Monday, February 06, 2006

National security v. the War on Terror

Nothing much new here, but worth skimming: Alberto Gonzales’ Wall Street Journal piece. I plan on bringing this out more later, but demonstrates Gonzales shows the problem with conceiving national security concerns as a War on Terror. Essentially, Gonzales argues that intercepting calls of American citizens is fine because they are not calls, but enemy communications:
In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush charted a course of action to respond to the worst attack on our homeland in history. He promised to use every tool available to defeat al Qaeda and pledged to take the fight to the enemy abroad as he worked to prevent another attack. As he said in the State of the Union address, "Our country must remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home." The president has the constitutional responsibility—and authority—to lead this response…The use of signals intelligence—intercepting enemy communications—is a fundamental incident of waging war.
The key concepts here are: remaining on the offensive and war. I have been loathe to describe the fight against terrorism as something other than a war—at least in part due to Andrew Sullivan’s influence. It is true that our enemies are evil and ruthless, and that their ideology precludes our free existence. But it is precisely this conception of “war” that the Bush administration uses to muddy the waters.

Terrorism and Islamism are threats—but they are not threats that should be met with open warfare. We have not yet invaded Saudi Arabia, and we should not. We do not seek to destroy every Islamist, and we should not. Terrorism is a weapon we must prevent, punish, and make unacceptable. But none of these can be the aims of “war”, which seeks to destroy an enemy. In this war, we have no enemy except terror; it is a war without an end. War begets terror and extremism rather than prevents it. Most of our military efforts today do not involve fighting terrorists but insurgents; the efforts Bush describes as the War on Terror are really a war on the fringes of terror, and though in the long-run it may have beneficial effects for the Iraqi and Afghani people, it will not stop Islamism or terrorism.

Given the Bush administration’s commitment to remaining on the offensive, I am becoming more certain that they feel the need to open a new front in the War on Terror. Bush does not seem to know how to act if he is not on the offensive.

What we need

What we need is not an offensive war on terror whose main goal is the idealistic drainage of the swamps of tyranny (a worthy goal to be sure, but only connected to terrorism at best indirectly). But rather we need a national security strategy that is built primarily on directly preventing, punishing, and combating terrorism; and secondarily on defensive measures in our society—protecting weak points, running counter-terrorism drills, and passing laws that allow our counter-terrorist forces to effectively combat the enemy without making Americans themselves fearful of governmental interference.


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