Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.”     Robert A. Heinlein,    Starship Troopers

March 24, 2007

The Damage To Society From Our “War On Terror”

by Brad Warbiany

One of the constant themes I point out in the War on (Some) Drugs is that the cure is worse than the disease. Nobody will claim that drugs haven’t been a catalyst for people to ruin their lives, and often dramatically alter the lives of those around them. However, the fact is that the methods we’ve used to prosecute the War on (Some) Drugs have damaged the rule of law and the relationship between an individual and government. Further, for all the cost, the no-knock raids, the destruction of 4th Amendment rights, we’re no closer to winning the War On (Some) Drugs than we were at day 1. In fact, it’s quite likely that if we had at once accepted the existence of drugs and focused our efforts on education and treatment, that we’d have a much better prognosis today?

Is it possible that we have the same problem in the War On Terror? Now, to some extent, the analogy is strained. After all, drug use is a victimless crime, terrorism is not. But I think it’s quite possible that the methods we use to fight the War On Terror are counterproductive, extremely costly with little return on investment, and will prove in the long run to be more destructive to American society than the terrorism it’s fighting. The Washington Post’s Zbigniew Brzezinski deftly argued this point in an op-ed yesterday.

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a “war on terror” did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

Fear is a tool of control. It is one thing to ask a person to do what you wish. It is another to demand it. But pushing a person into fear is a way to make him eagerly do what you wish, thinking it was his idea all along. Through fear, you need not worry how a man carries the shackles you put on him, because he’ll volunteer to wear them. To be sure, there are things in this world worth fearing. But fear is not an excuse to suspend your rational ability. The man who asks you to cede your freedom in exchange for “freedom” is not to be trusted.

Fear has become the name of the political game, and the stakes are high. Unlike World War II, we’re not asked to ration sugar or observe meatless meals. Instead, we’re asked to suspend habeas corpus, willingly submit to National Security Letters and warrantless domestic wiretapping. Of course, we’re asked to provide implicit trust to the government to faithfully protect us, while acting as watchdogs to snitch on our untrustworthy family, friends, and neighbors at the first sign of wrongdoing. We’re watching as crucial controls on government, going back to the Magna Carta in 1215, are being removed.

The record is even more troubling in the general area of civil rights. The culture of fear has bred intolerance, suspicion of foreigners and the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of justice. Innocent until proven guilty has been diluted if not undone, with some — even U.S. citizens — incarcerated for lengthy periods of time without effective and prompt access to due process. There is no known, hard evidence that such excess has prevented significant acts of terrorism, and convictions for would-be terrorists of any kind have been few and far between. Someday Americans will be as ashamed of this record as they now have become of the earlier instances in U.S. history of panic by the many prompting intolerance against the few.

The time comes that I have to ask myself a simple question: Is it worth it?

What level of uncertainty of a terrorist attack should we allow in our lives in order to be certain that we’re not subjects of a police state? It has become a sad state of affairs when I’m more concerned that the actions of my own government will cause me trouble than the actions of extremists who have sworn an intent to kill me. In a world where we’re asked to submit to intrusive surveillance on a daily basis, and further to do so gladly and “for our own protection”, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to simply take my chances without their blanket of security?

Might there be better ways of reducing terrorism than turning our own country into a prison, while engaging in a foreign policy which causes those who didn’t hate us 5 years ago to start? Nearly 40 years of effort have proven that our tactics in fighting a war on drugs have proven futile and counterproductive, while damaging American society in the process. Should we take a step back and evaluate whether our tactics fighting international terrorism have been futile and counterproductive, while damaging American society in the process?

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12 Comments

  1. I vote that it is not worth fighting a war on terrorism because you cannot fight a war against a tactic. The Bush Administration has been doing just that by passing intrusive laws that threaten our liberties like the Patriot Act, the wiretapping without warrants, the National Security Letters, and the threats to habeas corpus. In addition, there are the long lines at airport security and the various other inconveniences we have to put up when we travel.

