The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

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.

The war on terror doesn't have a self-corrective mechanism.  The only metric for success is arrogant certitude on the part of global elites and fear on the part of everyone else.  If we are afraid and Bush acts fearless, the war on terror is going well.  That is a false metaphor, and it is the framework of the weak.

Now I am not arguing that the war on terror doesn't have rules, or that terrorism is to be coddled.  I am arguing that the war on terror is a framework that values self-delusion, certitude, stubbornness, and weakness.

During this so-called war on terror, we haven't caught Osaba bin Laden.  The number of terrorist incidents has dramatically increased since 2001.  Global warming and pandemics are threatening our very way of life, fiscal imbalances threaten to wreck the global economy, the government is cooking the economic books, and you can top that off with a severe and looming energy crisis for good measure.  Oh, and the Constitution has been eviscerated, we went to war based on lies without politicla consequences, and the military is being ruined.  

Under the war on terror metaphor, we have to argue with Darwin deniers, global warming 'skeptics', peak oil deniers, financiers that can't add, a media that can't distinguish between truth and 'narrative', a psychotic and dishonest Defense Secretary, and an economy that is 'good' even though it's producing inflation rather than jobs and prosperity.

It's pretty clear that the metaphor of the war on terror leads to failure and weakness.  It leads to weak leaders with bad judgment listening to liars and corrupt yes-men.  It leads to oil companies writing energy policy, and insurance companies telling you that you can't go to the doctor without signing eight forms.

It does not lead to catching Osama bin Laden.  Bin Laden of course is simply one sign of a failed and impotent analogy that desperately weak leaders cling to in desperation.

We are right now at the tail end of a 100 year historical wave of centralization of power into the hands of global elites.  A networked world is breaking down barriers to information control, and the response on the part of those elites is to play a 'great game' of resource fights over oil and power while shoveling propaganda to the unwashed masses.  Their system is breaking down, and they know it.  The war on terror metaphor, rather than beginning on 9/11/01, is the final metaphor of the 20th century, the last gasp of an international order that broke the League of Nations, allowed the rise of fascism, confused Communism with imperialism, fought the success of the Marshal Plan, and weakened American influence through rogue actions during the Bush Presidendcy.

It is as Chris says a conservative frame, and it is a false metaphor.  It is a metaphor for the scared, the dishonest, and the weak.  The disinformation campaign conducted against anyone who challenges their weakness is the best evidence for that weakness.

Ok, so the war on terror is a false metaphor.  Is there a a better framework?  There must be.  What is the strong frame for those of us in the 'reality based community'?  Well I would look to Bosnia for a successful framework, where Bill Clinton and Wes Clark oversaw an international coalition that stopped a genocide and rebuilt a civil society with minimal casualties.  While not perfect, the Balkans is now a tourist destination.  This was not done with stubborn self-righteousness, it was done with humility, measured force, cooperation, a clear strategy, and planning for the unknown.  None of these are attributes of the war on terror.

The So Called War on Terror weaklings simply deny global warming or other genuine global challenges because it doesn't fit their frame.  They deny their own failures, and betray their stated principles whenever it suits their grasp for power.  They are weak and dishonest, because the notion of the war on terror implies that they must follow the road to delusion no matter where it leads.

Tags: war on terror (all tags)

Comments

14 Comments

Re: The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

I'd say the real dichotomy to frame this issue is the personal liberty v. security trade-off most of Europe (with the notable exception of Britain) learned to subtly negotiate during the cold war and which to Clinton's credit he got as well.

And let's not forget - security costs money, and needs to be thoughtfully administered lest it become yet another way for capital to consolidate and accumulate ever more in the same hands. 'Course, invading two-bit dictators costs money as well...priorities, priorities....

Let's stay hopeful we can move this in the right frame in the US as well. The War on Terror (sm) is a terrible veering into the wrong direction, the sort of blatant veering which causes, in conjunction with the adventurism, and likely rightfully so, some to suspect it is meant to cover up a lack of competence and a fair amount of blame for past security breakdowns (eg 11 September).

by redstar67 2006-05-30 11:06AM | 0 recs
Re: The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

About twenty years ago, I was the sponsor of our high school Model United Nations.  The topic of the year was terrorism.  If the definition for terrorism which the United Nations materials contained is still correct, then no one in this debate is correct.  

