U.S. takes a wrong turn with air strikes

August 23, 1998|By Matthew Rothschild

The Clinton administration was wrong to bomb Sudan and Afghanistan.

These bombings showed a disregard for international law and a disrespect for our constitutional system of government. They won't solve the problem of terrorism; they may exacerbate it. And they reduce us to the tactics of the terrorists themselves.

And the timing of the attacks raises the question of presidential selfishness and recklessness. Less than three days after Clinton's lowest day in office, just as calls for his resignation were beginning to mount, he launches these attacks, knowing full well that he was bound to receive a boost in popularity.

Right after the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright insisted that "our memory is long, our reach is far." But the United States dispensed with the need for a long memory: It was bomb now, take names later.

Gathering evidence first

The United States is supposed to gather evidence, and if the evidence is sufficient, it is supposed to seek extradition of suspects from the country harboring them. None of that was done in this case.

The only time a country can take unilateral action under international law is when it's a matter of self-defense. The United States invoked self-defense in this instance, but it was a specious claim.

"The United States was definitely not abiding by international law," says Peter Weiss, president of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy. "Self-defense is an extremely limited concept, relating to the invasion of your country. It does not cover speculative, pre-emptive strikes."

Weiss also points out that "international law prohibits the unauthorized overflight of other countries." And U.S. cruise missiles violated this by sending upward of 70 cruise missiles over Pakistan.

The attacks violate the Constitution, as well. The Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power not only to declare war but "to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations," and to "grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water."

Since the end of World War II, Presidents have been abrogating to themselves these powers of Congress. Mr. Clinton is no exception, but his action was the most self-serving since Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada on Oct. 25, 1983, just two days after 218 Marines were killed in Lebanon.

The United States has demonstrated that it is just as willing to use violence, and just as willing to kill civilians, as anyone else. The early death count is 21 dead and 37 injured from these attacks. That doesn't put us on the moral high ground.

We should not become like the terrorists. That way, they will have won. But there are those who are willing to throw our liberties to the wind in this battle. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, strongly suggested on "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts" that the CIA should have the authority to assassinate terrorists not only abroad but right here in the United States.

If that happens, our democracy and our way of life are in the deepest peril.

One way the United States should fight terrorism is to stop training terrorists.

Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, earned his spurs working with the CIA in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of that country.

One of the fighters

He was "fighting alongside the mujahedeen rebels, whom the Central Intelligence Agency sponsored in Afghanistan," the New York Times reported Aug. 14.

A Saudi intelligence official told the Times that "Mr. bin Laden learned a lot of tricks from the CIA, which was glad to help him fight the Russians. . . . He was a point man."

The U.S. strikes may have some unfortunate consequences. They may incite retaliation: It's quite conceivable that they will inspire more terrorism against the United States and American citizens. Today the Clinton administration is warning U.S. citizens to take extra precautions, and airports across the country are girding themselves.

Clinton's action may also have negative repercussions diplomatically. Already Russian President Boris Yeltsin has condemned the attacks. And they are likely to complicate, if not devastate, efforts to solve such problems as the civil war in the Sudan or the Middle East peace process.

Sending cruise missiles half way around the world is the easiest thing for a beleaguered president to do. But it is no the right thing. It is the most cynical use of power.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

Pub Date: 8/23/98

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