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09.10.2003

We're Not At War

Let's be clear about it. The Canadian threat is under control. Mexico is still licking its wounds from the last time they got in our way. European armies, no matter how irked, will have a hard time managing the Atlantic crossing. The imminent threat from Iraq has been neutralized, in the nick of time. The War on Terror, just like the War on Drugs, is a rhetorical device. Terrorism is never going to sit down at a conference table and capitulate. Neither will Terror, that even more abstract bit of shorthand. The War on Terror is conveniently perpetual, lasting for as long as there are enemies we care to describe as terrorists. It has not been declared by Congress, despite the clear Constitutional requirement. It covers any eventuality, becomes the all-purpose excuse for any policy, however trivial:

We regret we are unable to process and provide certificates of congratulations to the fine young Americans who have become Eagle Scouts. We have curtailed some activities in order for us to concentrate on the War on Terrorism.
Right now, our War on Terror is varnish over a global power grab, an opportunistic invasion of Iraq, and a troubling reduction of civil liberties. Osama Bin Laden is alive and well, his videotape a slap in the face of the 9/11 victims, but no one seems to be trying too hard to catch him. After all, he's just a foot soldier in the wider war. Real wars are fought against armies, not abstractions. Real wars are not perpetual. Real wars do not morph and stretch to fit changing political needs. You can hate terrorists as much as any hawk without accepting that rhetorical voodoo.

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