Terrorism is a political technique used by a disenfranchised group to inspire fear and gain attention for a perceived injustice that was not receiving any attention.  I had a Palestinian classmate in 1979 who related a horrifying list of grievances against Israel, none of which I believed at the time.  Then he said that until taking the hostages at the Munich Olympics, no one was noticing.  

The technique used is to design a noisy, unexpected, violent event in the center of safety and affluence, and if successful, no one in the target group would feel safe anymore.

Now tell me how anyone is going to wage a war on that.  I would say that you treat each event as a crime, you look for underlying causes but divorce negotiations from the event as well as possible, you develop good intelligence (which we had, by the way.  Bush just didn't listen.) and you help people rise above their fear, just as they do in Israel.

by prince myshkin 2006-05-30 11:51AM | 0 recs
Re: The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

We are right now at the tail end of a 100 year historical wave of centralization of power into the hands of global elites

I'd say that we're at the tail end of a much longer and more consequential age: The Age of Nations. Legally since Westphalia and practically before that, the nation-state has been the defining characteristic of the organization of peoples in the Western world and then in the whole world. But we're in the death throes of that order; religion, the older organizing principle, is making a slight comeback. But what we really need is a framework that recognizes what's really going on: the advances of communications, the rise of massive corporate power and the countervaling rise in decentralized networked power, environmental degradation, all of this is placing enormous strains on the dying order.

So, what are we going to do about it?

by BriVT 2006-05-30 12:33PM | 0 recs
To die for a cause, ok, but a slow and painful one

...well no, you can't wage war on terror.

But you can surveil groups you suspect will commit violent acts. And you can get smarter about public security in places where large numbers of people tend to congregate. And you can invest in your public infrastructure so that it can be made more secure if need be.  

And finally, you (as a government) can not only publicly go on record recognizing and denoucing the sorts of wrongs Palestinians (and others) have unjustly endured, but also go about (via diplomacy, for starters) addressing those wrongs when they occur (as opposed to when they occur on land on top of oil or gas).

Israel is hardly the template, though. Hell, they spent decades provoking more and more ire. Given the amount of anger they've engendered in the territories they occupy and expropriate land from, I'm not surprised they've gotten good at the security side of the equation - practise makes perfect. But security is only one side of the equation - the best prevention, though, is a secure and happy neighborhood, one which they've done their part to ensure never comes to fruition, for ideological reasons.

by redstar67 2006-05-30 12:40PM | 0 recs
Kosovo set the precedent for Bush!

Kosovo was the critical decision to junk the rules of war as they applied to the inititiation of military action, invent new rules ex parte and bypass the UN Security Council, to indulge the whim of a handful of powerful nations.

Lefties got blisters jerking off to the sound of bombers over Belgrade.

And then along came George - and he told himself, If Clinton can have a war, and make the rules up as he goes along, so can I.

The sooner the world agrees that the heretical doctrines of wars of prevention and of humanitarian intervention should be repudiated, the better.

I'm not holding my breath.

by skeptic06 2006-05-30 12:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Kosovo set the precedent for Bush!

Not all lefties.

by redstar67 2006-05-30 02:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Kosovo set the precedent for Bush!

Quite so. English really should have a partitive article, like French...

by skeptic06 2006-05-30 02:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Kosovo set the precedent for Bush!

Making the world "Safe for Democracy" made the world safe for Hitler and Mussolini.

We got rid of Saddam, which is good, but as soon as we leave some other dictator will take his place.

...and Kosovo was a bad idea, even if no Americans got killed. The Kosovars are no better than the Serbs.

by wayward 2006-05-30 05:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Kosovo set the precedent for Bush!

"Kosovo was the critical decision to junk the rules of war as they applied to the inititiation of military action, invent new rules ex parte and bypass the UN Security Council, to indulge the whim of a handful of powerful nations."

The Kosovo campaign was covered under Chapter VIII. Article 52 of the UN Charter....

Nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.

"Lefties got blisters jerking off to the sound of bombers over Belgrade."

That's just disgusting -- in a right wing sort of way. No one enjoyed the bombing -- except perhaps secretely by conservatives who opposed it in public. But when 750,000 -- 1M people were driven out of their own country to create instability and war in the entire region ( Slobo was a Slavic NeoCon) something had to be done to get them back into their own homeland.

