True to the balkanized nature of the blogosphere, a fascinating conversation on foreign policy has erupted, with little input from some of the most insightful foreign policy commentators. Luckily, Steve appears to have invited most of them to post here while he’s away (and I’m pretty sure the others are commenters), so perhaps we can expand the conversation.
It’s time to kill the “war on terror.” The phrase, and the sentiment it embodies, has both inspired and been exploited to advance a pernicious agenda. It is based on fear. That fear causes us to abandon reason in dealing with enemies, both real and imagined, while undermining political institutions and traditions that have long served us well at home.
The conversation, thus far, has centered on the damage the “war on terror” has done to domestic politics. That’s due, in part, to the domestic focus of those bloggers who have already broached the issue, and in part to Glenn Greenwald’s fantastic new book.
The foreign policy folks need to be brought in. I know that this conversation has taken place, sporadically, over the last five years. Now that we’ve got an opportunity to rvisit it, perhaps we can at last clear some space for a legitimate conversation about America’s priorities both at home and abroad.
Below the fold, I’ve compiled a fairly comprehensive set of excerpts on the subject from the last week.
There’s a blogosphere conversation around the framework of the war on terror concept, and I figured I’d weigh in because the notion of the war on terror is something that frames our politics. John Aravosis wants a real war on terror instead of the fake and incompetent Bush video game war. Parachutec, Chris Bowers, and Atrios take a different and more productive tack. Bush is not fighting a fake war on terror; the war on terror itself is a false metaphor.
Any framework for looking at global politics has to have a mechanism for judging success and failure. It has to self-correct, or it is not stable. Containment contained, and if it did not, the course of action – localized hot wars – made sense. The Cold War kept a geopolitical struggle from destroying ourselves. It was understood to be ‘cold’ by nature, and keeping it cold was a good metaphor for thinking about the concept of mutually assured destruction.
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.
If there were really a “War on Terror,” an emotion, Wes Craven would be hiring a lawyer: he scares people. The “War on Terror” is a sham. You know what changed after September 11th? We, the people of the United States, forgot how strong we are. We gave in to fear, when the only thing we should have feared was fear itself. Osama bin Laden wants you to be afraid. So does George Bush.
I know I’m not alone when I say, I’m an American and I’m not afraid. I know I’m going to die. I accept that I’m going to die, no problem. What I do not accept and will not accept is the notion that I must live as a slave to fear for the purposes of craven, cowardly men who, in their time, pissed the bed rather than fight an actual war, later to become powerful and use that power to line their pockets with my tax dollars. Give me liberty or give me death. Take your “terror” and shove it.
An important conversation is beginning to emerge on progressive blogs about the War on Terror and it is based on a notion that will prove controversial. Namely, that there is no War on Terror. You can expect the right to seize on this as evidence of the left’s essential unseriousness in the face of an existential threat, and probably to win the rhetorical battle in the short run. However, it’s past time for progressives to stop fretting about that. The right wing will say that no matter what position you take on any issue. It’s a classic case of projection, and it is what they do best (aside from running up record-breaking deficits).
We can go down fighting, or, you know, we can sink the money and manpower into finding ways not to go down. I like civilization. I’d like to keep it. I don’t wanna rush headlong into a Hobbesian state of nature.
The odd thing about the Neocons is that they were on to something. Their idea that the problem is despotic states isn’t exactly wrong. In fact, I’d argue that it’s correct. Their solution, however, to impose democracy from the outside, was profoundly stupid. Real reform generally comes from within. On the rare occasion when it can be imposed from without (Germany, Japan) it still requires preconditions which most Middle Eastern States don’t meet (both Germany and Japan were industrialized nations with at least some experience with democracy. Both had been completely and decisively defeated, not occupied by a skeleton force after their armies had been bribed to stand down. Both were actually rebuilt with huge influxes of money and expertise which was not used as mainly an opportunity for graft.)
“The war on terror” was always a sham, in the sense that it was a hideously inappropriate metaphor which provided cover for a bunch of hideously inappropriate policies. As for these magical straw liberals who think terrorism isn’t an issue, I imagine they’re hiding out in Beinart’s barn along with the rest of his straw monsters. As for the real issue, which is “George Bush’s approach to terrorism,” well, yes, that’s a sham as I imagine even Beinart would acknowledge.
Perhaps someone just needs to sit Beinart down and tell him that a tendency to argue with invisible adversaries is not a sign of a deep and important thinker, something he so desperately wants to be.