Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Endless War

I've just emerged from an online discussion where some people were suggesting that we are loosing the war on terrorism while others were slamming these naysayers for being unpatriotic of course, but also for being dead wrong. Elsewhere on the Internet I'm seeing lots of suggestions that we are winning the war.

Those suggesting the failure seem to support their arguments with the negative impressions that others have of our actions, such as the prisoner abuse and large numbers of killed civilians. They seem to suggest that we have ourselves become terrorists, which may in itself be a valid suggestion, but is that a direct corollary to loosing the war on terrorism? Does it make sense to fight fire with fire?

The people on the other side of the argument seem to take a more concrete and perhaps a more narrow-minded approach to the argument, producing lists of key terrorists that have been captured.

So which is it? Are we winning or are we loosing?

I'm starting to think neither is true, and more significantly, I'm starting to think that the absence of conclusive success or failure is precisely the intention.

To me declaring war on "all the terrorists in the world and on anyone who helps them" seemed to be a pretty clear message that the Bush administration wasn't looking for an end but for a process. If you really think about this, you can see that only an idiot could actually believe that we can put an end to terrorism around the globe. I think the Bush administration was not only aware of the impossibility, but that they were betting on this impossibility to guarantee the legnth of the process. So really this is more like Batman fighting crime in Gotham city, it's a career not a task.

Another clue came when Bush flew in on an airplane with a big smile and declared the end of major operations in Iraq. This announcement created an incremental victory that invoked a feeling of winning a war. Like a sugar substitute that allows people to continue drinking coffee without real sugar, this incremental victory allows people to continue to bear the war without a real victory.

The human violations by U.S. soldiers is an indication that this process is in full swing and the mission is anything but lost. Bush and Rumsfeld are right, the offenses do not reflect the moral conduct of the U.S. armed forces per se. What it reflects is the disturbed sentiments of a significant part of the American population. It just so happens that some of this population serves in the armed forces, resulting in direct access to those they have conditioned themselves to hate. I think many more Americans at home would do the same things if they had the same chances. This conditioned hatred is being fed by the process that we call "a war on terrorism". The hatred reverberates in our culture and feeds back into the process.

So while I agree that the immoral behavior of a few soldiers compromises the support we get from the international community, it nevertheless feeds the hatred on both side of the war and perpetuates the process. Understanding this, it's easy to see that the mission is coming along quite well. So there you go, we aren't supposed to loose and we aren't supposed to win. If either of those things happened it would mean an end to the process of war.