Are We at War with Terrorism?

An article in today’s Washington Post questioning whether there will be a terrorist attack to disrupt US elections raises the question of whether we are really in a war against terrorism comparable to the war in Iraq, or whether the real war on terrorism is more akin to the war on organized crime or drugs. The first question is what we mean by war. In America, the word war has been applied to wars on poverty, wars against crime, other types of “war” which are not one nation fighting another. Therein lies the problem, the war on terror is not a war against another nation, or an alliance of nations, but against people from many nations who share certain beliefs and hatreds. The nations don’t share these dangerous values — a relatively small percentage of the their populations do.

It’s very possible that the 9/11 attacks were a fluke. If airport security had just been a little tighter, they never would have happened. If the FBI and CIA had just worked a little harder, they never would have happened. We were fighting 20-30 people who were intent on destroying thousands of Americans, but nevertheless, wars usually involve tens or hundreds of thousands of people fighting as many on the other side, perhaps millions. That’s certainly not the case here, and Bush has never defined how his war on terrorism will be fought, unlike the conventional war on Iraq, which was fought in a relatively conventional way.

Can Bush really defend America if he is fighting the wrong war? I think there is a good chance that Bush is fighting the wrong war and that what he is doing is decreasing, not increasing, America’s security.

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