I admire Arianna Huffington. She is a strong, bold voice in our media firmament. But in the last few days, she has advanced an idea which, in my view, is wrong. She is urging Vice President Biden to resign if the Obama administration ignores his proposal to concentrate on counter-terrorist operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Arianna argues that by doing so, Biden would be following in the hallowed tradition of US officials, like Elliot Richardson and Cyrus Vance, who resigned for reasons of principle. Richardson resigned after refusing to fire Archibald Cox; he did so to uphold the rule of law and to prevent the presidential abuse of power. Cyrus Vance resigned to protest the attempted military rescue of American hostages in Iran, which he believed jeopardized diplomatic and peaceful efforts to win their release.
But the flaw in Arianna’s reasoning is to equate Biden’s advocacy of counterterrorism with principled stances on law and diplomacy. While Biden has been an important voice against escalation inside the administration, his proposal itself is questionable; it advances the doctrine of preventive military action that would violate the sovereignty of an American ally and that in the past has resulted in the death of innocent citizens. By any reasonable standard, Biden’s position is a violation of international law because the United States is not under threat of an imminent attack from extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and because the past eight years have made clear there are reasonable legal alternatives to protecting American lives in the form of intelligence and police actions that do not put innocent civilian life at risk.
That an otherwise principled figure like Arianna would, with such fervor, propose this idea is an indication of how the war on terror has damaged and distorted our society and politics.