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...
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...American people better understand the extent and basis of the anger against our country, as well as extending public exposure to the expression of compassion that is common to all religious traditions.
Finally, while we affirm our support for Israel, we need to effectively disassociate the United States from support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The fundamental changes in policy that I am recommending of course cannot happen quickly, and can only be brought about if accompanied by tangible benefits in terms of cooperation from members of the antiterrorism coalition. Reciprocity is the protection against responding, and appearing to respond, to the attack itself. In the meantime let us hope that military vengeance does not preclude the kinds of positive responses that will actually protect the physical security of the country.
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