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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

 
Limning The GWOT

by digby

I have long thought, and written, that the "GWOT" is a false construct. And common sense says to most people that it is pretty nonsensical. We might as well have a war on sadness or a war on jealousy or a war on hate. As Pach writes in this post from the week-end, terror is a human emotion and you can't fight a war against it. In fact, war creates it.

But then it isn't really fair to deride it as a "war on terror," is it? That's just the shortcut phrase. The real term is "war on terrorism" which makes just as little sense but in a different way. Terrorism is a method of warfare --- a specific type of cheap and dirty violence which is not eradicatable, certainly not eradicatable by force. It is special only in the sense that it makes no distinctions between civilians and warriors. (And if you could eliminate a particularly harsh and inhumane method of warfare, it would certainly make no sense at all to try to do it by throwing aside all civilized norms and engaging in even more odious taboos like torture.)

When you think about it, a "war on terrorism" is actually a "war on warfare" which kind of brings the whole damned thing home, doesn't it? All warfare is terrifying. Metaphorically, a war on warfare is a nice concept. I can picture some lovely bumper stickers and t-shirts along the lines of "War is not healthy for children and other living things." "Let's declare war on warfare" expresses a rather basic premise that war is a bad thing. (Somehow, I don't think that's what the architects of the GWOT had in mind.)

A war on warfare is entirely absurd, however, in a literal sense. Using war to eradicate terror or terrorism is an oxymoron. And yet the nation has been drunkenly behaving as if it is a real war, spending the money, deploying the troops, inflicting the violence.

Setting Iraq aside, which was a simple imperialist invasion with no ties to this threat of terrorism, we are dealing with a "war" against certain stateless people who are loosely affiliated with Muslim extremism but could just as easily be nationalists or Christian fanatics or even environmentalists, as our justice department has recently decreed. make no mistake: the GWOT is not a simple shorthand for fighting the "islamofascists." Islamic extremism is an ideology centered in a religion and it has no "place" --- it is not a nation or even a people. Warfare as it has been understood for millenia will not "beat" it. The GWOT masterminds knew this which is why the phrase War on Terrorism was coined: it represents a permanent state of war, which is something else entirely.

This is the problem. This elastic war, this war against warfare, this war with no specific enemy against no specific country is never going to end. It cannot end because there is no end. If the threat of "islamofascim" disappears tomorrow there will be someone else who hates us and who is willing to use individual acts of violence to get what they want. There always have been and there always will be. Which means that we will always be at war with Oceania.

I am not sanguine that we can put this genie back in the bottle. The right will go crazy at the prospect that someone might question whether we are really "at war." They are so emotionally invested in the idea that they cannot give it up. Indeed, the right is defined by its relationship to the boogeyman, whether communism or terrorism or some other kind of ism (negroism? immigrantism?) They will fight very, very hard to keep this construct going in the most literal sense. And they will probably win in the short term.

But it is long past time for people to start the public counter argument, which has the benefit of appealing to common sense. Many Americans are emerging from the relentless hail of propaganda that overtook the nation after the traumatic events of 9/11. Iraq confused people for a while, but that confusion is leaving in its wake a rather startling clarity: the "war" as the governmehnt defines it is bullshit. It will take a while for this common sense to become conventional wisdom, but it certainly won't happen if nobody is willing to say it out loud.

What we do about Islamic fundamentalism is a topic we must deal with. I suspect that it will take a global effort and a willingness to deal intelligently with the impending global oil crisis. There will be other challenges as well, including potential wars and regional strife and any of the other things that have marked civilization from the beginning. All peoples must deal with such things.

But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true.



More on this topic from Atrios, Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers, Pachatuchec, Kevin Drum. More to come, I suspect.

And I suspect, too, that I will be long in my grave before the "war on terrorism" is a thing of the past. It was a terrible accident of history that September 11th happened when the lunatic neocon cabal was in power. Nothing could have been worse. It was more damaging than the attacks themselves. We'll be dealing with the fall out from that strange happenstance for a generation.



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