Recently the president of the United States was asked if the “war on terror” could be won. His response was markedly free from the aggressive and self-righteous rhetoric that usually defines the outlook of his administration: “I donâ€™t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.” What happened to the swaggering Texan? Had he suddenly slumped out of a depressing meeting with advisers informing him that Iraq was slipping deviously out of American hands and into the arms of Iraqi nationalists? Was he caught in a rare moment of honest reflection about the true nature of a war he has so zealously advocated? An unlikely prospect, no doubt. But just in case Bush did have an epiphany, the ever-reliable warmongers of the Democratic Party galloped onto the scene to remind America that now was the time for killing, not questioning.
Employing what is by now a tried-and-true tactic, the Democrats outflanked Bush from the right, beaming opportunistically through the ray of sunshine that is John Edwards: “After months of listening to the Republicans base their campaign on their singular ability to win the war on terror, the president now says we canâ€™t win the war on terrorism.” His campaign partner John Kerry, when asked in turn if he could win the war on terror, chirped, “Absolutely.” A Kerry spokesman intoned, “We need a leader who knows we can win the war on terror and has a plan to do it.”
But Bush was not going to allow himself to be outdone so easily: the task of launching America into the “war on terror” was spearheaded and initiated by him, and the glory of this momentous achievement belonged to no other, regardless of any fleeting doubts he may have had. Therefore his spokesman was soon rushed out to announce that there was simply a “false perception” of Bushâ€™s statement, and that no policy shift was in the works, because the president will “win the war on terrorism by continuing to take the fight to the enemy.” Bush himself elaborated, “What I meant was that this is not a conventional warâ€¦[T]his is not the kind of war where you sit down and sign a peace treaty. Itâ€™s a totally different kind of war. But we will win it.”
While both parties jockey for the lead on who can best pummel the Islamic world into submission, it seems that neither actually understands how success in this endeavor can be measured in any tangible way, how victory can be achieved decisively, or how long the war will go on. Bush and his wife have generously explained what will not happen: there will be no formal surrender, no peace treaty, and no boundaries. John Kerry, whose campaign rides on a wave of Swiftboat atrocities in Vietnam and solemn pledges to continue the brutal twin occupations of Iraq and Palestine, has also done absolutely nothing to explain how the war will be or can be “won.”
And let us not fool ourselves: the problem is not at all one of mere “diplomacy” or “image,” as the September 11th Commission, among others, weakly suggest. It is sufficient to recall the ridiculous and failed attempt to employ the former advertiser of Uncle Benâ€™s Rice to market “our values” to the Arabs, who we reckoned – with much generosity to ourselves – simply didnâ€™t get the memo on how great we really are. Of course, the real problem is that the Arabs understand Americaâ€™s motivations and behavior abroad all too well. If they ever needed any reminding, the tortured inmates of Abu Ghraib, coupled with the resounding failure to implement any significant reconstruction of a society shattered to pieces by our bombs of benevolence, have served quite nicely in that capacity. As the chief of the US Army 3rd Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz recently admitted, “As much as I would love the Iraqis to love me, and my doctrine tells me
I want to win the hearts and minds, I know I’m not going to do that.” One need not ask what he knows he is going to do.
Obviously, there is no peaceful way to convince 300 million Arabs and 1.2 billion Muslims to submit willingly to constant dehumanization, humiliation, torture, killing, bombing, bulldozing. They will not simply yield, in Iraq for instance, all their oil, their assets, their riches, to private American firms and attendant mercenaries who are all too eager to collect the spoils of a war which they have not only failed to win but have quite clearly begun to lose. Fatuous rhetoric about taking the fight to the enemy cannot mask the reality on the ground. The number of “terrorists” is not finite, their energies not split or splintered by armed American presence on multiple fronts. Rather, it is clearly the American armed forces which are tired, demoralized, and stretched beyond their limits by their deployment, the very existence of which produces a groundswell of armed resistance among previously non-hostile populations.
In this endeavor, young Americans in their teenage years and twenties now die needlessly in foreign desert sands far away from their homes and families. Spouses and children at home suffer from near poverty as soldiers are forced to remain in the field far beyond their contract and receive only a pittance for their patriotism, quite unlike the handsomely paid mercenaries assigned to secure sabotaged oil lines and unpopular political puppets. Many soldiers who return home are driven to depression, anger, and even suicide. For those who do not return, the pain among grieving relatives can be overbearing, such as that of the father who recently set himself ablaze after learning his 20 year-old son was killed in Iraq. These are losses incurred not in the name of any clearly defined goals, but only the vaguest objectives whose rationale keeps morphing in accordance with the whims and schemes of this or that “expert” or government official. Is this then, the full, sorry scope of the war we are “winning”?
Not quite. The truth is that the grand enterprise known as the “war on terror” does not have clear progress markers, decisive battles, concrete timetables, or geographical limits for one reason and one reason alone: it is a two-front war, and the people of the United States are the other front. An atmosphere of fear, paranoia, insecurity, and racial hatred grinds down oppressively upon the American public, pulverizing goodwill, dissent and radicalism with ten times the efficiency of any cluster-bomb or laser-guided missile. That the war abroad is to go on in perpetuum against a “shadowy” and “dark” enemy is no accident or blunder. What better method of keeping the populace timid and tame for as long as is desired? What better way to dismiss the pressing needs of the underpaid, the unemployed, the medically uninsured – the neglected? What stronger toxin to poison minds and hearts that burn and beat with similar needs, passions, desires, and dreams; to set them against each other for myriad petty reasons so that a select few may profit and accrue power and privilege?
The “war on terror” is an absolute fraud. It is a war designed specifically to mask the injustices and inequalities which afflict millions of Americans by aggravating and amplifying the injustices and inequalities inflicted upon millions of non-Americans. Its very existence represents continuous and ever-expanding victory for only the most vicious, opportunistic, and hateful elements among humanity, who will impose upon us tragedy upon tragedy, and terror upon terror, until we break cleanly and completely from the rotted chains of mindless fealty to false national leaders and forge links with those abroad whose friendships we have forgone for far too long.
M. Junaid Alam, 21, Boston, co-editor of radical youth journal Left Hook feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org