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October 19, 2007

The Global War on Terror

Sorry for the light posting today, I'm finishing up a feature for the magazine, and I spent the morning at a New America panel on "reframing and rethinking the so-called 'Global War on Terror.'" The panel was very good -- as a general rule, if Daniel Levy and Flynt Leverett feel like talking, I feel like listening. But I'm a bit over this whole "Global War on Terror" debate. The past six years of disastrous policy-making have not emerged from an overly literal commitment to a metaphor. The metaphor has simple been one element in a broad range of political stratagems used to support a neo-conservative foreign -- and at times, domestic -- policy agenda. Were the slogan to dissolve, little would've changed.

Indeed, I think the "Global War on Terror" has been overwhelmed by Iraq. The surge is a much more common topic of conversation than the GWOT -- and the one is rarely subsumed to the other. It's simply too big. It's too much it's own thing. The apparent ease with which we swept Afghanistan made it a conceivable Step One in a larger process. The centrality of the quagmire in Iraq makes it the larger process all in itself.

Moreover, the GWOT framing is a signal of what was wrong in the post-9/11 political conversation -- it's the cough, not the cold. The underlying problem, which would remain acutely true even if the GWOT phrasing vanished from everyone's lips, is that there is only one foreign policy in this country. Within that one foreign policy exists certain gradations, some emphasizing war, some emphasizing multilateralism. But there's largely one foreign policy, totally dependent on a preexisting claim of American exceptionalism and an unflagging belief in the broad applicability of American military power, and the so-called opposition party is too afraid to offer an alternative. The specter of McGovern looms large, as does the possibility of another terrorist attack. Toughness is considered an unquestionable political virtue, and the rhetoric it demands makes it very hard to oppose legislation like the Kyl-Lieberman bill (which is not to say that such legislation shouldn't be opposed -- just that few feel safe doing so).

A lot of this has to do with the sheer amount of power the executive wields on international affairs. It's very hard to construct a coherent political doctrine from the minority. So long as Bush is in office, he controls the agenda, and naturally engineers political debates that favor his ideology. Were a leader of a more liberal bent sitting in the White House, the arguments, rather than whether you're willing to protect our troops from Iran, would be about whether you're willing to strengthen the international institutions capable of keeping us safe, or lead on global warming, or undertake a major initiative to improve our image in the Muslim world. The Global War on Terror, though it should be scrapped, could be easily fit into most of those priorities -- indeed, given the appended "global," a renewed attempt at creating a multilateral counter-terrorism alliance, as John Edwards has suggested, would fit right in.

October 19, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Why is it that while Bush is in power, he frames the political discourse, but while Clinton was in power, Gingrich did? I think the last 10 months of Democratic control of Congress and the recent failures of the Democrats' legislative agenda gives us the answer. Democrats do not have the coordinated media effort that Republicans do and aren't willing to stand up for their values when they're attacked for not being sufficiently Republican. The fact that Reid would even consider bringing the FISA bill to the floor despite Dodd's hold is clear enough evidence that this recent flock of Democrats govern entirely out of fear. Fear of looking weak, fear of the media, and fear of looking partisan next to a party that thinks bipartisanship means putting Kissinger in charge, and he's no good, getting a Bush family lawyer instead.

Posted by: Cody | Oct 19, 2007 4:48:01 PM

Bullies depend on fear and submission to make them successful, as it has always been so, whether in the schoolyard or governing major-power states. The GOP understands this now, but they didn't in 1938/39/40 when the GOP was the party of ignoring real threats to world safety (and sometimes selling them equipment or providing financing - see Prescott Bush).

People want peace and security, but when they have to choose, security wins out. The GOP has now become the war and fear party, and the Dems have not responded. I really wouldn't be surprised if the GOP took the 08 elections because of this. The public is being offered no emotional security on one side (Dems), and no actual security on the other side (GOP).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 19, 2007 5:02:53 PM

I guess Bush is not the lame duck as though, after all. All seem to give him great power even though the Congress is controlled by the oppositions party.

Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 19, 2007 5:19:53 PM

Ezra takes a very supine view of being out of power. Being put of power never stopped the Republicans from tooting their horns, and why bother to be coherent when you're not going to be put to the actual test anyway?

