The War on Terror

Writing in part to respond to McIntosh and Constant, I thought I'd make a few simple points about the so-called war on terror.

1. Can you declare war on a tactic? This is not as pedantic a point as one might think, since it may be deeply problematic to declare war on something so obviously bad if one if one is only masking more sinister aspirations. Sort of like declaring yourself "pro-family" or "anti-death."

2. Can you declare war on something you're definitionally guilty of? Which is to say, is it logically possible to declare war on oneself? To take a simple example, Orlando Bosch is a known terrorist (one of the worst, in fact- take a look) we funded and now keep in the United States, refusing extradition. Okay well step two simply requires that classic Bush quote "Those states which Harbor terrorists are no different than the terrorists themselves." Therefore, the US is a terrorist nation, QED. Could the US declare a war on terror in that case?

3. Can Iraq be considered part of a war on terror? Consider, first of all that the war in Iraq is drastically increasing active terror, the threat of terror, and recruitment for Al Qaeda-style groups (I don't know anyone who disputes this, but I'll happily provide a source if you like.) Furthermore, this was known ahead of time (the CIA for example, warned that invading Iraq would increase terror) and should have been perfectly obvious anyway- the US fighting an obviously unpopular war adds at least another 10 minutes of solid propaganda to the Al Qaeda recruitment videos. Either Iraq was simply not fought as part of the war on terror (obviously) or it was one of the most catastrophic military defeats ever recorded, one that actually saw the opposing army quadruple (at least) in size and spread even further around the globe rather than dwindle .

4. Is there then a war on terror? I've seen no evidence other than simply "it's true because the dear leader says so" and I would hope that people as devoted to anti-stalinism/statism as there are around here would despise such evidence. What might we expect a war on terror to look like? It'd start with the addressing of underlying grievances that lend public support to these inexcusable acts and it'd probably continue by avoiding the acts that give rise to terror (the most tell-tale, as I understand it, is illegal/unjust occupations of foreign land) and, well see point 3 again.

PS- this is a great look for the site- what a radical change. I'm excited about this.

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Answers to Polarized Questions

1) It matters less what it's called and even, I would argue, less what it is and more why it is. The why is 9/11. The purpose is to prevent future 9/11s, especially nuclear 9/11s. I think the best definition is in terms of the why rather than the what, because the goal is what we really should care about, and especially in the light of what has happened so far we should be open to re-assessing the methods we employ to effect our goal.

The two main methods that the American government is employing are (1) to directly target currently active terrorist organizations, particularly al Qaeda, killing or arresting them, isolating them, cutting off support from their state sponsors, and so on, and (2) to encourage certain political changes (e.g., less dictatorship and more democracy) in the Middle East, in order to address the root causes of terrorism.

2) Bosch is not a currently active terrorist.

3) Being a defeat doesn't make a battle not part of the war. Your certainty that we knew that the battle was going to be a defeat smacks of hindsight bias. Your appeal to the CIA predictions smacks of cherry-picking. The CIA has a whopping history of error and f--ups.

4) You are disagreeing with the US government about the causes of terrorism and the methods of preventing future terrorism. You want to portray this disagreement as there not being a war on terrorism by implying that the US government agrees with you and yet fails to act in accordance with these opinions which you supposedly share with the government.

Rejoinders

1. What something is matters less than why it is? That seems like a pretty strange thing to say. I think the US government would absolutely love it if you stopped worrying about what they were doing so long as they claimed they were doing it because of 9/11. Again, "because the dear leader says it's so" is not an argument that any anti-statist should embrace. Are we targeting Al Qaeda leaders while we're in Iraq? To the degree that's true, it's like setting a building on fire so you can step inside of it and put the fire out with a water pistol.

Are we encouraging less dictatorships and more democracy? Again, I'd urge you to consider the facts and not just what Bush says in his speeches. Have you seen an opinion poll from the region? Any functional democracy would be an absolute nightmare for US strategic interests (goal 1 for any serious democracy in the middle east would be attaining WMDs to deter its regional enemy, Israel.) We want democracy in the middle east just like we wanted democracy in central america; as neo-reaganite Thomas Carothers put it "we're for democracy when it suits our interests and opposed to it when it doesn't." In other words we're as pro-democracy as we are pro-fascism.

2. RE: Bosch- there are plenty of responses here, the first being that I picked Bosch only because he's not controversial. The fact that the US was found guilty of International Terrorism in a 1986 World Court decision is another example, since the people involved are many of the same people in charge today (basically the neocons.) But just on Bosch, I don't think you've made a convincing case at all. First off, the Bush quote I cited doesn't say "active terrorist" so you really haven't addressed my point. Secondly, how do you know Bosch isn't "active"? Thirdly, do we only go after active terrorists (I doubt it- some of the perpetrators of 9/11 may not be planning anything.) Fourthly, if you are not actively murdering someone or planning a murder are you not a murderer? Especially if you haven't been tried or convicted yet?

