On November 30, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson gave a speech at Oxford Union in the UK. He stated that al-Qaeda might soon reach a point where it was so degraded that the U.S. military should no longer pursue it under 2001 Congressional authorization. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates might soon be a “law enforcement” issue rather than an “armed conflict”.
But wait. While he did indeed say that –
“I do believe that on the present course there will come a tipping point, a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaida and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al-Qaida as we know it, the organisation that our Congress authorised the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed”.
– he left an enormous amount of wiggle room.
“At that point we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an armed conflict against al-Qaida and its associated forces, rather a counter-terrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remains of al-Qaida … for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible.
Did you spot it? Johnson said that the war against al-Qaeda and its associated forces would become a “counter-terrorism” effort for which there are “intelligence resources of our government” available.
The fact is that in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, the “war on terror” was never really an armed conflict – it was always a program of counter-terrorism waged principally by the U.S.’ top “intelligence resource”, the CIA.
So business as usual then?
Of course. Not to mention that “associated forces” and “affiliates” are psuedo-legal terms that keep the lethal net wide open.
“We refuse to allow this enemy, with its contemptible tactics, to define the way in which we wage war,” Johnson said. “Our efforts remain grounded in the rule of law.”
The real issue here is that drones have changed the way the U.S. wages war: it’s no longer the ends justifying the means (as with the war on terror’s ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ geographic imaginations); it’s the means – the drones – that are redefining the (never)ends…