A Missile for Judge, Jury, and Executioner

by Victor Davis Hanson

Our military and intelligence services are to be congratulated for taking out yet another anti-American terrorist planner. In theory, no one is irreplaceable in war, but it is hard to see how al-Qaeda and its affiliates will be able to find someone quite as familiar with the West — its language, social media, and general culture — as the late Las Cruces native and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. 

Awlaki represented a post-9/11 generation of Islamic terrorists focused on encouraging an eerie “al-Qaedism” among otherwise normal-acting native or naturalized Americans and Europeans. He saw, correctly, that in an era of new security measures and the attrition of al-Qaeda abroad, stealthy terrorism by otherwise nondescript Middle Easterners residing in the West was a more practicable way of harming the U.S. than massively planned, multi-person operations from abroad. His passing is reflective of the progress, often quiet and under the radar, that the U.S. military and CIA are making in systematically eliminating the surviving Islamist echelon. In this regard, the presence of Iraq savior and retired general David Petraeus at the CIA led to coordination of intelligence and military operations in a fashion we have not seen previously. One expects that Dr. Zawahiri is taking note.

Finally, the manner of the American citizen Awlaki’s death — which, according to very preliminary reports, was from the air by judge-jury-and-executioner drones or precision-guided bombs — once again frames the entire ongoing debate over the so-called Bush-Cheney security measures. Those on the left who made the argument — often quite vehemently and with plenty of personal invective (“war criminal”) — that water-boarding three known and quite proudly confessed foreign-national terrorists represented a “war crime” must now come forward and turn that vitriol on the Obama administration, which just executed an American citizen abroad on suspicions of terrorist activity. (Most nonpartisans might consider water-boarding three self-described terrorists less a “crime” than executing over 2,000 suspected terrorists — and any and all who, as collateral damage, happen to be in the general vicinity when the sentence is carried out.)

If we see anything less than commensurate protest against the present administration, then the entire hysteria of 2002–8 in retrospect becomes rank partisanship and hardly principled anguish. But as we have seen with the continuance of Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventive detention, and the Bush policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, these once-acrimonious issues are simply not issues any more. I guess critics “moved on” around January 2009.

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