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Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror

Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror

Replaying the Roman Civil Wars in Reverse Since 9/11

L’incendie de Rome, Hubert Robert (c. 1785)

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Three days after 9/11, as the Twin Towers continued to burn, a near-unanimous United States Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The lone dissenter, Representative Barbara Lee, warned that the resolution gave a “blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.”

Representative Lee was right. In the sixteen years since 9/11, these 60 wordshave been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries under George W. Bush and Barack Obama alone, many targeting groups that played no role in the attacks. The Trump administration, too, continues to pursue covert military actions under the AUMF that only occasionally emerge into the news cycle — as with the mysterious deaths of four US soldiers in Niger this October. Expressing surprise at their presence, Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged, “This is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography.”

I felt a shock of recognition as I read Graham’s words. Earlier that evening, my graduate seminar on empire in the Roman imagination had discussed Jupiter’s prophecy in the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid:

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