    Now for the if I was president part:

    The solution though is not to retreat behind isolationism or the more euphemistic term “non-interventionism”. The Bush Administration was on to something when they invaded Iraq and attempted to bring Western style liberty and democracy over there. The deluded fools’ biggest mistakes were they did not take into account the huge ethnic and religious differences and the fact that Western style liberty cannot co-exist with the wonderful, tolerant, peaceful, and advanced cult religion of Islam.

    Instead, the United States and the civilized world should make it clear the enemy is any Muslim leader or gang who believes that men are superior to women, religious and ethnic minorities should be treated as second class citizens, bars non-Islamic religions from their countries, suppresses freedom of speech and thought, and/or commits genocide and/or democide against a segment of their population . The United States will not give any foreign aid or enter into a military alliance to any Islamic nation that is engaged in any of the above atrocities against their own people, regardless of religion or ethnic background.

    The United States will also give aid to the victims of jihad (Israel, India, Christians in Indonesia, the people of Darfur, the Russians, and others). The purpose of the aid is for the jihad’s victims to defend themselves from the attacks of the jihadists, however the United States reserves the right to assist militarily if asked to do so. We will also employ the use of proxy armies and local resistance forces against terrorist sponsoring states and their allies.

    The United States will also announce a prize program to encourage American industry and automakers to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and take away radical Islam’s most important means of financing itself.

    We must begin to shift away from a War on Terror and instead, fight the real war that was declared on 9/11/2001; the War on Tyrannical Islam.

    Comment by Kevin — March 24, 2007 @ 11:49 pm
  2. “We must begin to shift away from a War on Terror and instead, fight the real war that was declared on 9/11/2001; the War on Tyrannical Islam.”

    Agreed. Kevin might be on to something with his plan.

    In any case, you’re right on when you say: “It has become a sad state of affairs when I’m more concerned that the actions of my own government will cause me trouble than the actions of extremists who have sworn an intent to kill me.”

    Setting aside the surveillance, national security letters, etc., which can be just stupid, a lot of the trouble seems to come from the fact that legally speaking we don’t really know what terrorists are, especially those captured on the field of battle. They fall between the cracks in the existing rules, since they aren’t simple criminals, but they definitely aren’t soldiers either, and there isn’t going to be an “end of hostilities” when we can release them all to go back to their homes. The solution is to rework the way the world views terrorists to come to some kind of widely accepted legal solution so that we can get rid of the temporary and half-assed legal nature of Gitmo and the like.

    Comment by mike — March 25, 2007 @ 1:07 am
  3. Terrorist are Salafis.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salafi

    How to beat them:
    1. Stop giving states that support them aid like Kevin said.
    2. Assassinate Salafi Imams or any of them with power and wealth.
    3. Try to find legal ways to close schools, charities, and mosque associated with Salafis. If no legal way can be found then demolish them.
    4. Secure our border and don’t let these people into this country.
    5. Get out of the Middle East and quit toying with these nuts. Let some other fools try to control the Middle East, giving them someone else to hate on.
    6. Have Muslim outreach programs here in the US to reach out to disgruntled Muslims already here.

    It is either that or genocide.

    Comment by uhm — March 25, 2007 @ 7:05 am
  4. I vote for not worth it

    Terrorist are Salafis.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salafi

    Some ideas I have to beat them:
    1. Stop giving states that support them aid like Kevin said.
    2. Assassinate Salafi Imams or any of them with power and wealth.
    3. Try to find legal ways to close schools, charities, and mosque associated with Salafis. If no legal way can be found then demolish them.
    4. Secure our border and don’t let these people into this country.
    5. Get out of the Middle East and quit toying with these nuts. Let some other fools try to control the Middle East, giving them someone else to hate on.
    6. Have Muslim outreach programs here in the US to reach out to disgruntled Muslims already here.

    It is either that or genocide.

    Comment by uhm — March 25, 2007 @ 7:06 am
  5. Fantastic cartoon about war on terror!

    Comment by Pedro Morgado — March 25, 2007 @ 7:25 am
  6. I agree with much of what Kevin said. The biggest problem with the war on terror is failure to identify the enemy. The enemy is Islamofascists* terror is a tactic.

