accomplish?  

Max Boot, Los Angeles Times:

The pressing question is not whether killing Awlaki was the right thing to do -- it was -- but what impact his killing will have. That's a tougher call. Other terrorist organizations have been able to survive, even thrive, after the deaths of important leaders. [...]

The challenge for American policymakers is to figure out how to fill the security vacuum in Yemen. That's much tougher than using a Predator to fire a Hellfire missile, but unless we come up with some way to bring a modicum of stability to this turbulent land, the death of Awlaki is likely to be a fleeting victory.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the Atlantic:

Over the past decade of its fight against al-Qaeda, the U.S. has too frequently mistaken successful tactics for strategic gains. If we are to turn the killing of important jihadi leaders like Awlaki into sustainable strategic success, we need to understand how the enemy's network functions and how our operations change it. Until then, we might be firing in the dark.

Bruce Hoffman, the Daily Beast:

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki changes everything -- and changes nothing. Yes, the ability of the U.S. to reach across continents to eliminate senior terrorist leaders has proven the ultimate game-changer in the war on terrorism.  Today, every breath al-Qaeda terrorist leaders take is a sigh of relief; another day that a missile has not rained down upon them. The time they can devote to plotting attacks is now consumed by staying alive and staving off an inevitable Hellfire missile strike.

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Anwar Awlaki holds an assault rifle in an unknown location in this undated photograph provided by Site Intelligence Group. Credit: EPA

Drone strikes: What the U.S. could learn from Israel [Blowback]

Drone

Amos N. Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah and author of a forthcoming book on targeted killings (Oxford University Press, 2013), responds to The Times'  Sept. 25 editorial, "A closer look at drones." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

The Times raises profoundly important questions regarding the drone policy initially implemented by President Bush and significantly increased by President Obama. The editorial, while not condemning U.S. drone policy, suggests that moral and legal questions must be addressed, particularly regarding "the process by which the military and the CIA determine who belongs on a target list."

The U.S. could learn a lot from Israel's policy on targeted killings. I know -- I was involved in its implementation.

I support using drones to eliminate terrorists, but I believe their legality and morality depend on the development and implementation of a criteria-based decision-making model. The Israel Defense Forces take such an approach to targeted killings, going to great lengths to gather and verify intelligence to ensure that potential targets are, in fact, still actively involved in terrorism. As has been documented extensively, excessive collateral damage both violates international law and provides effective recruiting posters for terrorist organizations.

In any targeted killing decision, three important questions must be answered: First, can the target be identified accurately and reliably? Second, does the threat the target poses justify an attack at that moment or are there alternatives? And finally, what is the extent of the anticipated collateral damage?

To answer these questions using the criteria-based process, extensive intelligence must be gathered and thoroughly analyzed. The intelligence community receives information from three different sources: human (such as individuals who live in the community about which they are providing information to an intelligence officer), signal intelligence (such as intercepted phone and email conversations) and open sources (the Internet and newspapers, for example).

One of the most important questions in putting together an operational "jigsaw puzzle" is whether the received information is "actionable;" that is, does the information warrant a response? This question is central to the criteria-based method, or at least to a process that seeks  -- in real time -- to create objective standards for making decisions based on imperfect information (as almost all intelligence is). It is essential that intelligence information, particularly from humans, be subjected to rigorous analysis.

The first step in creating an effective counterterrorism operation is analyzing the threat, including the nature of the threat, who poses it and when it is likely to be carried out. It is crucial to assess the imminence of any threat, which significantly impacts the operational and legal choices made in response.

To ensure both the legality and morality of drone strikes, I propose the following standards:

1) A target must have made significant steps directly contributing to a planned act of terrorism.

2) An individual cannot be a legitimate target unless intelligence action indicates involvement in future acts of terrorism.

3) Before a hit is authorized, it must be determined that the individual is still involved and has not proactively disassociated from the original plan.

4) The individual’s contribution to the planned attack must extend beyond mere passive support.

5) Every effort must be made to minimize collateral damage. However, the willful endangerment by the non-state actor of its own civilian population need not be a deterrent from implementing an authorized act of preventative self-defense.

6) Verbal threats alone are insufficient to categorize an individual as a legitimate target.