In or out of power, the Republican noise machine makes extreme demands, and the elected Dems express their gratitude that they have to make deals with 'reasonable' Republicans, instead of those extremist Republicans making extreme demands. Republicans are never in the position of expressing their gratitude that they can make deals with 'reasonable' Democrats, because we don't have any extremist Democrats to scare the Republicans.

We should have Democrats in Congress right now demanding that we sign international treaties and form international alliances to apprehend, on a worldwide basis, lawbreakers, whether they are terrorists or drug lords working for the CIA. These legislators would be easily able to refute charges of 'soft on crime' by simply reviewing the Bush record on the GWOT.

Posted by: serial catowner | Oct 19, 2007 5:23:10 PM

I'd like to highlight Ezra's point about "One Foreign Policy in this country." If you go read what John Edwards wrote about Russia for the CFR you'll see the same impractical exceptionism and lack of attention to history that we know so well from Bush and Giuliani's advisors on Iraq repeated by Edwards over Russia.

Hillary? No need to say much there.

Obama? He swings back and forth. Sometimes he talks about breaking free to a new way of looking at foreign affairs (and I believe that on a personal level, having some connections with the outside world, he has some real and valuable thoughts about doing this) but other times he swings back to the reality of politics and the media agenda on Foreign Affairs. So it's hard to be optimistic that he would really change anything.

I repeat all this because it's really important to recognise how entrenched the "One Foreign Policy" is and what a long road to actual debate it will be.

Those who question the backbone of the Democrats in Congress do so rightly in my opinion. Some good crusading (Waxman has gone quiet amongst others) can help alter the media agenda and the policy environment.

BUT and it's a big BUT, this also highlights that the media is very much behind the One Foreign Policy and very much in tune with the Republican interpretation that that means taking away all civil liberties from dirty hippies. The "progressives" in the US are fighting at a huge structural disadvantage in the modern media landscape and, I'm sorry to say, until a way is found around that, will largely be on the losing side of debates like the GWOT one.

Posted by: Meh | Oct 19, 2007 5:54:39 PM

You're right about this, Ezra, but the fact that you (partially) miss is the extent to which the crazies have succeeded at changing the facts on the ground, and the horrifying effect that that has on the debate.

It would have been possible six or seven years ago for the United States to have pursued a relatively modest foreign policy, still within the context of the dominant interventionist paradigm, that would have preserved American power without plunging the world into horrific carnage. Obviously many of us would have preferred a less interventionist policy, but we (and, more to the point, the rest of the world) could have lived with the status quo American role in the world.

But now we are in a position where a return to the policies of the 90s isn't going to get us back to where we were then. We either have to accept a world where American power in the middle east is far more limited than it has been, or double down and support an escalating series of aggressive warfare. And guess which option 99% of our elected officials seem to favor?

The only hope for us, and for the rest of the world, is for the rest of the world to turn against the United States, offer security guarantees to our enemies, and to actively work to destroy our economy. I fervently hope and pray that such a day will come soon, before we plunge the world in an apocalyptic war.

Posted by: LarryM | Oct 19, 2007 6:38:52 PM

At least we can agree, that far fewer innocent Iraqis will die in the Bush 8 years compared to the bloody, deadly Clinton 8 years.

Posted by: Patton | Oct 19, 2007 8:07:34 PM

The Clinton Genocide against the innocent people of Iraq:

http://www.zmag.org/edwinthalliday.htm

NEVER AGAIN!

Posted by: Patton | Oct 19, 2007 8:10:27 PM

During the Clinton sanctions on Iraq; 150 children died each day from starvation and disease due to the genocidal economic sanctions meant to punish the people, and let Saddam go free.

The media didn't care, the left didn't fill the streets with banners proclaiming Clinton a murderer.
The left didn't run a daily tally of the 150 Iraqis that died each day.

The left didn't care, until Bush decide to end the genocide and bring about freedom, elections and self government. Then the left got pissed and got active and did everything they could to stop Bush and keep the Clinton genocide in place.

And the Iraqi children suffered the most, no S-CHIP for them, no medicine, no needles, no anti-biotics, no food, just disease, starvation and death.

Someday the truth will be told.

Posted by: Patton | Oct 19, 2007 8:15:41 PM

Patton, do you really think the people of Iraq are free right now? Do you really think the Iraqi government actually governs Iraq? Are you really that obtuse?

