There Is No End In Sight For The Self-Perpetuating 'War On Terror'

from the we-have-always-been-at-war-with-terrorism dept

No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.
~Alexis de Tocqueville
War generally used to refer to a finite state, but as with the endless "War on Drugs," the War on Terror has scattered the US military around the globe to battle terrorists with no endgame. Hillary Clinton speculated back in 2009 that we would be in Afghanistan (in one form or another) for another "50 or 60 years." Greg Miller's article for the Washington Post quotes unnamed senior administration officials as stating these operations are "likely to be extended for at least another decade." [As this story was being prepped, the administration announced plans to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Seeing as this completely contradicts the Pentagon's claim that a large fighting force will need to be maintained seemingly indefinitely, we're probably better off believing this when we see it.] Eleven years and counting from the 9/11 attacks and the "action" only seems to be heating up. Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Guardian, points out the current administration's escalation of this undeclared war.
The policies adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.
Much of this has to do with the very nature of government itself: surviving a round of budget cuts is a larger victory than actually achieving stated goals. We've seen evidence of this perverted incentive in the TSA, which has done everything it can to protect its turf in order to remain "essential" enough to receive funding year in and year out.

Another bonus for those in power is that long-lasting wars create an atmosphere conducive to the expansion of government control. Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture quotes James Madison's warning about the corruption of executive power by the act of war:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
We have a government (and various industries) that has no interest in ending the War on Terror. In order to maintain the new, post-9/11 status quo, the "war" must continue. There is simply no incentive to end it, at least nothing that outweighs the side benefits.
If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It's that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.
Limitless power and impenetrable secrecy. That's what we've got and that's what's in store for us in the future. The FISA Amendments Act, which was recently extended for another half-decade with scarcely an objection, sanctions warrantless wiretapping on American citizens thanks to a "secret" interpretation of the law's language by a secret court. A so-called "National Counterterrorism Center" is collecting a giant database of information on innocent Americans, an action so breathtakingly wrong that it raised objections from the DHS. Law enforcement officials, with assistance from the FBI and CIA, have spent years violating the rights of US citizens who happen to be Muslim in hopes of uncovering terrorist plots. To date, they've found nothing. If certain "security" legislation fails to make its way through the proper channels, executive orders are issued to make it a reality.

The politicians and private companies benefiting from our ongoing battle will be pleased to learn that our "anti-terrorist" actions are going a long way towards making the War on Terror self-perpetuating.
There's a good reason US officials are assuming the "War on Terror" will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs. The New York Times' Matthew Rosenberg examines what the US government seems to regard as the strange phenomenon of Afghan soldiers attacking US troops with increasing frequency, and in doing so, discovers a shocking reality: people end up disliking those who occupy and bomb their country:

"Such insider attacks, by Afghan security forces on their Western allies, became "the signature violence of 2012", in the words of one former American official. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable, and American officials have expressed worries about its disruptive effects on the training mission that is the core of the American withdrawal plan for 2014. . . .

"But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings.
Our government has, over the past decade, ordained murder (targeted killing), torture (enhanced interrogation techniques) and kidnapping (extraordinary rendition) under the guise of "fighting terrorism." The administration has granted itself the power to authorize war/warlike tactics anywhere in the world without requiring congressional authorization. The conscription of local law enforcement into the War on Terror has availed them of the same questionable procedures and tactics, further eroding our rights as citizens.

Rather than make the world safer, our actions have created more enemies. And it's only going to get worse. Laws, especially far-reaching legislation that grants unprecedented powers, rarely, if ever, come back "off the books." The feeling that this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better is particularly disheartening because the "better" half of that sentence looks like its chances are moving from "slim" to "none."

It's no surprise that the War on Terror is endless. It is, however, discomfiting to hear administration officials confirm this. What began as merely overreaction to a horrendous attack has become the focal point of two administrations -- a vague quest against a poorly-defined "evil" that has been used to excuse criminal activities by national security agencies and as impetus for a swiftly-growing surveillance state.

