On Friday, March 5, The New York Times published an article entitled Biden Seeks Update for a Much-Stretched Law That Authorizes the War on Terrorism by veteran reporter Charlie Savage. The law in question is known as AUMF, or Authorization of Use of Military Force, and was minted shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a kind of skeleton key to any limit of U.S. military force. In the article, Savage unearths a major problem with U.S. foreign policy, or more accurately, the U.S.’s proclivity to use military force, via drone strikes, as a backstop to foreign policy good and bad.
The problem is simple but slippery.
Essentially, it goes like this. The United States has the most powerful military in the world, including the largest armada of reconnaissance and direct strike UAVs and highly advanced cyber and satellite capabilities. With the 2001 AUMF, the U.S. wrote for itself a blank check on the use of these capabilities under the banner of the Global War on Terror. (Read: Our enemies are so prolific that we must be able to kill them anywhere at any time.)
But the problem is not what Mr. Savage would have us believe. It’s not that Obama did this, or Trump did that. It’s not even that the U.S. has a ridiculous double-standard when it comes to who is a viable target — even U.S. citizens have been targeted and killed in U.S. drone strikes abroad. It’s not even that drone technology has become so advanced since its appearance in the late ’90s that it’s made surgical killings incredibly easy to carry out.
No, the real problem is that this global war strategy just isn’t working.
Look at the current Foreign Policy crises facing the Biden Administration. You have an ongoing war in Syria, the flames of which are being fanned by Iran and countless militia groups with loose affiliations. There’s also Iran itself, an old adversary which continues to pose a significant threat to U.S. national security. Of course, there’s the ongoing quagmire of Afghanistan. And a new mess emerging in Myanmar. Meanwhile, China continues to stir.
Then there’s Russia. Recently on SOFREP Radio, we hosted CIA veteran Jack Devine. Devine, who spent more than 30 years inside the agency, laid it on the line in the podcast: The Cold War never ended, the spy apparatus just changed. Or rather, evolved. Today, according to Devine, the clash with Russia is a quiet war of ones and zeroes. Cyberattacks, hacking, sowing disorder through disinformation campaigns, and even polluting the American election process, all this has replaced the days of dead drops, microfilm, and missile codes. (You should really listen to this week’s podcast, if you haven’t already, and check out Devine’s new book.)
Cast in this light, the fact that Biden is signaling that he will change the 2001 AUMF and limit the use of drones doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me because we have bigger fish to fry.
This week, I wrote a report about a recent video conversation between U.S. Space Force Chief General John Raymond and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and the unintentional national security leak it posed. That conversation — wherein General Raymond referred to the domain as the “Wild, Wild West” — when juxtaposed with the concerns over the use of drones, feels much more pressing.
The Global War on Terror is ending. After two decades of constant U.S. deployments, we are finally transitioning out of the sandbox. But as the old saying goes, it’s likely out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The Global War on Terror, as ambiguous as it sounds (and can sometimes be) is nothing compared with the war on information. A drone can track and eliminate a bomb-maker or a tactician. But it can’t drop a missile on a crudely-written bit of code or keep an electronic eye on a disinformation operation proliferated across social media with bought-and-paid-for advertising campaigns.
What’s more, a drone is useless without the satellite that guides it, transmits its optics, and sends the go-code to release its munitions.
To push that a step further, there’s no need to even mess with our satellites if our departments of defense, intelligence, and national security are busy cross-examining American citizens and servicemembers for extremism, and our politicians are preoccupied with progressiveness to appease a dissatisfied voter base.
Perhaps instead of fixating on how and why we defend America, it’s time we focused on making sure there’s still an America here to defend.
What’s in store for next week? None of us knows. But, as always, we’ll be here to bring you the stories you won’t find anywhere else with insights and analysis from people who have actually been there.
In the meantime,
Jacob W. Sotak, Editor-in-Chief of SOFREP
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