Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster last week, in which he demanded the Obama administration clarify if it believes it has the authority to kill Americans on U.S. soil with drones, sparked blowback from some of his fellow Republicans, including Sen. John McCain. That has sparked debate about whether the GOP is moving in a new direction regarding foreign and military policy, or drifting apart into two, ahem, warring camps.
But foreign-policy and military experts speaking on a Thursday morning panel at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference sounded a relatively consistent line of thinking, albeit more about the use of force overseas while largely staying away from the topic of domestic drones.
“The proper natural end of war is your peace, the peace according to you, the peace you want,” said Angelo Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston University. “Victory is that achievement. And defeat is in fact letting the enemy achieve his version of peace. That is what war is all about.
“Our bipartisan leaders for the past generation have forgotten that fundamental truth. So they have engaged us in a variety of enterprises around the world without knowing what they are fighting for and what they want to achieve. … They have deprived us of the proper product [of war]. This country has no peace right now. And the lack of peace is eating away at us.”
Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, sounded a similar note. “Wars are not movies. They do not end. They are won or they are lost,” he said. “We should fight anywhere, but we should not fight everywhere.”
Cotton also criticized the Obama administration’s decision to try the recently captured son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, in federal court rather than holding him at Guantanamo Bay — in the prison President Obama hasn’t closed despite his 2008 campaign rhetoric about the need to do so — so that the military could interrogate him at length and try him in a military tribunal.
“It’s possible, I suppose, that we had exploited him for all intelligence value in just the few hours we had him” under military custody, Cotton said. But he noted it took far longer for the U.S. to learn from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about the courier whose presence ultimately led Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.
Cotton’s comments echoed remarks Georgia’s Sen. Saxby Chambliss made to me Wednesday in his office, when he called a federal-court trial for Abu Ghaith “a huge mistake.”
“This is not an ordinary terrorist, it’s an enemy combatant,” Chambliss said. Yet, “he’ll be tried as an ordinary bank robber would be.”
In any case, the notion that America should engage in nation-building abroad came in for rough criticism from the CPAC panelists. Rep. Louie Goehmert of Texas recalled how it took little time and few soldiers to come to the brink of victory in Afghanistan, citing the help of the Northern Alliance.
“They fought the Taliban and defeated them for us,” Goehmert said. “We had less than 500 American soldiers … in Afghanistan when we defeated the Taliban because the Northern Alliance did our work. That was the beginning of the very end for the Taliban until — after we won — we sent in tens of thousands of troops in to occupy it.”
– By Kyle Wingfield