June 30, 2004

Waging "war" (v.2)

Because fighting a war is so significant a thing, we shouldn't cheapen the word by casual overuse or calculated misuse.

The discussions surrounding this week's Supreme Court review of Bush's "wartime" detentions of "enemy combatants" make it clear that when national security is at stake, much of the daily civilian law that we take for granted is liable to change in fundamental ways.

This is as it should be. Which is why we must not allow the words "national security" and "war" to mean just about anything, which is what some supporters of the Bush administration have been far too eager to do -- whether out of intellectual laziness, a giddy attraction to fascism, or overweening fear.

AlQaeda, for all its spectacular and murderous "success" on 9-11, has never threatened our national security. The terrorists have threatened American citizens; they continue to threaten American citizens; but they have never threatened America.

AlQaeda has never even come close to threatening America's consumer lifestyle, let alone our national security. Back in the last real national-security war that America fought, World War II, our national security demanded that we sacrifice our preferences for keeping women in the home and put them to work in factories building fighter planes instead. An equivalent national security threat today might lead our government to actually discourage our wasteful oil consumption, or some other such liberating but unpopular adjustment to the demands of war.

If there's one way AlQaeda has been able to actually threaten the national security interests of the United States, it's in the way their attacks have caused the American people to glibly swallow the notion put forward by the opportunists in the Executive Branch that we're at war. And because we're at war, say the opportunists, the special features of America that make our nation worth protecting have suddenly become too burdensome. The notion of limited executive power? Obsolete! And despite the fact that the Supreme Court has simply said that the Executive must provide some justification for detaining citizens incommunicado other than just their word on it (cross my fingers, hope to die, Iraq has WMDs I swear) some conservatives are only able to see the "tyranny" of the judiciary.

This emperor has no clothes, and his dog doesn't hunt. We are NOT "at war."

Posted by Carey at June 30, 2004 11:59 PM
Comments

Nick,

I think you raise good points. And you may be right. But I hope you're not.

If you're right that AlQaeda is a real threat to our national security, then according to my own arguments about what's justified to protect national security, we have to accept the almost unprecedented arrogation of discretionary power by the Bush administration in order to ensure that "America" continues to exist.

That idea is for me very sad. It would mean that defending America is doomed to kill it. This "war" on terrorism will never really be over, so the mere thought of returning to a "normal" state of peacetime would be highly abnormal. We'll be "fighting" our whole lives for something we'll only barely remember, i.e. America as she was at peace.

I'd prefer to strenuously avoid this result if possible.

As for Bush being a greater threat than AlQaeda, I think he is and he isn't.

He isn't because he wants to defend America, not attack it.

He is because he's so much more powerful as President than AlQaeda is. If you leave aside the chance that AlQaeda could set off some backpack nukes, AlQaeda's biggest source of strength is their ability to make everyone afraid, so they'll capitulate to the Bush administration's draconian vision of submission to the Uberleader in the name of safety.

That's my idea of one kind of national threat.

Posted by: Carey at July 2, 2004 11:04 PM