Chattanooga: The World is a Battlefield

Four marines have reportedly been killed in attacks on two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The gunman has been identified by law enforcement officials as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. The FBI is supposedly treating this, in contrast to the white supremacist massacre in Charleston, South Carolina as a terrorist act—“until it can be determined that it is not.”

There is little doubt that this will be recorded as another instance of domestic or homegrown terrorism, though there is little information available about the gunman. The reaction of the media should also be predictable.  There will be considerable bewilderment about how the gunman was “radicalized,” a reliance on discredited theories and absurd psychological theorizing. There will be even more hysteria than usual about the pernicious influence of radical Islamists. U.S. policies and precedences will remain absent.

Is it really a surprise that having declared the entire world a battlefield, having undertaken military operations in dozens of country without meeting the legally required criteria of “armed conflict,” and having expanded the definition of combatant to “military-aged males,” that a small minority may mirror those beliefs and consider U.S. troops stationed inside the United States to be valid targets? If the entire world is indeed a battlefield then the U.S. is not exempt from such a designation.

The United States has hardly been averse to flouting all conceivable standards, never mind any legal ones. In October 2008, for example, the U.S. military raided a farm on the Syrian side of the Iraq-Syria border to assassinate al-Qaeda operative Abu Ghadiya. A year later, Vanity Fair revealed that the raid “may have been botched” and seven innocent people may have been killed by US forces instead. Five years later, U.S. Special Forces raided militant hideouts in Libya and Somalia. In Somalia, al-Shabaab militants successfully repulsed the attack. In Libya, US forces managed to capture and rendition an al-Qaeda leader “wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya,” according to the military. There was no armed conflict in any of these cases. And never mind the U.S. drone campaign in half a dozen countries, its various covert operations for which there is no accountability, and so on.

George Bush famously said the United States will “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” This is not an argument for fighting them over there. Nor an argument about containing violence to war zones. There are compelling arguments about the absurd nature of the very concepts of “armed conflict” and “war zones.”

Perhaps a simple start would be for the U.S. to not consider the entire world a battlefield and maintain a modicum of respect for international law. Another useful step may be to not pursue policies which continually empower militants.

But it is much easier to just blame deranged Muslims.