The "War" on Terrorism

Monday, 20 June 2005

If you repeat a lie often enough, does it become the truth? President Bush, in his weekly radio address, said:

We went to war because we were attacked, and we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens. Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world's terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the war on terror. These foreign terrorists violently oppose the rise of a free and democratic Iraq, because they know that when we replace despair and hatred with liberty and hope, they lose their recruiting grounds for terror.
We may have attacked al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan because the U.S. was attacked on September 11, but that's not why we went to war in Iraq. As the president himself has acknowledged, Iraq played no part in the 9/11 attacks, so to continue to insinuate that they do is a deliberate deception. As for "foreign terrorists" in Iraq, they may be foreign to the U.S., but most of the people fighting the American-led invasion in Iraq are Iraqis. Maybe the president believes that Americans are too stupid to realize that he's not telling the truth. If we don't recognize it, apparently we are.

When President Johnson declared his War on Poverty, the U.S. launched programs like Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and Head Start, not missiles. Johnson, and everyone else in the country, understood that the word "war" in the phrase "War on Poverty" was a metaphor, not to be taken literally.

When President Reagan declared his War on Drugs, the government didn't hold suspected drug dealers incommunicado, deny them the right to see an attorney, or hold them indefinitely without charges. Reagan, like everyone else in the country, understood that the word "war" in the phrase "War on Drugs" was a metaphor, not to be taken literally.

President Bush and his cronies don't understand that the "War on Terrorism" isn't a real war. It's a commitment to stop global terrorism. It can't be accomplished by using bombs and missiles. It can't be accomplished by violating the human rights of suspected terrorists. These tactics only make the problem worse. There was no terrorism in Iraq prior to the U.S.'s attack, but the carnage has attracted the relatively few foreign terrorists who are now there and, more importantly, it has stimulated the rise of home-grown terrorists.

President Bush also doesn't understand what terrorism is. Terrorism is a crime perpetrated by ideologues of one sort or another who attack civilians without provocation. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was an act of terror. The bombing of a nightclub in Bali was an act of terror. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was certainly an act of terror. In Iraq, car bombers who target civilians are indeed terrorists. However, those who direct their anger toward U.S. or Iraqi troops are not terrorists. They are soldiers in a war. We don't like their methods, but then, they probably don't like ours, either. We don't agree with their goals, but that's why we're fighting each other.

It's important to distinguish between terrorism, which is directed against civilians, and acts of war, which are not (though civilians are often caught in the crossfire). Terrorism is a crime that must be confronted in no uncertain terms and with strong measures, but it is not a call to war. War itself is a form of terrorism, because the innocent inevitably die in war. It is no comfort to the families of those who have lost loved ones to tell them that only combatants were targeted, not civilians. Treating terrorism as though it were a war only legitimizes the terrorists' actions in their own minds, and sometimes in the minds of others.

The U.S. needs to cooperate with other countries in the "War" on Terror, because terror networks like al Qaeda are the most dangerous criminal organizations in the world today, far more dangerous than groups like the Mafia or the international drug cartel. However, we need to remember that it is well-armed criminals we are after, not soldiers. Our tactics must reflect a mature understanding of global realities, not the reckless cowboy mentality that currently pervades the White House.

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