Responding to Terrorism

A few days ago I noted that there were different ways to view the terrorist threat. One view is to see it as a criminal problem. Another is to see it as a military problem, i.e. the “war on terror”.  This post reflects a definite opinion. The author criticizes Obama for leaning very much in the “criminal problem” direction. It specifically criticizes the administration for offering no rationale for doing so. Fair enough. But the same could be said for the “this is war” camp. What’s the rationale? The bigger question is under what circumstances should government use it’s anti-crime powers and when should it use it’s military powers? Both the Bush and Obama administrations have been very ad hoc about this issue. Some other nations have a third option (like MI5 in Britain), but that doesn’t provide much clarity – it just complicates the question.

Today, the choice of criminal or military outlook is pretty much at the discretion of the President. No matter what he decides, he’ll be criticized – either for being “soft on terrorism” or “violating human rights”. It would be nice to have an articulated framework for determining when each is appropriate, even if I didn’t agree with it. You can at least argue about formal policy. When policy comes from intuition and hunches, all you can do is rant.

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