Magazine article The American Prospect

The Unending War. (the Last Word)

Magazine article The American Prospect

The Unending War. (the Last Word)

Article excerpt

AT THE HEART OF PRESIDENT Bush's war on terrorism lies a deepening contradiction that, unless resolved, will undermine the legitimacy of the entire war effort. The contradiction is embedded in the narrative of why we are at war and what it will take to win.

On the one hand, the White House describes the war as one without obvious end. Administration officials say repeatedly that victory is elusive and may last decades or more. Indeed, we're told, the fight has barely begun. "Afghanistan is just the beginning of the war against terror," the president said recently. "There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them."

America's goal is breathtaking in scope; it is also vague. The administration has committed itself to no less a task than rooting out global terrorism. "We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated," Bush said. "Across the world and across the years, we will fight these evil ones, and we will win." The White House is now laying the groundwork for taking the war to Iraq. Rather than limiting the goal to stopping Saddam Hussein's aggression, as we did in Kuwait, or forcing Hussein to re-admit inspectors looking for biological or nuclear weapons, the administration is about to fold Iraq's dictator into the wider cause. Bush warns that any nation caught building weapons of mass destruction "that will be used to terrorize nations" will suffer the same consequences as terrorists and the countries that harbor them. This is, in short, a permanent war.

On the other hand, the war is also described as a national emergency. And in such times, everyone--especially the media and those who do not belong to the incumbent political party--is expected to suspend criticism of a sitting president. No one dares question Bush's competence, motives, or tactics. To do so would be unpatriotic.

It is also understood that a wartime emergency may require extraordinary measures, including some abridgment of freedom at home. "The option to use a military tribunal in the time of war makes a lot of sense," the president said recently, adding, "I need to have that extraordinary option at my fingertips."

There is ample historic precedent. That's why there hasn't been more out-cry against the measures that are being taken within our borders--not just using military tribunals but imprisoning thousands of people without formally charging them, interrogating thousands of others largely because they come from the Middle East, allowing the FBI to eavesdrop on conversations between lawyers and their clients, jailing noncitizens even after an immigration judge has ordered them freed, and deporting perfectly legal noncitizens if the attorney general believes that they endanger the nation's security. …

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