On Tuesday The New York Times op-ed pages produced another example of ambivalence, or inconsistency, similar to those I mentioned on November 21.
Roger Cohen devoted his column to “the doctrine of silence,” by which he refers to the secrecy with which the present administration conducts various kinds of low-level warfare, including drone attacks and assassinations. The new policy is a “radical shift from President Bush’s war on terror,” but “has never been set out to the American people. . . . President Obama has gone undercover.” His opinion of the new departure is ambivalent: “I approve of the shift even as it makes me uneasy. One day, I suspect, there may be payback for this policy and this silence.”
Most of his discussion was devoted to the risks and benefits of the policy, rather than to secrecy, but his ambivalent approval persisted:
So why do I approve of all this? Because the alternative — the immense cost in blood and treasure and reputation of the Bush administration’s war on terror — was so appalling. In just the same way, the results of a conventional bombing war against Iran would be appalling, whether undertaken by Israel, the United States or a combination of the two.There is another alternative: not killing people, a radical notion to be sure, but one which at least should be recognized as an option. To put it in strategic terms, are any of the people we target really a threat to us? Only if Mr. Cohen answers in the affirmative, and ignores any moral objections, could his first comment override his second: “So why am I uneasy? Because these legally borderline, undercover options . . . invite repayment in kind, undermine the American commitment to the rule of law, and make allies uneasy.”
At the end, he turned, more or less, to the secrecy issue: “Just because it’s impossible to talk about some operations undertaken within this doctrine does not mean the entire doctrine can remain cloaked in silence.” However, rather than asking the President to justify the doctrine of silence, Cohen wanted a speech approving his preference for limited, covert operations:
Of course [Obama] does not want to say much about secret operations. Still, as the U.S. military prepares to depart from Iraq . . . and the war in Afghanistan enters its last act [?], he owes the American people, U.S. allies and the world a speech that sets out why America will not again embark on this kind of inconclusive war and has instead adopted a new doctrine that has replaced fighting terror with killing terrorists.
Cohen seems to believe that the covert actions have contributed to “restoring America’s battered image.” It’s not clear to me how assassinations, by air or otherwise, including at least one of an American citizen, shielded from the public and unauthorized by Congress, restore our image, especially, as Cohen acknowledges, they “undermine the American commitment to the rule of law, and make allies uneasy.”
This doesn’t seem to be the season for clear thinking at the Times.
101. Glenn Greenwald dissected Cohen’s column to make the point that reporters no longer question authority: “American journalists are the leading proponents not of transparency but of secrecy, not of accountability but of covert decision-making in the dark, not of the rule of law but the rule of political leaders.”