Response To Terrorism: Military Vengeance Or Positive Actions?

873 words - 3 pages

Response to Terrorism:  Military Vengeance or Positive Actions?


The issues raised by September 11 are less about constitutional war powers than about war wisdom. Under national and international law the President has legal authority to react in self-defense against this invasion of our territory. Even the most vigorous critics of executive power concede that under the Constitution the President is empowered, in Madison's words, to "repel sudden attacks." One might quibble over whether "repelling" an attack, which in the eighteenth century would have been a land or naval invasion by a foreign state, extends in this era to a military response outside the United States to an attack by unknown forces, but the principle supporting the legitimacy of an immediate response of a military nature seems implicit in the original understanding of executive power. Moreover, Congress has expressly acknowledged that executive power and, in addition, has specifically authorized the use of "all necessary and appropriate force" against the persons and organizations that conducted the attack and those states that aided or harbored the terrorists. Likewise, under international law the United States has the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and NATO members have invoked Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, declaring the attack as an "attack against them all," so that each of them is obligated "to take such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."


The legal authority of the President to wage his "War on Terrorism" is therefore clear. The wisdom of doing so is more complex. No doubt some military response will be launched, and in my view such a response is desirable, in order to underscore the gravity of the matter and to assuage the public cry for justice. Nevertheless, the trick is to fashion an attack or series of attacks on demonstrably relevant targets, without killing thousands of innocents and fueling even more hatred of America in the Islamic world. It is a challenge to this Government to use military force in ways that actually punish demonstrably responsible parties without in turn inciting more terrorist fervor and actually increasing the danger to the physical security of the country.


The most important, and most difficult, challenge for the country--Congress as well as the President--is to create an anti-terrorism coalition in Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as the Middle East that will suppress terrorist conspiracies at their roots. This cannot be done by the United States and NATO from outside, but must be done internally through effective law-enforcement and education by governments, many of...

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