The "war on terror" is turning out to be nothing more than a recycled formulation of the dangerously dumb "domino theory." Listen to the way President Bush justifies the deepening quagmire of Iraq: "Defeat them abroad before they attack us at home." If we didn't defeat communism in Vietnam, or even tiny Grenada, went the hoary defense of bloody proxy wars and covert brutality in the latter stages of the cold war, San Diego might be the next to go Red.
Now, the new version of this simplistic concept seems to say, "If we don't occupy a Muslim country, inciting terrorists to attack us in Baghdad, we'll suffer more terror attacks at home." The opposite is the case. Invading Iraq has, like the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan before, proved to be a massive recruiting tool for Muslim extremists everywhere. Even the embattled CIA, which the White House is struggling to neuter as a semi-objective voice on foreign affairs, recently declared the Iraq occupation to be a boon to terrorists.
Yet the President stumbles on, demanding that we support his Iraq adventure lest we sully the memory of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001. "We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand," said Bush last week. Actually, no. We fight in Iraq today because Bush listened to a band of right-wing intellectual poseurs who argued America could create a reverse domino effect, turning the Middle East into a land of pliable free-market, pro-Western "democracies" through a crude use of military force. This is rather like claiming a well-placed stick of dynamite can turn a redwood forest into a neighborhood of charming Victorians.
Furthermore, it is not Bush and his band of neocons who are fighting--and dying--for the Iraq domino, but rather raw 19-year-old recruits, hardworking career military officers and impoverished or unlucky Iraqis. And foreign terrorists linked to Al Qaeda are in Iraq because it is a field of opportunity, not because it is their last stand.
For four years the White House has framed the war on terror as an open-ended global battle against a monolithic enemy on many fronts, rather than employing a modern counterterrorism model that sees terrorism as a deadly pathology that grows out of religious or ethnic rage and must be isolated and excised.
From the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush has systematically sought to parlay the public's shock over a singular, if devastating, terrorist assault by a small coterie of extremists into what amounted to a call for World War III against a supposed "axis of evil." But these countries--Iran, Iraq and North Korea--shared only a clear hostility to the United States, rather than any real alliance or ties to 9/11 itself.
In the process, Bush has justified an enormous military buildup, spent tens of billions of dollars in Iraq, reorganized the federal government, driven the nation's budget far into the red and assaulted the civil liberties of Americans and people around the world, all without bothering to seriously examine the origins of the 9/11 attacks or compose a coherent strategy to prevent similar ones in the future. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remains at large, as do his financial and political backers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
But why has the White House pursued this nonsensical approach over the loud objections of the country's most experienced counterterrorism and Islamic experts? Because it allows the Administration all the political benefits the cold war afforded its predecessors: political capital, pork-barrel defense contracts and a grandiose sense of purpose.
And because the war on terror has no standard of victory, it can never end--thus neatly replacing the cold war as a black-and-white, us-against-them worldview that generations of American (and Soviet) politicians found so useful for keeping the plebes in line. It's a one-size-fits-all bludgeon.
The terrible, unspoken truth of the war on terror is that the tragedy of 9/11 has been exploited as a political opportunity by George W. Bush, Halliburton, the Pentagon and the other pillars of what President Eisenhower dubbed the "military-industrial complex" in his final speech as President.
The former general who led us in World War II warned of the dangers of an unbridled militarism. "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," said Eisenhower, a Republican, in 1961. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
Consider yourself warned.