Bush Counts On War Without End


The war against terrorism is a brilliant construct. It may not have been started by George W. Bush, but it certainly works to his advantage.

It has provided oomph to the sagging U.S. economy and a new raison d’etre for the alliance of politicos, defence contractors and security specialists who make up what former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower christened the military-industrial complex.

What makes this war so superior, in political terms, is its vagueness. Since the terrorist, by definition, can be anyone the man in the next apartment, the person lurking on the subway platform we can never be sure who the enemy is. More important, we can never know when we’ve won. As a result, this war has the capacity to go on forever. It will be called off only when those in charge choose to do so. And why would they?

Thanks to the war, Bush has been transformed from a figure of fun into a national icon. Before Sept. 11, the U.S. president was viewed as a slightly moronic frat boy mocked even on prime-time television. The very legitimacy of his election was in question.

Now the frat boy is a war president, every patriotic American’s commander-in-chief. Those who mock Bush now – those who even dare criticize him – do so at their peril.

For Bush, an end to the war against terrorism could spell political disaster. Look what happened to his father. George Bush Sr. was an immensely popular president when he was waging war against Iraq. But as soon as the fighting stopped, his ratings tumbled. Without war to focus their attention, Americans remembered why they disliked the elder Bush and threw him out of the White House.

By contrast, Bush Jr. has discovered the perfect way to avoid his father’s fate war without end. The war against terror can go on indefinitely because, unlike the Gulf War, or World War II or even the Cold War, it involves no measurable criteria of success.

Is Afghanistan defeated and its former Taliban government in chains? No matter, says U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Afghanistan is small potatoes, the Taliban mere tools. The terrorists, we are told, live on. They are everywhere, part of the international conspiracy known as Al Qaeda.

Yet even Al Qaeda escapes definition. Each time its alleged leaders are identified, we are warned that more are hiding in the shadows. And whenever the world’s attention flags, a new discovery is made. A notebook found in a bombed-out house in Kabul proves that Al Qaeda is planning a nuclear attack. A videotape found in Singapore demonstrates that Al Qaeda is preparing another terror bombing.

Luckily for us, these fanatic anti-modernists make plenty of videos. They video each other plotting, video attack plans, video their dinner parties, then leave the videos lying about.

Luckily also, they write down many of their schemes in English. In November, for instance, journalists searching through a Kabul home said to be an Al Qaeda training centre found hand-printed plans, in English, on how to manufacture a multi-million-dollar, homemade stealth bomber.

Other reporters found jars of “foul smelling liquids” and notebooks filled with equations, all of which were taken as evidence of an Al Qaeda germ warfare factory.

Even when the New York Times reported that the most well-publicized find plans for the manufacture of a homemade nuclear bomb had probably been cribbed from a hoax website, the thunder of fear and condemnation continued.

Not since novelist Ian Fleming invented SPECTRE, the shadowy force of evil dedicated to eliminating 007 agent James Bond, has the world’s imagination been seized in quite the same way. Is there a rebellion in the Philippines? Al Qaeda is responsible. A plot in Malaysia? Al Qaeda again.

Like Fleming’s SPECTRE, Al Qaeda has access to unlimited funds. Its leaders, like the villains of Bond movies, live in vast underground complexes staffed by fanatical minions.

Even the occasional intervention of reality has no effect. In Afghanistan, the underground complexes turn out to be cramped, primitive caves rather than sumptuous subterranean cities. No matter. All it proves is that the real Al Qaeda headquarters are somewhere else perhaps Yemen or Somalia.

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the enemy of the state is personified in Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein is the Osama bin Laden figure of the novel, an elusive figure who is never seen, never captured but believed by all patriotic citizens of Oceania (Orwell’s fictitious state, an amalgamation of North America and Europe) to be an evil genius bent on their destruction.

Since Goldstein is never captured, Oceania’s battle against him must never cease. Sometime it wages war on one country said to be aiding the nefarious Goldstein, sometimes on another. The battleground may change but the war never ends. It cannot. The government’s very existence depends upon it.

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