Posted by: mad6798j | Oct 19, 2007 8:17:46 PM

Patton,

If it makes you feel any better, when Bush and Cheney are hanged by the neck until dead as war criminals, I'd be thrilled if Clinton was to join them.

Posted by: LarryM | Oct 19, 2007 10:08:13 PM

Ezra,

It's 2007, we DFH knew this prior to the scare message of GWOT and the current clusterfuck that is Iraq. Seriously, this is the most ignorant post I've ever seen from you, to date. Holy shit, after reading this post again...jeebus I'd better stop.

Posted by: evilchemistry | Oct 20, 2007 4:26:38 AM

LarryM,

Didn't you forget Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who are funding the war? In fact, they funded the dreaded SURGE. They voted to put that traitor Petreaus in charge. Certainly they must be high on your list...

If Bush had lost the election, and Gore was in charge, he would still be proclaiming Saddam is a huge threat with his WMD and he'd still have genocidal sanctions on the people of Iraq. That is the route the Democrats perpetrated for 8 years, and Gore would have clarealy continued the Clinton/Gore WMD charade.

Two days ago, FOUR people died in Iraq from terrorist violence. At least 150 would have died if we followed the Democrats policy of the Clinton/Gore years. Hundreds of thousands more would be malnourished, dying of dysentery, etc. etc.

In fact Madeline Albright herself proclaim the price of 500,000 Iraqi children dying from US sanctions by 1995 was "WORTH IT". So who really cares about saving lives in Iraq??

Posted by: Patton | Oct 20, 2007 5:31:42 AM

""""Patton, do you really think the people of Iraq are free right now? Do you really think the Iraqi government actually governs Iraq? Are you really that obtuse?"""

I know they are free'er then every before. I know if Gore had one, they would still be being subjected to the Clinton/Gore/Saddam concentration camp.

It took decades for Japan and Germany to rebuild a society, I suspect it will take at least as long in Iraq. But that doesn't mean it was wrong to liberate Japan or Germany. The Middle East has to change, and you have to start somewhere.

If you don't confront the terrorists, they win. The terrorists no longer run Afghanistan and they no longer run Iraq. Its a good start.

I know it was wrong to punish a country, torture, starve and kill a nation of 20 million because of the actions of a tyrant. The same as it would have made no sense to punish Hitler by committing genocide against the Jews. It made no sense to punish Hussein by committing genocide against the Iraqi people.

Posted by: Patton | Oct 20, 2007 5:47:59 AM

The terrorists never ran Iraq, Saddam did. Stop lying about that.

It's really crazy that you can't see the difference between an economic embargo and an invasion and destabilization of a country that has killed possibly hundreds of thousands, and turned millions into refugees. Saddam was never strapped for cash while the sanctions were in place, and his deciding to spend his money building more palaces, and not on helping his people was the fault of Saddam, not the US. An invasion with just enough troops to destroying the existing infrastructure, without enough to actually replace it, resulting in chaos and mass death, is the fault of the US. You know this, you're just too dishonest to say it.

Posted by: mad6798j | Oct 20, 2007 10:27:23 AM

Patton is trying out a new meme that must be promoted by one of the warmonger sites, since this argument has popped up a lot in comments on various blogs this week.

Of course, it is, like most warmonger memes, untrue. According to our best account of the casualties of this war, the Lancet survey, in the years between 2003 and 2006 around 600,000 Iraqis died of voilence. The obr survey this spring, less reliable, adds to hat another 400,000.

But interestingly, at this point the purveyors of the meme - which depends, after all, on a number as a result of a UN survey using the same technique as the Lancet study, with a more opaque data base and confidence interval, will suddenly throw in criticisms of the Lancet study - criticisms which have been systematically refuted time and time again. It is an interesting study in political superstition - the throwing about of figures that are determined to be correct merely because one wants them to be correct, and incorrect because one wants them to be incorrect.

However, this is just the factual surface. Facts, as the right knows, are stupid things - which is why they are so uncomfortable getting within close distance of them. Warmonger logic, though, goes like this: the sanctions killed people. The invasion killed less people {bracketing the fact that this isn't true). Thus, invading countries is a merciful and kindly act.

Of course, the logic should go: putting up sanctions that kill people is wrong.

And working from that logic, I - and I'm sure thousands of others on the "left", meaning I suppose that party which doesn't want to be an accessory to mass murder - singed many a petition in the 90s against the sanctions.

