Tom Engelhardt's intro to Mark Danner's great article on "Taking Stock of the War on Terror" brings this eloquent take on the war on terror:
The announcement (not declaration) of "war" was, in fact, a necessity for this administration, the only lever available with which to pry a commander-in-chief presidency out of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Without the President's self-proclaimed War on Terror, there would have been no "war" at all, and so no "wartime" atmosphere or "wartime" presidency to be invoked to cow Congress into backing Bush's future war of choice in Iraq. Without "war" and "wartime," it would have been impossible to bring the American people along so readily and difficult to apply "war rules" from the Guantanamo prison complex in Cuba and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Otherwise, as Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris recently pointed out in the New Yorker, how could American officials and commanders have designated those prisoners seized by the U.S. military in Iraq as "'security detainees,' a label that had gained currency in the war on terror, to describe 'unlawful combatants' and other prisoners who had been denied P.O.W. status and could be held indefinitely, in isolation and secrecy, without judicial recourse."
In the meantime, consider with Mark Danner, author most recently of The Secret Way to War, the fate of that global Pax Americana which the War on Terror was intended to bring about, as he gave this clear, painfully true picture of the War on Terror:
How indeed to "take stock" of the War on Terror? Such a strange beast it
is, like one of those mythological creatures that is part goat, part lion, part
man. Let us take a moment and identify each of these parts. For if we look
closely at its misshapen contours, we can see in the War on Terror:
Part anti-guerrilla mountain struggle, as in Afghanistan;
Part shooting-war-cum-occupation-cum-counterinsurgency, as in Iraq;
Part intelligence, spy v. spy covert struggle, fought quietly -- "on the dark side,"
as Vice President Dick Cheney put it shortly after 9/11 -- in a vast territory
stretching from the southern Philippines to the Maghreb and the Straits of
And finally the War on Terror is part, perhaps its largest part,
Virtual War -- an ongoing, permanent struggle, and in its ongoing political
utility not wholly unlike Orwell's famous world war between Eurasia, East Asia,
and Oceania that is unbounded in space and in time, never ending, always
Read more of this brilliant expose, of which this is another excerpt defining the GWOT:
... declaring war on "terrorism" -- a technique of war, not an identifiable group or target -- was simply unprecedented, and, indeed, bewildering in its implications. As one counterinsurgency specialist remarked to me, "Declaring war on terrorism is like declaring war on air power."
That's it! It's the war against "evil", against "terrorism", against something that is neither a nation nor a people, but rather an amorphous idea. Why not declare war instead on, say, the number 13?
And the impressive result? According to the National Intelligence Estimate of 2006, the Iraq War, what was to be the "clincher" against terrorism, has become its biggest promoter.
In fact, that NIE cites the "Iraq jihad" as the second of four factors "fueling
the jihadist movement," along with "entrenched grievances, such as corruption,
injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a
sense of powerlessness"; "the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social,
and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations"; and "pervasive anti-US
sentiment among most Muslims." ...
Which means that telling the story of the War on Terror, a half dozen years on -- and "taking stock" of that War -- merges inevitably with the sad tale of how that so-called war, strange and multiform beast that it is, became subsumed in a bold and utterly incompetent attempt to occupy and remake a major Arab country.
Basically, the War on Terror is "an ideological crusade", and considering that bin Laden deliberately provoked the U.S. into attacking the Islamic world in order, as he envisioned it, to weaken America's military and economic power in a hopeless quagmire, it seems that Bush jumped right in. Into Iraq, that is, worse in so many ways than Afghanistan. And look at our military and economy now, going downhill fast.
The original idea was to shape up the Middle East and create a "Democracy domino effect. But as Mr. Danner points out:
The problem the administration faced, or rather didn't want to face, was
that the calcified order that lay at the root of the problem was the very order
that, for nearly six decades, had been shaped, shepherded, and sustained by the
Instead of dealing with the dictatorships that create instability and public resentment, we chose to invade an autonomous nation, causing already-existing potential rifts to morph into deadly civil war, further exacerbated by al-Qaeda who deliberately foment such violence.
... the Sunni-Shia divide running through Iraq in effect runs through
the entire Middle East. The United States, in choosing this place to stage its
Democratic Revolution, could hardly have done al-Qaeda a better favor.
Now we are hardly in a position to walk away. The moral victory is a distant fantasy. The terrorists have decentralized. They've become "viral al-Qaeda":
"viral al-Qaeda" -- "spontaneous groups of friends," in the words of former
CIA analyst and psychiatrist Marc Sageman, "as in [the] Madrid and Casablanca
[bombings], who have few links to any central leadership, [who] are generating
sometimes very dangerous terrorist operations, notwithstanding their frequent
errors and poor training."
And as Mr. Danner sums it up, we have passed into the "era of the amateurs",
...self-organized, Internet reliant, and decentralized, dependent not on
armies, training, or even technology but on desire and political will.
We keep feeding that desire and starving our own moral vision by refusing creative nonviolent options. It's time to use our minds in something other than creating enemies and hitting them with clubs. It's time to reassess our purpose on this earth. When you insist on fear, emotions get in the way of reason. A war on terror is self-destruction, and humankind deserves better.