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Congress proposes a war against almost everybody

The Global War on Terror. Click image for details.

The War on Terror has made defining itself tricky enough; the name of a human emotion makes for no simple criterion for what we’re actually against. For the past decade, that moniker has licensed wars and rumors of wars in all sorts of unlikely places, from Iraq and Af-Pak, to the Philippines and the Horn of Africa. But now there’s a bill in the House Armed Services Committee that promises to expand the scope of the War on Terror even further. Reports Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room:

While the original Authorization tethered the war to those directly or indirectly responsible for 9/11, the new language authorizes “an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces,” as “those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens.”

To its supporters, the proposal catches Congress up to the reality of today’s war. There aren’t many al-Qaida members in Afghanistan, but the war there rages onward. Meanwhile, the Obama administration wages a series of secret wars against al-Qaida entities in Pakistan and Yemen. Since last fall, Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the committee, has argued that Congress, which hasn’t voted on the war in a decade, needs to go on record approving or disapproving of the 2011-era war. Essentially, his proposal would bring the secret wars in from the cold.

But some counterterrorism analysts are worried that there’s no way to win a war this broad — only a way to expand it.

“Associated forces” could place the U.S. at war with terrorist entities that don’t concern themselves with attacking the United States. Think Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terrorist group aligned with al-Qaida that pulled off the Mumbai bombings of 2008. Under the House language, there’s nothing to stop Obama or his successors from waging war against them. It comes close to “terrorism creep,” says Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University.

Even the Obama administration, believe it or not, is opposed to this kind of expansion of executive authority.