The thought that Saddam could have 'gotten by' without those sanctions always throws our warmongers into a frenzy. He would have invaded other countries (sort of like what the warmonger wants the U.S. to do to Iran). He would have committed more genocide (although, of course, the reason they are quoting sanction deaths in the first place is that Saddam's genocidal urges were being held in check quite well by the american airpower that guarded Northern Iraq and the heavily shi'ite south).

The moral of the story should be: revamp your sanction regime, if you must have one, to concentrate its punitive powers on the ruling class (to be fair, this is why the oil for food regime was started, and the sanctions were revamped after 1997). And if you are concerned about killing masses of people, don't pre-emptively invade or attack any nation.

However, this moral is not going to fit in the warmongers skull. All roads must lead to ever more violence, for them. For good reason, actually. Not only does this satisfy their underlying sadistic impulses, but, as a policy, it produces military keynesianism which has employed millions in the essentially parasitic job of transforming tax dollars into useless weaponry. And they love that.

Posted by: roger | Oct 20, 2007 4:27:06 PM

Patton,

I'm not going to defend the Dems, for goodness sake - see my comment near the top of the thread, you may get some idea where I'm coming from; I'd like to see the same thing happen to the whole political class in this nation as happened to the Nazis, except a little more complete.

But that being said, anyone who simultaneously is in favor of the horror that Bush and company unleashed upon Iraq, and, at the same time, professes to be concerned about innocent Iraqi children, is either a lying piece of shit, or is too fucking stupid to live. Which are you?

Posted by: LarryM | Oct 21, 2007 12:18:57 AM

You guys simply have ait wrong.

The deaths in Iraq caused by the Clinton sanctions were due directly to Clintons actions.

The deaths in Iraq since its liberation are not due to Bush, but due to Al Queda fighting a war against the United States since 1995.

The fact Al Queda is willing to kill civilians of an race/nationality/etc. to getat Americans is nothing new. The killed many Muslims on Sept 11th.

What Bush did was stop being on the side of killing the innocent (Clinton policy) and be on the side of freeing the innocent and punishing the guilty. That doesn't mean he's responsible for everyone the terrorists decide to kill.

No more then FDR was responsible for everyone the Nazis killed, and LBJ wasn;t resposnsible for everyone the NV killed. Unless you guys actually believe DFR and LBJ were responsible and the enemy wasn't.

Posted by: Patton | Oct 21, 2007 3:03:51 PM

mad6798j, You live in a fantasy world. Go actually read the reports on Iraq during the Clinton years and educate yourself. You have NO CLUE about what Clinton denied the Iraqi people, even to the point of dnying Iraqi hospitals needles bacuse Clinton claimed Saddam would use them for his WMD biological weapons program. Which as we know, did not exist. There was no 'economic embargo' on Iraq, there weas a TOTAL EMBARGO based on the lie that Saddam had WMD. Go read the reports from the actual UN adminstrators of the programs. The Clinton adminstration held up billions and billions in infrastructure supplies to keep the sewers working, the water supply clean, the power on, etc. etc. etc. That's why disease was rampant diseases that had previously been wiped out in Iraq.
You are so completely misinformed, its pathetic.

Posted by: Patton | Oct 21, 2007 3:09:00 PM

Boutique Weapons

From the New York Times:

"Responding to questions about Mr. Riechers’s death, an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Edward W. Thomas Jr., said Monday that the arrangements the Pentagon made with C.R.I. helped to provide short-term contractual work as consultants for people awaiting final clearance for senior civilian government positions.

Colonel Thomas said that under an existing contract with Commonwealth Research, Mr. Riechers had provided technical advice to the Air Force on several programs, including the use of bursts of microwaves as a crowd-control technique,"

Lends credibility to articles like this one:

"The second form of directed energy weaponry fires out microwaves, a form of energy well known for its use in modern kitchen appliances. I have nicknamed this weapon the "death ray" -- and with good reason. Exposing mammals to microwaves is known to make them explode.

The documentary news video in question, which was released online recently (16 May 2006) by a major Italian news service, examines evidence that the U.S. military has deployed – dating back to the 2003 battle for Baghdad Airport – a new generation of weaponry likely based on firing microwaves."

Watch the video.

Posted by: Enslaved | Oct 21, 2007 5:27:11 PM

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Posted by: peterwei | Oct 21, 2007 11:14:59 PM

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