Glenn Greenwald today blogged about U.S. officials acknowledgement of the permanent nature of the war on terror. He reports that Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for operations, stated that the war on terror was going to last "at least 10 to 20 years" from today. Counting the ongoing war on terror, that began after the 9/11 attacks, Greenwald notes that we are apparently in the middle of a 30 year war. As I read his article, two thoughts came to mind.
First, is the implications for civil liberties, but a specific aspect of it. A whole generation of people, my undergraduate students, will have lived a large portion of their lives with the U.S. actively fighting the war on terror. Greenwald puts it this way:
Each year that passes, millions of young Americans come of age having spent their entire lives, literally, with these powers and this climate fixed in place: to them, there is nothing radical or aberrational about any of it. The post-9/11 era is all they have been trained to know. That is how a state of permanent war not only devastates its foreign targets but also degrades the population of the nation that prosecutes it.
I blogged a few days ago about the difficulty I confront in the classroom of teaching the concept of privacy to my undergrads who are already of the Facebook/Twitter generation where everything previously private is now shared publicly. My students simply don't see what the big fuss about surveillance is and their view is, "If I have done nothing wrong, what does it matter if the government monitors me." My teaching challenged aside, adding to the effect of ubiquitous social media, I share Greenwald's concern that a permanent war on terror will desensitize citizens from being vigilant about their civili liberties and civil right being eroded.
Second, academia is a little slow on moving to cover the effects of the existing, much less the permanent war on terror. I have in mind a specific subfield in the legal academy and political science, the subfield that studies war powers, the politics and law behind the war powers clause in the U.S. Constitution Article I Section 8 granting Congress the right "to declare war", and Article II Section II which names the President "Commander in Chief of the armed forces".
I served as discussant on a panel at the 2013 Midwest Political Science Association convention in Chicago in which 4 scholars presented their papers on War Powers. Although the scholars on the panel were doing historical work, I challenged them to explain how that entire subfield of study had been changed by modern warfare and the endless war on terror, with it's drones, which renders a traditional battlefront obsolete (h/t Anne Harrington), and with combatants like Al Quaeda who come from no particular country, wear no identifiable uniform, and do not respect the rules of war. Has public support of the war on terror been lukewarm but not outwardly oppositional because war is now more antiseptic and the burden of war only falls on the families of the voluntary armed forces? Has this situation translated into wider latitude to the Congress to defer and the President to expand executive power? My questions drew no answers.
I thought perhaps that maybe I was asking the wrong group of war powers scholars this question because my panel was composed of people who studied war powers historically, not in the present. So imagine my surprise when I went to Lexis/Nexus and checked law reviews and found only ONE article which had war powers and war on terror in the title. It's been 12 years since the war on terror began and the academy has been just as unquestioning of the expansion of executive power as the public. What's going on?