Endless War = Endless Power

Since Abu Gonzales is on the hot seat today regarding the NSA domestic surveillance dillio and seems to think President Bush has dictatorial powers, it seemed a good time to share a (mystery) reporter's take on the whole affair and the Bush Administration's PR campaign about it.

In response to a TAPPED post about the new Ionesco work entitled, "White House Press Briefing," the reporter wrote the following in an email to me. If you substituted Gonzales for McClellan and senators for reporters, the reporter's remarks would apply to today's dog-and-pony show:
...I think generally the press fails at these things [press briefings] by making their questions too long, thereby giving McClellan et al a chance to answer an extraneous part of the question while ignoring the substance.... I'm sure McClellan would try to argue that Congress did in fact give the president the authority for warrantless wiretaps with the 2001 authorization of force resolution. But that's a canard that is completely unsupportable by the evidence.

The only argument they have is that in a time of "war"—whatever that is—a president has broad authority to do whatever it takes to fight the enemy, Congress bedamned. I'm more amenable to this argument in a situation where we have actually declared war, though only in emergencies and with the understanding that Congress will be consulted very soon.

But what kind of war are we in? An endless one to my mind. That's an extremely dangerous precedent: to give a president open-ended authority in an undeclared, unending war that's not really a war at all. There, I said it. There is no war on terror, no more than there is a war on cancer or a war on obesity. We've devalued the term war by applying it to non-wars for too long. [Pappy Bush's "War on Some Drugs" comes to mind. -Ed.] What we have really is an international legal, law enforcement struggle that occasionally employs warfare. Afghanistan was the best example of what I'm talking about. There an entire government had been distorted by an Islamist terrorist organization "with global reach," as Bush would say. The Taliban government itself became a legitimate target, though I think Taliban soldiers should have been given the benefit of the Geneva conventions. In almost every other case, though, Al Qaida is separate from the governments in question. In those cases, then the "war on terror" slips back into the traditional international law enforcement effort. The more we act like an imperial power and use war as our default response to problems (read: Iraq) then we lose the goodwill and cooperation of governments around the world who rightfully worry that they could be next.

Unfortunately, the phrase "war on terror" is more emotionally satisfying for a country that after all had its own war department headquarters attacked. I remember right after 9/11, in the first issue of The New Yorker after the attacks, Rick Herzberg made the very argument I'm making at the time. In the heat of 9/11, I thought Rick's formulation was kind of wishy-washy, but now I see the danger of elevating something to a "war" when it's really not. The only thing I think he missed was that if a government itself has become a terrorist organization it becomes a legitimate target. While it's one thing to threaten a country that is "harboring" terrorists, the harboring has to be pretty high up for us to justify a war. Look at Pakistan. In the Bush doctrine we could invade Pakistan because of the Al Qaida members in the tribal areas of the country. See they're harboring terrorists. But as we've come to see, Musharref has little control of this region of his country.

To me, the current Islamic terrorism movement is similar to the rise of the Anarchists 100 years ago. What makes it different is that we have mass communications and the Internet. Also, the Islamists can argue that today's fight is a clash of religions, in the mold of the Crusades.

If a politician could successfully undermine the "war on terror" terminology as false and destructive, then maybe we could get somewhere. It's too bad Clinton isn't still in office (or Gore for that matter) because I know he would not have elevated things into such a simple good vs. evil way. We would have attacked Afghanistan. Gore might have even been better because I think he would have used ground troops more readily (Clinton was very averse to use of ground troops). But Clinton and Gore would have better seen the limits of American power. Where there's broad international support, we can use power more effectively in a more sustained way. There would have been Americans clamoring for raw meat and Republicans would have postured that we weren't bellicose enough, but a successful overthrow of the Taliban by a Democratic president would have gone a long way in blunting such attacks.

(Ellipses mine.)
Note: As has been widely underreported, both the Clinton and Bush administrations supported, even bankrolled, the Taliban, a creation of Pakistani intelligence, which was in bed with the CIA.

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