3. I considered your option as a possibility; I said "we must conclude a or b." You're simply siding with b. Well okay, I didnt' deny the possibility of b. (as your question when imply) in fact I expressly did the opposite. Plus you shouldn't be confused by "I knew the Iraq war would be a defeat" (which I didn't know at all, though I was steadfastly opposed as Micha will tell you- we met debating that very thing in 2002) with "the iraq war will drastically increase the threat of terror." There were other Terrorism experts predicting the same thing (St. Mary's in London for exmaple) and it was basically the consensus view as far as I can tell. And that's not too surprising either given that at the time "the single question" was whether Saddam would disarm (Bush/Blair/Straw probably others) it wouldn't have been out of character for the administration to ignore it. Unless of course you hold the radically statist view that the administration lied to us only so they could manipulate us into supporting something that was noble and wonderful and for our own good (i.e. the state used deception to save us from the "muslim hordes.")

4. I'm not really sure whether simply characterizing someone's position is an argument, but let's see what we've got. I doubt very seriously that I'm disagreeing with the US government on causes and effects- my guess is that they simply have other priorities. We can't take a "war on terrorism" seriously for exactly the reasons I mention, and I think the record clearly shows that the US government isn't engaged in anything like a war on terror. The question isn't if someone "agrees" with me, but rather if these things are true and if they are known to be true (and both are correct.)

One last question for you: If you believe (as you seem to) that the state strives in the interests of the people why aren't you a statist?

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Brief rejoinders

What something is matters less than why it is? That seems like a pretty strange thing to say.

Not to me. For example, I consider the Allied effort in WWII to encompass pretty much anything and everything that the Allies did in order to defeat the Axis powers. It would almost certainly be inaccurate to try to define the Allied effort by enumerating certain things they did, because we would likely leave out certain things that were forgotten or remained secret or fell outside of the usual stereotype of guns and bombs.

I think the US government would absolutely love it if you stopped worrying about what they were doing so long as they claimed they were doing it because of 9/11.

Straw man. To return to my example, defining the Allied effort in terms of the goal does not in any way rule out critiquing that effort. On the contrary, it is in light of the goal that it can be critiqued as either furthering the goal or not furthering the goal, which is a key critique.

The fact that the US was found guilty of International Terrorism in a 1986 World Court decision is another example, since the people involved are many of the same people in charge today (basically the neocons.)

The war on terror is an effort to prevent future 9/11s. America's participation in this war on terror has as its one legitimate ultimate purpose to protect Americans from further attacks like the attack on 9/11. You point out that a court decided that the US was guilty of terrorism. And what should we infer from this? Should we infer that the American people do not deserve to be defended from terrorism? Should we infer that the United States government has no right to defend the American people? That it would be unwise for the state to defend American lives? What, exactly, is your point? I mean, aside from word games based on the term "war on terror".

One last question for you: If you believe (as you seem to) that the state strives in the interests of the people why aren't you a statist?

The state also builds and repairs roads and obviously does so for the purpose of providing roads to the people. Nevertheless I am in favor of the roads being fully privatized. Similarly, I recognize that my public school teachers made a genuine effort to teach me, but I am in favor of the schools being fully privatized.

I do not see any problem with this position. Do you?

just like old times...

POlarized:What something is matters less than why it is? That seems like a pretty strange thing to say.

Constant Not to me. For example, I consider the Allied effort in WWII to encompass pretty much anything and everything that the Allies did in order to defeat the Axis powers.

But that's not what you said- we aren't arguing over whether context is important, but whther context is more important than the act itself. I'm not sure there's any point in coming up with a general rule about this either way, but it seems to me that they're both important. Try this fictional example: The Allies, declaring it part of the war effort, raped every German and Japanese woman they could find aged 12-80. How do you respond to that? You'd probably
a. question whether it was legitimately part of the war effort
or
b. question whether it was criminal, insane, and counterproductive tactic

Perhaps both. But someone who simply said "these things don't matter; what matters is Hitler"- would that mean anything to you?

It would almost certainly be inaccurate to try to define the Allied effort by enumerating certain things they did, because we would likely leave out certain things that were forgotten or remained secret or fell outside of the usual stereotype of guns and bombs.

Yeah, so we've established that context matters for the evaluation of human actions, something that (according to recent psychological studies) children understand by the time they are around 8.

matt: I think the US government would absolutely love it if you stopped worrying about what they were doing so long as they claimed they were doing it because of 9/11.

Constant: Straw man. To return to my example,

We can return to your example, but it's not a straw man based on what you said at first. You've since backed off your argument to begin defending the proposition that context matters (an uncontroversial one, i might add) when at first you were saying that the reasons for something (and you were implying "the stated reasons") are more important than the acts. Again, my response makes sense in that context (though it's obviously slightly hyperbolic for effect.)

defining the Allied effort in terms of the goal does not in any way rule out critiquing that effort. On the contrary, it is in light of the goal that it can be critiqued as either furthering the goal or not furthering the goal, which is a key critique.

