This week marks the fifth anniversary of Congress’s vote to authorize the Bush Administration to overthrow the government of Iraq by military force. The Nation opposed the war authorization. In “An Open Letter to Congress,” which we published on the magazine’s cover on the eve of the vote, we argued that it would have “a significance that goes far beyond the war.” Our opposition has been fully, tragically confirmed by the human and political disasters of these last few years.
As we mark this anniversary, it is time to consider the longterm damage the grievously misconceived “war on terrorism” has inflicted on our security and relationship with the world. Eventually US troops will leave Iraq because the brutal facts on the ground will compel it. But even as we struggle for an exit strategy, our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from the “war on terror.” At a time when we need a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine and an alternative vision of what this country’s role in the world should be, we see both parties calling for intensifying the “war on terror” –even for increasing the size of the military, and for expanding its ability to go places and do things. But who is asking the fundamental question: Won’t a war without end do more to weaken our security and democracy than seriously address the threats and challenges ahead?
Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. This Administration has used the “war” as justification for almost anything–unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty and condoning torture.
The Administration has also justified the expansion of America’s military capacity–over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets nearing 700 billion dollars–as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism. What too few politicians are willing to say is that combating terrorism–a brutal, horrifying tactic–is not a “war” and that military action is the wrong weapon. Illegality and immorality aside, it simply doesn’t succeed. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world. Indeed, the failed Iraq war demonstrated anew the limits of military power.
Fighting terror requires genuine cooperation with other nations in policing and lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; withdrawal of support for oppressive regimes that generate hatred of the US; and real pressure to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and justice and a secure state for the Palestinians.