    Another problem is that much of the successes and failures of this war has to be classified. I don’t think we have any idea of how many attacks have been stopped by the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security. We do know that several attacks have been stopped: The Brooklyn Bridge, the Sears Tower, and planned attacks in LA. It’s also worth noting that there have been no more attacks in America since 9/11.

    This war against Islamofascism needs to be refocused rather than relinquished.

    *Or Salafis, as uhm prefers. I still prefer Islamofascists because most Americans don’t know the difference between a Kurd, Shiite, and a Baathist. Most Americans know what Islam is and have some vague idea of what a fascist is.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — March 25, 2007 @ 2:24 pm
  7. Perhaps if Bush would actually try to logically justify some of these programs, I might be more willing to accept them… But it seems like the response is:

    1: Make it secret so we don’t know the surveillance exists.
    2: When it’s uncovered, blame the leaker for telling the enemy how we’re conducting surveillance.
    3: Tell the American people we need to do it because it’ll keep them safe (with no further elaboration), and intimate that they’re helping terrorists if they don’t just accept it.

    On the domestic side, I think they’re asking us to trade essential liberty for temporary security, and as Franklin suggested, that’s not a trade I find worthwhile.

    On the international side, I’m not sure whether our actions are making us safer or not. I think a lot of that will depend on whether we manage to succeed in Iraq. If we leave it a broken mess (as the Democrats want us to), it really will have the effect of creating more terrorists that want to kill us. We’ll have spent several hundred billion dollars, only to make us less safe. Only if we manage to succeed and set up a stable semi-liberal society and government there will it end up being a positive outcome for our national security.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 25, 2007 @ 3:46 pm
  8. I’m sorry for the double post oops.

    I think that is part of the problem Stephen. We need to know thy enemy. I’ve seen articles showing government officials don’t even know the difference between the different groups in Islam or where they live when asked.

    Pedro nice cartoon ;)

    Comment by uhm — March 25, 2007 @ 5:23 pm
  9. Fear was always the name of the political game. It’s no different today than years or even centuries ago.

    What we should do is give the appropriate label to someone who uses fear to attempt to control us: terrorist.

    Comment by Michael Hampton — March 25, 2007 @ 6:17 pm
  10. I wrote a post a few months ago on my personal blog about that, uhm. It wasn’t just “government officials,” it was the incoming Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, some high ranking GOP Congressmen, and several officials at DOJ and the FBI who are responsible for anti-terrorism efforts. They didn’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites; Rep. Reyes even went so far as to say that al-Qaeda is predominately Shi’ite and declined to answer what exactly Hezbollah is.

    Brad, I’d agree with your conclusions. I was a little obtuse in my first post, but to sum it up I’d say that foreign policy wise, we’re doing pretty well, although the jury is still out on Iraq. The thing is that 90% of the War is being fought outside of Iraq and Afghanistan and we never hear about it, which is the point. It kind of comes back to the principle of sending 50 special operations guys early to train up the local military to avoid having to send 50,000 troops later to deal with the problem.

    Domestic wise, Stephen has a point with the fact that we never hear about the successes of our anti-terrorism apparatus, but it’s hard to justify a lot of the stuff they seem to be doing.

    Comment by mike — March 25, 2007 @ 6:22 pm
  11. It sounds like the jury is out until the prosecution says otherwise.

    Personally, I find the increasing intolerance towards non-citizens to be the worst cost of war. Our civil society becomes less civil when immigrants and foreigners are dehumanized. I guess war politics isn’t the only thing that leads to xenophobia; protectionism and populism are also to blame. Still, they are enhanced in wartime, as are all we vs. they attitudes.

    Comment by David — March 26, 2007 @ 4:42 pm
  12. Mike that is sad and spooky you’d think they would be experts on Islam. I wish the media would be more precise so these people would learn.

    David, those aren’t immigrants but illegal aliens. I’ll never understand transnationalist.

    Comment by uhm — March 26, 2007 @ 6:49 pm

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