Monday, February 17, 2014


The Third War


From the American perspective, the war in Iraq is just about over and the war in Afghanistan seems to be coming to an end in the foreseeable future. It is not clear that we achieved our objectives in either one, if only because the objectives have always been very unclear and remain so.
But what about the third war, you may ask.
Everyone talks about the "War against Terrorism" but most people take that to be some kind of metaphor. But that is a mistake. The war against terrorism is as real and damaging a war as any others we have fought.
The war against terrorism differs from the other two wars in that occupying large areas of a country are not at issue. But the occupation of Iraq or of large areas of Afghanistan has never been an end in itself. It was merely a means towards undermining the enemies' ability to attack us and to reduce our ability to have our way. In the War on Terrorism, the other side has an army in the field, the by now significant number of suicide bombers who have done serious damage to us. We, being very rich, are able to lose fewer lives because we use unmanned airplanes to kill the enemy and we use overwhelming computer power for intelligence.
In this third war, as in the other two, it is very unclear whether we are reaching our objectives. The government tells us that more than 50 potential terrorist attacks have so far been prevented. But of course that information is secret and so we cannot know whether to trust this government claim. We certainly have good reasons for being skeptical.
But the losses to our side have been significant. They are not only the physical attacks such as, especially, 9/11. The war on terror has claimed our democracy and our Constitution.
Were it not for Edward Snowden and others equally brave, we would not know about government surveillance. There probably are still a number of different facets of this war which we have not heard about. Quite obviously citizens cannot deliberate about a government policy they don't know anything about. The entire war on terrorism is the product of specific branches of the government, such as the NSA and the CIA and others. The public has not been asked what it thinks about those projects. The public in fact has systematically been deceived and lied to about this war. There has been no democratic decision-making with respect to or democratic supervision of this third war.
The decision to go to war is one of the most serious that a people can take. We have been deprived of that decision. Our democratic participation has been denied.
I am well aware that there are lawyerly justifications of all of that, that rest on legislation passed in the hysteria after 9/11. But were our government officials interested in maintaining our democracy, they would have seen the need for a new discussion of the war on terrorism, now that, twelve years later, we are somewhat calmer in contemplating 9/11.
But the government clearly is very ambivalent about saving our democracy. It is equally ambivalent about honoring the Constitution.
The Constitution protects citizens against random surveillance. But this morning's newspaper reports that our government, in cooperation with the government of Australia, recently listened to the communications between the Indonesian government and an American law firm the Indonesians had retained to advise them in trade negotiations.
The Constitution also guarantees everyone accused of a crime a fair trial before a jury of his or her peers. So far, the US government has killed four US citizens by means of drone strikes. Only one of those, Anwar al-Awlaki, was accused of a crime. The other three were innocent, they were killed by "accident."
Last week, the government was reported considering killing another US citizen without a trial. The policy of killing American citizens without trial apparently still stands.
We can only hope that, in the future, democracy and the Constitution will regain their former importance and will be fully restored to their rightful place in the life of this nation. But at the moment it appears that the war on terror has done extremely serious damage to our country.