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Monday, 02 May 2011
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Bin Laden Is Dead - The "War on Terror" Is Not

Osama Bin Laden is dead. This is certainly a good thing for the world. And yet, as I sit back and think about this event in our history, I'm struck by how anti-climactic the entire thing is. The reality is that Bin Laden has been a non-issue for some time now. I'm having a hard time even remembering the last time I heard of one of his audio tapes being released to Al Jazeera. And so while I find relief in his death, and I feel gratitude towards those who made it happen, especially those Navy Seals who risked their lives to do the deed, I have a hard time seeing what change it will bring about in the long run.

That's not to say he didn't deserve what he got, or that there isn't a symbolic victory here. However, the War on Terror was cast long ago as something bigger than one man. Bin Laden was minimized in the war. Partly this is because you can't fight an entire War against one person. Partly I think it was a CYA exercise to deflect criticism for why he wasn't found and killed sooner. Either way, I find it hard to reconcile the minimization of his importance during the War on Terror, and the maximization of the impact of his death now.

But his death certainly does mark a milestone in the War on Terror, and has caused me to go back through my blog postings and examine how my views on that War have changed, from 2001 until today. It's been an interesting experience. For one, it has been strange to recall how "gung-ho" I was in the early days of the war, and then to see how my attitudes have slowly shifted. What I've come to realize is that my views on the War on Terrorism shifted as I realized more and more what the War on Terror really meant.

In the beginning of course, the War on Terror meant hunting down Osama Bin Laden. Everyone remembers Bush's declaration that he wanted him Dead or Alive, and I agreed... especially with the Dead part. I think most Americans did. Then, as more information was gathered, Afghanistan became the War on Terror for most people, as it was for me. I viewed them as synonymous. That's were the terrorists were, and they were being protected by the Taliban. No problem.

Then Iraq happened. When the Iraq War first started, I was actually pretty hawkish. Saddam Husein acted like a man with a loaded gun pointing it at whoever he wanted to. As we now know, it was a toy gun he was pointing. Honestly though, in 2003, I was still angry, as were most Americans. But with Iraq, the War on Terror shifted. It stopped being about 9/11. We were pulling troops out of Afghanistan. The hunt for Bin Laden took a back seat. Bin Laden's head on a platter went from being Priority #1 to a "Nice to Have" feature. Even as Bush came up for re-election, it became an exercise of trying to make the best of a bad situation. Invading Iraq couldn't be undone, and so we were left with attempting to make the best of a bad situation.

The War on Terror began to have a different effect at home as well. Prior to Iraq, most people thought of "The War on Terror" and "The Afghanistan War" to be the same thing with different names. But as Iraq rolled on, we began to pay more attention to the civil liberties we were asked to sacrifice here at home. We've been asked to allow unprecedented searches of our bank accounts, our bodies, and our communications all without warrant. New laws have cropped up if you used "terrorist threatening"... even charging teenagers... and that's just the beginning. Not only has the word terrorism lost some of its meaning, but the word was used as leverage to get laws passed that normally would have been scoffed. This doesn't even include what we've done at Gitmo.

The War on Terror changed from a War in Afghanistan, with specific measurable goals, with a potential defined ending, to a War of Hyperbole, not unlike the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty or a War on Obesity. We have a war with no defined goals, and no defined ending. That is not a war, but rather a policy position. Some may read that, and not understand the difference. The importance is in the word... War. If someone asked you to give up your right to keep the police from randomly searching your home whenever they pleased, simply because that was a policy, you'd be rightly outraged. And yet, when we say we're doing that to fight a War, people are suddenly more willing to accommodate.

The assumption of course, is that these measures will be sort lived. Eventually the War will be over, and we will return to our normal life. Osama Bin Laden is now thankfully dead. But would any of you say we're any closer to an end of the War on Terror? Can any of you articulate what conditions must be met for the War on Terror to be declared won? Nearly 10 years ago, most people would probably have viewed the death of Osama Bin Laden as the beginning of the end to the War on Terror. Would anyone say that today?

For another slightly different view on the theme, check out The Agitator's post on the subject.

# Posted at 08:09 by Nick  |  Comment Feed Link No Comments  |  No Trackbacks

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