Friday, May 12, 2006

The "War" on Terrorism

The so-called "war" on terrorism is a metaphor, and a metaphor only. It is time for us to admit that before irreparable harm is done to the US Constitution.

The "war" on terror is more like previous efforts in US domestic politics than foreign wars. The "war" on terrorism is like the "war" on poverty or the "war" on drugs. It is not like WWII, for example, or the Civil War, each of which Pres. Bush has used to justify his actions that have been of questionable constitutionality.

Unlike those true wars:
  1. There has been no declaration of war. This is not a trivial point. I know there was no declaration of war in Vietnam or Korea, or other foreign conflicts since WWII. That has been one of the key problems in some of those conflicts. We need to restore the wisdom of the founders and have declarations of war when our nation's military is sent in any significant way into a foreign conflict. This both can help to slow a push to war, and also help lead to success in a war once the decision to fight has been made.
  2. In previous true wars, the objectives have been related to the military destruction of the enemy's army. In other words, to kill an enemy until that enemy capitulates. This is neither possible nor desirable in the case of terrorism. We cannot kill all of the terrorists. In fact, in killing many terrorists we are creating more. The proper understanding of the effort to deal with terrorism is to look at it as a combination of law enforcement and political efforts.

In previous wars, US citizens were asked to make great sacrifices. The collected tin and other items used to make munitions. The dealt with rationing of gasoline and other necessities of life. They paid more money in taxes and/or bought war bonds. These sacrifices had both psychological and practical effects- committing the people to the war.

In the present situation, with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are asked to sacrifice nothing, except their civil liberties. We are to entrust the government, and the super secret NSA (which until the 1990s, the US government would not even admit existed), to listen to our phone calls and emails if they think that there may be a connection to terrorism. No warrants. No probable cause showing. This despite the fact that there is a specific court that has been set up to deal with precisely such cases, protecting the necessary secrecy of the searches and national security secrets (a FISA court, it is called- which even allows for getting the warrant after the fact).

Don't ask Americans to pay for the war (about $1Billion a week), instead promise them tax cuts. Don't even ask them to accept higher gas prices which are the consequences of middle east uncertainty, instead offer them a $100 credit for gas expenses in driving their SUV. But do ask them to give up freedoms- in the defense of freedom, we are told. It's rather like the old line from Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

America is not simply a geographic entity. America is an idea. An idea expressed no where better than by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. We need, now as in Lincoln's time, to show that a government conceived in freedom can long endure. If we do not preserve American freedoms, then the nation itself is not truly preserved, only its borders. If we allow this President to bring about the erosion of our liberties (a President who, according to today's poll, has only 29% job approval rating), how much more could we lose to a much more popular president during another dangerous time?

Lincoln and FDR, presidents that President Bush often uses as justifications for his actions, were fighting true wars, and to my knowledge, did not take actions threatening civil liberties in secret, as Pres. Bush attempted to do. Further more, their actions may also have been wrong (as putting the Japanese in interment camps was), and, just because they played fast and loose with the Constitution at times, this does not necessarily justify the current President's actions.

The current President's use of the NSA is not justified. Certainly we should not give this sort of power to a President who has actually increased the threat of terrorism to the US by launching a war on Iraq on the basis of what can only be called, at best, faulty intelligence which turned out to be wrong.

Defending our liberties and defending our nation from terrorists are not actions in opposition. They must be undertaken simultaneously in order for either to be truly successful.

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