After thinking about it a bit, I’m going to have to tackle the “strategy” issue in two parts. This first segment will address the point that the United States is extremely limited – under existing legal and political constraints – in establishing and conducting a proactive military strategy against a global enemy which has declared itself to be at war with both America as a nation and beyond that with individual American’s wherever they are able to target them. For reference, in terms of military strategy I’m speaking of the standard definition – “the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.”
To define the enemy which a strategy would address, it’s necessary only to refer to their own declaration of war, issued in 1998. In February, 1998 a group of militant Islamists including radical figures from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh joined Osama bin Laden in issuing a religious ruling calling for a crusade/jihad against the United States. The edict concluded with instructions to Muslims everywhere to carry out attacks against America on a global basis, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…. [E]very Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it.”
In response to what was for all practical purposes a declaration of war against America, the United States Congress made no response at all. It did not declare war in return nor even pass a resolution authorizing certain types of defensive or offensive military action. It was left to President Clinton to respond, and he did so with limited military action (without a declaration of war or Congressional resolution, there are limits to presidential military action), a mix of covert operations and counter terror Executive Orders and budgetary allocations. The mix included a Presidential directive authorizing the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, the first such directive since the Eisenhower Administration.
Following a series of successful jihadi network attacks against American installations, ships and individuals overseas, including an abortive airliner attack that would have killed some 3,000 Americans in planes over the Pacific, America itself was attacked in 2001. In response Congress did not declare war, reportedly they were briefed that President Bush did not wish such a declaration. What they did was to pass a resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) – leading to what was termed the “war on terror” but which was legally not a war at all. In fact, the AUMF itself was extremely limited. The authorization granted the president permission for whatever military action he deemed to be appropriate to act specifically against those who had “committed, directed, authorized or aided in the 9/11 attacks”.
In reality the language in the AUMF specifically limited the actions of the president. In his assessment of the AUMF, written for Congress in 2007, National Defense Specialist Richard Grimmett noted that broad initial language in the initial AUMF drafts would have given the president open ended authority to act against any nation, group or individuals considered to be potential aggressors or terrorists – with no limits on the duration of the authorization. That language was altered and the final document was specifically worded to authorize action only against those “directly involved in aiding or materially supporting the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.” Grimmett makes it clear that the AUMF, as passed by Congress, was not written to authorize military action “against terrorists generally.”
The result of the Congressional AUMF action is that for well over a decade, first President Bush and then President Obama, have conducted limited military actions which actually have gone far beyond what they were legally authorized to do – leaving themselves open to legal challenges and political entanglement. Under their authority as Commanders in Chief, they have ordered individual military strikes against jihadi leaders and forces that were clearly not involved in the 2001 attacks but who have openly subscribed to the initial 1998 fatwa obligating jihadi attacks.
Both presidents also authorized extensive military assistance programs, aimed at preempting jihadi insurgencies from taking control of nations or territories which could become sanctuaries for staging global terror attacks. But what neither president has done, or legally can do with the lack of broader Congressional authority, is to “plan and direct a broad military campaign”. At best they are limited to specific operations – primarily targeting leadership which has declared its support of the original al Qaeda jihad or acting to defend American’s defined to be at risk. At present the actions in Iraq walk that fine legal line, which is why almost all presidential statements in regard to military action there refer to defending American’s stationed there. Of course that line can be pushed a long way – the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorized only military action in defense of American forces and SE Asia and President’s Johnson and Nixon leveraged it into a decade plus warfare inside at least four separate nations, two of them neutral.
So – no real “war on terror”, no legal authority and no grand strategy. The basis for counter terror action remains in the legal foundation of the Patriot Act and certain revisions to the National Security Act of 1947 – which make jihadi and any other terrorism a crime. And it should be noted that the jihadist’s themselves in no way consider themselves terrorists; they view themselves as full-fledged combatants in a religious war. Which is why you consistently hear the presidents talk of “bringing terrorists to justice”, a legal action not an act of war.
In the next post I’ll return to some thoughts on actions that would be required to actually create a strategy – and give legal justification for unified military action, not only to combat ISIS but the broader jihadi movement of which ISIS is at the moment the most brutal example.

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About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

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