One can also evaluate the stated goal in light of the actions. For instance Hitler's stated goal in the invasion of Poland was to disarm a "dagger pointed at the heart" of Germany- must we only interpret Hitler's slaughter of Polish citizens as simple defense? Or may we simply interpret his systematic and obvious betrayal of the stated goal as simply being indicative of another goal altogether? Of course we can- nobody does German history by saying "and Hitler tried to defend Germany by invading Poland but the allies didn't like that, etc..." Once you consider the fact that US foreign policy has been remarkably consistent since the post WWII period with not even a single hiccup of discontinuity for 9/11, it's quite disingenuous to invoke the doctrine of "new beginnings." The fact that the Iraq war is so obviously a horrible misstep (and predictably so) in the war on terror is just further evidence that it had nothing to do with it. The US has had strategic interests in Iraq for decades.

The war on terror is an effort to prevent future 9/11s.
Are you willing to admit that Bush is perhaps the worst war-time leader i the history of the world then? If you think the WoT is real, and that Iraq is a battle in it, then wouldn't evaluating the clear and uncontroversial consequences from Iraq lead you to conclude exactly that? My real argument is that this Iraq thing fits into a broader pattern of US foreign policy, but I'm curious as to where you stand on this on these terms.

America's participation in this war on terror has as its one legitimate ultimate purpose to protect Americans from further attacks like the attack on 9/11.

Again, so you believe this and just believe that the quadrupled threat (and octupled rate of terrorism) is a simple result of miscalculation?

Should we infer that the American people do not deserve to be defended from terrorism?

Again, understand my point as one about the logical consequences of the phrase "war on terror." OF COURSE the american people should be defended from Terror- that's exactly what the serious left wing is interested in. Ending our occupation and granting serious autonomy to that region and all regions of the world is the single biggest step we could take toward security. It might well end anti-US terrorism overnight. For an instructive example, you might consider Russia-Afghanistan (after all, these are the same terrorists, mostly.) I'm sure there was much ballyhoo in Pravda about the terrorists who want to end the Soviet dream of worker's utopia funded by the evil US CIA (the latter of course was true,) trying in vain to ignore the obvious geopolitical vera causa of the terrorism. And when the USSR withdrew, what happened? Did the evil terrorists head to Moscow and keep trying to kill? I'll leave it for you to answer.

I mean, aside from word games based on the term "war on terror".

Given that War on terror is a mask for all manner of criminal acts (including the Iraq war) that make the US less safe (ditto), the blanket phrase "war on terror" that can cover nearly any act must go.

Similarly, I recognize that my public school teachers made a genuine effort to teach me, but I am in favor of the schools being fully privatized.

So I suppose that you think that the real institutional role of a politician is to serve common good interests of the population at large? I happen to agree with about 80% of the American public that the US primarily represents the interests of a few elite interests. I mean, obviuosly I'm being a bit jocular, but you seem pretty damned starry-eyed about politicians for a Lib.

I do not see any problem with this position. Do you?

aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

The concept of the war on terror

But that's not what you said- we aren't arguing over whether context is important, but whther context is more important than the act itself.

I think you're confusing issues. You started by asking:

Can you declare war on a tactic?

That is a conceptual question. My response is that if you want to understand the concept of the war on terror, do not rely on its name, nor rely on the methods (which can after all be imperfect, even counterproductive); rather, look at the purpose.

For example, there is such a thing as the concept of a telephone. The name "telephone" only vaguely gives you a clue about it if you don't already know what it is. And the method (the machinery) may or may not clue you into the concept of the telephone, because, for example, the telephone may be disconnected, or it may not be in working order. If you want to understand the concept of the telephone, your best bet is to discover its function, its purpose, what it is intended to do, the why.

Similarly with the war on terror. If you want to know what the concept of the war on terror is, don't rely on the name, don't rely on the methods, look at the purpose.

But that is only a statement about the concept of the war on terror. It does not mean that I am uncritical of it, any more than my looking to the function of a telephone to give me its concept will block me from complaining that the telephone is disconnected.

Now if you think that the idea of the war on terror is a lie, that the overt goal to protect Americans from 9/11 is simply a cover for a hidden agenda, fine. But that's not what your initial question was about - your initial question was about the overt concept of it.

clean-up

My response is that if you want to understand the concept of the war on terror, do not rely on its name, nor rely on the methods (which can after all be imperfect, even counterproductive); rather, look at the purpose.

Now this is really getting the issue confused- before we get all hot and heavy into the Aristotelian telos of a given thing or concept, we might do well to remember that you're trying to take a conceptual argument into the messy world of political intent. What you are really saying, if I understood you correctly (and what I based my last response on) is "no, you can't conceptually declare war on a tactic but that's beside the point since we're declaring a war that's designed to prevent terror. That is to say not a war on terror but a war that seeks to reduce terrorism." If that's what you're saying then that's fine. Point 1 was a small one and thus conceding it is not giving away much. As I say, I assumed based on your first response that you were conceding the logic of point one and instead directing me to more practical matters. Anyway, I spend the rest of my points (as well as the previous reply that you are responding to above) discussing that theory.

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