War without End

By Pfaff, William | The American Conservative, March 13, 2006 | Go to article overview

War without End


Pfaff, William, The American Conservative


THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT and White House have decided that the United States now conducts "the Long War" rather than what previously was known as the War on Terror, then as the Struggle Against Violent Extremism, and briefly-as one revealing Pentagon study described it-a war against "the Universal Adversary."

President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union message last month that the aim of his administration is to defeat radical Islam. This was a preposterous statement, made shortly before radical Islam began wrecking and burning embassies from Afghanistan and Indonesia to Damascus and Beirut. The United States is not going to defeat that.

There are a great many dismaying aspects of President Bush's Washington, but nothing more so than this combination of the unachievable with the hortatory in giving a name and purpose to the military campaigns that already have the Army near exhaustion and a major part of the world in turmoil.

It is customary, politically desirable, and morally indispensable to say seriously what a war is about, if only so the public will know when it is over and when the declared and undeclared measures of exception that have accompanied it, justifying suspension of civil liberties, illegal practices, and defiance of international law and convention, will be lifted and the killing may be expected to stop.

What originally was to be a matter of quick and exemplary revenge, with lightning attacks and acclaimed victories, has now become the long war whose end cannot be foreseen. The citizen is told to expect the current suspension of constitutional norms, disregard for justice, and defiance of presidential power limits as traditionally construed to continue indefinitely. We are in a new age, America's leaders say. The Democratic opposition seems to agree.

What started as the war against terror, proclaimed in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, has undergone a metamorphosis. The initial interpretation was that the people responsible for the World Trade Center attacks and other terrorist outrages against Americans and their interests would be discovered, defeated, and probably killed, or less likely, brought to justice.

Surely that is what most Americans thought when the search was launched for Osama bin Laden and members of alQaeda. These previously unknown members of a marginal and sectarian band of politico-religious zealots were made into international celebrity-outlaws, together with their more recent successor, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi-the latest to go on international television to defy and ridicule George W. …

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