Jake Tapper, Teddy Davis and Kirit Radia at ABCNews.com think the War on Terror – the phrase at least – might be over. Or not. While there is no apparent continuation of its use since the previous administration, it doesn’t seem to be officially banned either. The sole shred of evidence of its demise is a context-free memo asking an unnamed recipient not to use it. Tapper and his colleagues have either a mako-like acuity for tiny concentrations of blood in the water or else they’re stumbling around in the dark looking for their car keys.
Although in fairness the term deserves to be cut loose to languish in some historical backwater – for it was a McMansion of a phrase: an ugly brick fortress rising up over a garage and swallowing a moderately-terraced entryway, dotted throughout with a hodgepodge of bay windows, turrets, the occasional exposed rafter, a kitchen bar and butcherblock table opening onto a tiki-themed Florida room. It was a meaningless pastiche designed more to frighten and impress the neighbors than to address any single goal. Most egregiously, cloaking the strategic blunder of invading Iraq, its horrible planning, the White House’s inability to adjust to evolving battlefield conditions and the institutionalization of abhorrent practices were given cover of the entirely rational attack upon the Taleban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.
The War on Terror is not the naming of enemies, like the Franco-Prussian War or the French and Indian War. It does not name a purpose the way The War of Spanish Succession or the War for Independence does – these tell you at least what the war is about. The War on Terror almost reeks of a semantic cover for something much nastier and controversial coming up. Having bought the loyalty of the frightened, The War on Terror told us the government was about to make us watch it beat up a kid and take his candy, otherwise we were out of the club. And we knew as we watched, sick to our stomach, that it was only going to get worse.
As a name, The War on Terror buys into the jingoistic hoopla that comes out of the mouths of fourth-graders building a fort in the backyard. Tapper reminds us of an incident during a Democratic debate in which there was a show of hands asked of candidates who believed there was a Global War on Terror. Was is really only two years ago that legitimate reporters were asking this question? Now it seems that we’re concerned with strategic alignments of tribes in Pakistan’s Baluchistan and how much infrastructure to invest in schools and roads in Afghanistan. The difference? We’re not constricting our thinking in the moral straitjacket of some Tom and Jerry plot, where opponents trade blows with hammer and chainsaw until one is eventually beaten into submission. Free to handle tactical problems as tactical problems, the coalition in Afghanistan can attempt to win the battlefield – which in a guerilla insurgency is always the population – in practical steps rather than bullying our way into the hearts of the Afghan people. The War against The Taliban and al-Qaida is now something to win, rather than amorphous cover for a snakeball of cockeyed global domination projects.
If this is a return to sanity, then, let us make the most of it – you never know how long these things last. Any old alcoholic can wake up shivering on a curb, in his bare feet, covered in his own filth and swear never to end up that way again. It’s the serious ones who find a way to stay on the wagon. We as a nation need to re-establish the checks and balances among the three branches of government. Never again should the executive be allowed to claim sole power and determine that it should oversee itself. This is just as bad an idea in government as it is in the derivatives market.
Finally we should prosecute the people who led us down this road of madness in the first place: those who authorized torture and warrantless wiretapping, who manufactured evidence to lead us to war, who covered their own ineptness with official secrecy, who wilfully flouted the laws of civilized behavior, and who used the Constitution as though it were the Lead Pipe of Freedom, a self-rationalizing cudgel whose bearer could do no wrong. Many of the architects of Bush’s administration admired the Nixon White House’s approach to the world – and if they’re not thoroughly repudiated, they’ll stand as a shining example to the next generation of oversimplifying, paranoid Napoleons waiting to take their turn wrapped in the flag.