Filed Under: surveillance, war on terror


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  1. icon
    jameshogg (profile), 10 Jan 2013 @ 4:21pm

    The slippery slope of big power applies both ways.

    I know I am going to whip up a storm by posting this and I feel like it is probably futile to change minds on the matter, but TechDirt is due for some disagreement from me and so I shall deliver it here.

    First, let me point out that "War on Terror" is indeed a stupid phrase to give to what is going on in the world right now. I prefer to call it a "War against Islamic Theocracy" or at the very least a "War against fascism". It is very typical of memes to either greatly overstate a threat such as "War against all Communism" as well as greatly understate a threat such as "War on Terror".

    Religion breeds fascists by its very nature of a dictatorial God in its midsts. In Bosnia, many Muslims were slaughtered and put into concentration camps due to some Christian monsters from Serbia and Croatia. For a long, long while nobody was doing anything about it and journalists were struggling to get into the hot spots in Bosnia to see what was going on. Nobody in the U.S. was initially concerned, never mind the U.N.'s and NATO's denial of what needed to be done in order to correct the situation. No, it was not a possible "quagmire like Vietnam" situation - in Vietnam the aggressors were the United States and Vietnam was not in a position to harm anyone. Here, Bosnia was the victim and was also not in a position to harm anyone. The answer was morally simple, and putting heads in the sand cost many unnecessary lives.

    I have to conclude here that if nothing were ever done to help Bosnia by the superpowers, I would have seen the inaction as a form of imperialism. It has to be the case that you cannot trust a super-power government if it allows these kinds of genocidal actions to happen while it stands by idly. Indeed, I don't think any reasonable person can say that nothing should be done to help Rwanda or Darfur. Yet, nobody is willing to apply this moral principle to a country that may have all the military might in the world. If you have the chance to stop people from getting killed, you have to take it in order to have any moral credibility.

    In Psychology, this principle is called the "bystander effect" - when people on the street come across somebody who is bleeding to death or is under attack by a thug, you would be surprised that there are circumstances that cause these bystanders to differ responsibility to someone else to "call the police". When everybody thinks like this, nobody calls the police. And indeed sometimes they won't do anything to help at all. But the moral answer here is so simple that everybody sees this Psychological phenomenon as a horrible stain on humanity, and it must be overcome.

    In regards to 9/11 - an attack on everything that religion does not possess: secluarism, freedom of women and gays and racial minorities and other religious minorities, freedom of speech, science, scepticism, liberty, everything that defines our dignity - one has to say that it cannot be a "response" to the crimes of the U.S. Especially when Al Qaeda are more than happy to support the U.S. when it arms Indonesia to commit genocide against East Timor, among others. If these deluded thugs really were fighting for the "rights of the oppressed", why are they attacking innocent civilians using innocent civilians? Why are they willing to ally with the Taliban who do nothing BUT oppress the vulnerable and try to repress humanity into a dangerous dark age? What did Denmark do to deserve to have its economy temporarily wrecked in 2005/06? Have its press publish a few cartoons? This is Denmark we are talking about - not in a position to harm anyone, very honourably gives some of its budget to help the Palestinians, did not invade Vietnam... Don't make me laugh. I am not an idiot. This Al Qaeda movement needs to be called by its rightful name: theocratic fascism.

    And yes, we have a duty to fight it.

    We have no disagreements about how the Patriot Act invades privacy. Neither about James Madison's warning about concentrating too much power in few spaces: the Cold War atrocities committed by the United States, ranging from Vietnam to Chile to East Timor to Cyprus to Nicaragua to many more (indeed including the U.S.'s collusion with Saddam Hussein) is proof that he was right. I also have no disagreement as to how the Military Industrial Complex can provide those higher-ups with great profit as a result of the need for bullets and guns... but what you cannot say is that their profiteering is a good enough excuse to let totalitarian fascists commit human rights abuses in the world.

    There is such a thing as calling a super-power an imperialist power if it fails to use its power for moral ends by sitting around and letting it happen. If you see that, you see that the slope of power is much more slippery than you think.

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