Editor’s Note: Ask yourself this question: How is the war on terror going to end? After you’ve thought about that for a while, ask yourself what could be the more-significant question: Will the war on terror end? Maybe I’m just not smart enough to come up with the right answer to either question, but I can’t see how, when or even why this particular war would ever end ... at least not in any of our lifetimes.
“Winston could not
definitely remember a time when his country
had not been at war … war had been literally continuous,
though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war.”
–– George Orwell, 1984
Widespread right-wing endorsement of Anne Coulter’s vicious slanders about World Trade Center widows enjoying their husbands’ deaths legitimizes the expression of similar sentiments from the left. It’s now fair to speculate just how much our president is enjoying the fruits of 9/11.
Mr. Bush calls the conflict with al-Qaida “a new kind of warfare.” Its most-ominous feature is that it’s tantamount to Orwell’s concept of a “continuous war,” because no metrics exist to determine what would constitute victory.
Islam has more than a billion adherents, and it’s the world’s fastest-growing religion, so even if only a small percentage of Muslims are terrorists, it’s reasonable to assume their numbers are rising. Eliminating a few newly created insurgents and al-Qaida immigrants in Iraq won’t deplete the pool of potential martyrs.
Many Mideast scholars contend that the Quran itself incites violence among the sizable percentage of Muslims who read it literally. Islamic fundamentalism — fortified by the belief that a mythical paradise (with or without the 70 virgins) is more important than one’s earthly existence — impels fanatics toward suicidal nihilism. And no one is predicting a rising tide of moderation among the faithful anytime soon.
The root causes of Islamo-Fascism can’t be addressed, because most of its goals are unrealistic. Bin Ladin wasn’t placated when American troops left the Saudi holy places, and his more-ambitious aims (exterminating the Jews, converting all infidels and establishing a global Caliphate) are perverse, irrational and unattainable.
Killing bin Ladin is no more likely to check terrorism than terminating al-Zarqawi has curtailed the mayhem in Iraq. Islamic militancy has metastasized worldwide, and Muslims revere martyrdom, so the removal of even a dozen al-Qaida leaders is unlikely to restrain it.
The enemy isn’t just al-Qaida anyway: It’s stateless, loosely affiliated networks of fanatics. Festering anywhere there’s a significant Muslim population — from Bali and Bombay to Britain and Miami — it can’t be defeated in the sense that the Nazis were crushed militarily or the Soviets were routed economically.
Since 9/11, al-Qaida has launched no major assaults against the United States, but no one claims that this means the war is over. With our porous borders and unprotected ports, the absence of attacks mystifies even the experts.
Republicans reflexively credit Mr. Bush’s policies and advocate “staying the course.” In contrast, many liberals view the president’s strategy, particularly the Iraq invasion, as a recruiting poster for al-Qaida that galvanizes radical Muslims. Is it possible that bin Ladin has delayed following up on 9/11 for the past five years because he likes the way the war on terror is going, and he too wants us to stay the course?
Here at home, why would any president declare the war on terror ended? What could be better than a perpetual conflict that barely inconveniences the electorate and doesn’t even require us to raise taxes to pay for it? Mr. Bush has set the bar of sacrifice for this new kind of warfare low enough to make it easily sustainable.
The war supplied the GOP’s stay-the-course theme during the 2004 election and is doing the same in 2006. It also enabled Mr. Bush to swagger across an aircraft carrier in a flight suit to proclaim “mission accomplished” — an image no one would have predicted during the Vietnam era, and one he seemed to relish.
The war enables the president to expand his executive powers with the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, surveillance of financial transactions, and indefinite incarcerations without charges or trials. Afraid of being portrayed as weak on security, cowed Democrats and compliant Republicans in Congress have abdicated their oversight duties, and the war convinces even erstwhile opponents ― such as semi-Democrat Joe Lieberman ― that “we undermine presidential credibility at our peril.”
With the aid of right-wing columnist Robert Novak, administration officials were able to punish ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson for exposing bogus WMD intelligence by leaking his wife’s CIA status. Other whistleblowers and dissidents risk being smeared as “America haters” by Bill O’Reilly and “traitors” by Anne Coulter.
From the GOP’s lapdogs at the Fox News Channel to the mainstream media, the press has largely abandoned its watchdog role, at least partly due to government bullying. Although the SWIFT financial tracking program was no secret, Congressman Peter King (R-NY) has threatened The New York Times with prosecution for reporting on it, justifying such intimidation because “We’re in time of war.”
The Supreme Court’s decision on military tribunals is a rare example of the separation of powers at work. However, the Court is only one Bush appointee away from relinquishing that function.
Freedom demands a balance between civil liberties and security. In times of crisis (even wars with foreseeable endgames), this can become problematic. Recall Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese-Americans.
No one reading this should expect to live long enough to see the end of this continuous war. We’ll be living with the policies now evolving for a long, long time, and we permit unrestrained power to be concentrated in one person or one party at our peril.
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