The Obama administration's articulation that mere "likelihood" of membership in a terrorist organization justifies defining a target as legitimate is highly problematic in the context of criteria-based decision-making. A criteria-based model facilitates necessary redirection away from the Obama administration's targeting of suspects who are only "likely" to be engaged in terrorist activity. "Likelihood," after all, casts an unacceptably wide net; the criteria-based process above narrowly and specifically defines a legitimate target.

Deciding  to authorize a legitimate drone strike depends on a process that analyzes the nature, identity and imminence of the threat. Trying to make a targeting decision in the absence of narrow criteria and specific guidelines highlights the concerns The Times’ editorial correctly raised.

Addressing these issues will significantly contribute to operational counterterrorism firmly rooted in legality and morality.

-- Amos N. Guiora

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Photo: A protester in Karachi gestures during a rally last June against drone attacks within Pakistan. Credit: Athar Hussain / Reuters

With an ally like Pakistan, who needs enemies?

Quetta, Pakistan

Remember when Pakistan was our ally?

Neither do I.

But on Thursday, The Times' David S. Cloud, Ken Dilanian and Alex Rodriguez outlined just how lousy an ally that nation has become. (Warning: The following may be upsetting to you if you are an American taxpayer.)    

Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency communicated with Afghan insurgents who attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in central Kabul last week and appear to have provided them with equipment, according to U.S. military officers and former officials.

Communications gear used by the insurgents "implicated" the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan's spy service, a senior U.S. military official said Thursday. The equipment was found in a 14-story building under construction that the attackers used to lay siege to the embassy compound for 19 hours on Sept. 13, according to the official, who would not describe the equipment recovered.

Bruce Riedel, a former White House advisor on Pakistan and a retired senior CIA official, said administration officials told him that "very firm intelligence" linked the Pakistani spy agency to the embassy attack, which killed at least nine Afghans.

"There are [communications] intercepts and the attackers were in cellphone contact back to Pakistan," he said.

In a dramatic appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged that the insurgents had received "ISI support" not only for the attack on America's most prominent diplomatic and military symbols in the Afghan capital, but also for a massive truck bomb assault this month on a U.S. combat outpost in Wardak province west of Kabul that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers.

Other than that, though, Islamabad has really helped us out a lot, I guess.

Of course, the Pakistanis don't really owe us -– much.  As the story concludes:

Pakistan receives about $3.5 billion in U.S. economic and military aid each year to help revamp critical infrastructure and to battle its homegrown militancy.

That's $3.5 billion, as in, $3.5 billion we don't have to spend on oh, say, disaster relief.  You know, the money the Republicans in Congress are saying can only come from cutting other programs?

Hello, paging House Speaker John Boehner: I may have found a program you can cut from.

Oh sure, I know.  It's complicated.  This is global politics.  This is fancy foreign policy stuff. We need the Pakistanis. 

And on Friday, their reaction was pretty predictable:

Reacting to Mullen's charges, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar cautioned that if the U.S. continued airing such allegations, "you could lose an ally."

"You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people," Khar said, speaking to a Pakistani television channel from New York on Thursday. "“If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so, it will be at their [the Americans'] own cost."

Uh, Foreign Minister, exactly how much more than the $3.5 billion a year will it cost us?

And then there was this:

In Karachi, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani told reporters that the onus was on Washington to pull back and begin mending frayed relations between the two countries.

"They can’t live with us -- they can’t live without us," Gilani said. "So, I would say to them that if they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings."

Well, I'll give him points for bluntness, and for his cold-blooded assessment of the relationship.  

And it's not as if the Pakistanis haven't helped us.

After all, didn't they keep Osama bin Laden cooped up in a compound near their major military academy for years, just waiting for us to come and get him?

Yes, the Pakistanis, and many in the U.S., say it could be a lot worse if we were to break ties.

Which, oddly, reminds me of the scene in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" in which a man is about to be stoned for uttering the word "Jehovah."  Explaining his action, he repeats the word "Jehovah," at which point the judge shouts: "You're only making it worse for yourself!"

And the man, sanely, replies: "Making it worse!  How can it be worse?"

The moral? When your "ally" is helping your "enemy" kill your troops -– well, it's time to consider just what  "worse" really means.

RELATED:

Changing the direction of U.S.-Pakistan relations

In Pakistan, suicide bombings are part of rhythm of life

House rejects government funding bill as shutdown looms

Pakistan bombing kills 23, may be tied to Al Qaeda arrests

--Paul Whitefield 

Photo: Quetta, Pakistan. Credit: Banaras Khan / AFP/Getty Images


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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