But Clinton could probably have stopped it from even happening if the Reeps hadn't tied him down through all of 1998 and into 1999 with their panty hunt.

by Sitkah 2006-05-30 08:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Kosovo set the precedent for Bush!

Art 52 on its face says Nothing in this Chapter precludes...

It does not, as I read it, give NATO or any other such grouping the power to unilaterally rewrite international law to permit the launching of aggressive war of any kind.

Bear in mind that waging of aggressive war was one of the heads with which some of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg were charged.

Key fact: when the ICC was set up, it covered all the Nuremberg crimes except waging aggressive war. (It left that section of the Rome Statute as TBA.)

Why would that be? Because the big powers did not wish to preclude themselves from waging aggressive war!

And, as for objecting for (modestly hyperbolic) characterization of lefty sanctimony over the war itself - frankly, waging aggressive war is a trillion times worse.

Or don't you think?

There's some hope that the world may have learnt its lesson in the refusal of even those nations who call it genocide to send their military into Darfur.

And there's a certain comfort in knowing that Kosovo's Crusader-in-Chief, Tony Blair, is approaching his (political) end.

Not to mention crippling overstretch in the US and UK armed forces thank to that other aggressive war.

Here's hoping...

by skeptic06 2006-05-31 04:59AM | 0 recs
Re: The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

The basic problem is that the "war on terror" has been conflated with the "war on Afghanistan" and the "war on Iraq".  These last two wars are not metaphors, and talking about them using separate terms is much more concrete than using the term "war on terror".

If referring to the internal issues re: terrorism, use "homeland security", or, better yet, "local and federal law enforcement". I agree we should avoid the term "war on terror".

If someone insists on using the "war on terror" metaphor (and isn't referring to Iraq or Afghanistan), point out that the measurable metric that should be used is the number of incidents of terrorism, and by that metric, the Bush Administration has botched it horribly, with the number of incidents rising dramatically over the past few years.

If you can't make progress on a metaphorical war in 5 years, you should step back and try a different tack.  Or elect democrats that won't piss off the whole worth and foment a "with us or against us" philosophy.

Roosevelt declared a "war on the depression" in his inaugural address.  Depression has quantifiable criteria - unemployment, GDP growth - and by those metrics, the depression passed, with unemployment being halved in 4 years.

War as a metaphor for intense activity has a long history, and I don't think it's going away any time soon.  I think we're always going to be "at war", either with external enemies or with internal problems.  Welcome to Oceania.

by aip 2006-05-30 04:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

The so-called war on terror is simply a continuation of the Cold War, which was also a sham.

Back then our enduring politics of paranoia needed a rival in Soviet Russia; today we need a boogieman called the terrorist.

Tomorrow some time, when this particular boogieman fades, there'll be someone else. Nuclear Iran is already being demonized as a replacement.

Our elite will always want us to have an enemy. They will always manufacture one, no matter what happens; an enemy provides them with an excuse to further their agenda.

by Adam Ash 2006-05-31 06:04PM | 0 recs
Re: The So Called War on Terror is for Weaklings

The basic problem is that the "war on terror" has been conflated with the "war on Afghanistan" and the "war on Iraq".  These last two wars are not metaphors, and talking about them using separate terms is much more concrete than using the term "war on terror".

If referring to the internal issues re: terrorism, use "homeland security", or, better yet, "local and federal law enforcement". I agree we should avoid the term "war on terror".

If someone insists on using the "war on terror" metaphor (and isn't referring to Iraq or Afghanistan), point out that the measurable metric that should be used is the number of incidents of terrorism, and by that metric, the Bush Administration has botched it horribly, with the number of incidents rising dramatically over the past few years.

If you can't make progress on a metaphorical war in 5 years, you should step back and try a different tack.  Or elect democrats that won't piss off the whole worth and foment a "with us or against us" philosophy.

Roosevelt declared a "war on the depression" in his inaugural address.  Depression has quantifiable criteria - unemployment, GDP growth - and by those metrics, the depression passed, with unemployment being halved in 4 years.

War as a metaphor for intense activity has a long history, and I don't think it's going away any time soon.  I think we're always going to be "at war", either with external enemies or with internal problems.  Welcome to Oceania.

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