When war is not to be won, but rather to be fought

Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, I have noticed a pattern. Then, al Qaeda would commit some outrage that was an expression of the group’s own fury. This outrage would provoke a fury and demonization in the United States that helped to enable then-President George W. Bush to pursue a war agenda. The U.S. would then commit its own outrages, notably roundups and deportations of Muslim males in the U.S., the roundups that filled Guantanamo, the invasion of Iraq, the “night raids” and other offenses against Afghan civilians, the drone attacks, and who knows how many other, that would, in their own turn, help with al Qaeda recruiting. And so it went, until at some point, I think Osama bin Laden either lost his touch, lost control, or decided he’d gotten what he wanted out of that cycle.

But today, we have the Islamic State. And the same thing is happening again. The Islamic State horrifies the West with videos of beheadings and conquers vast swaths of territory. It attracts the allegiance of other so-called “terrorist” groups. The West (here I intentionally omit discussion of Turkey and Russia and their own apparently separate agendas) is outraged and sends in the bombers in a dubious “strategy” to degrade the Islamic State. The Islamic State attacks Paris, first with the Charlie Hebdo attacks and second with what seems more an attack on Parisian nightlife than anything else. Then it attacks—of all places—San Bernardino, a town few people outside California have even heard of (and yes, I may well here be oversimplifying the relationship between the attackers and the group). All this in turn enables the West to commit its own outrages.[1]

Holding all Muslims accountable for the actions of an extremist fringe, we would increase surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods,[2] block the entry of refugees trying to escape the very violence we claim to be combatting,[3] round up the refugees who are already here,[4] and bar all Muslims from entering the country.[5] And of course we will intensify the war.

I am not interested that one political party or the other may be more hawkish or more paranoid or more determined to wrap itself in the national flag. Even after Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006 with a mandate to end the Iraq war, they remained complicit—as they had been since the 9/11 attacks—and fearful of appearing “soft on terrorism.”

We are not so much afraid of committing war crimes. We are not so much afraid of further provoking a cycle of violence. We are not even afraid of being stupid. We are terrified of appearing “soft” or “weak.”

U.S. citizens, as a class, are complicit in these crimes. We elect or re-elect bellicose candidates. We imagine victory and annihilation of our “enemies” but pursue a strategy that only guarantees ever more bloodshed.

This is a cycle that only gets worse and worse. No one knows how or even if it will stop.

But most of all, it is a war that can only be fought and never won. And it is hard to say that that isn’t just what some people want.

  1. [1]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Paris attacks: ‘France will destroy IS’ – Hollande,” November 16, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34836439; Dan Roberts, “Republicans demand US lead a new war to ‘eradicate Isis’ after Paris attacks,” Guardian, November 15, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/15/paris-attacks-republican-response-isis-military-intervention; Phil Stewart, Warren Strobel, and Matt Spetalnick, “After Paris attacks, pressure builds for big military response to Islamic State,” Reuters, November 14, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/15/us-france-shooting-military-idUSKCN0T31HY20151115
  2. [2]Bradford Richardson, “Republican calls for increased surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods,” Hill, November 15, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/260220-republican-calls-for-increased-surveillance-in-muslim-neighborhoods;
  3. [3]William Douglas and Lesley Clark, “Analyst: 50-50 odds of government shutdown over refugees,” McClatchy, December 1, 2015, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article47259075.html?rh=1; Jordan Fabian, Alexander Bolton, and Scott Wong, “Pressure builds to block refugees,” Hill, November 16, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/260337-pressure-builds-to-block-refugees; Peter Schroeder and Tim Devaney, “Syria refugee fight emerges as government shutdown threat,” Hill, November 23, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/260966-syria-refugee-fight-emerges-as-government-shutdown-threat
  4. [4]Dave Boucher, “Tennessee GOP leader: Round up Syrian refugees, remove from state,” Tennessean, November 17, 2015, http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2015/11/17/tennessee-gop-leader-round-up-syrian-refugees-remove-state/75936660/
  5. [5]Patrick Healy and Michael Barbaro, “Donald Trump Calls for Barring Muslims From Entering U.S.,” New York Times, December 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/12/07/donald-trump-calls-for-banning-muslims-from-entering-u-s/; Jonathan Turley, “Trump Calls For “Total and Complete Shutdown” of Muslims Entering The United States,” December 8, 2015, http://jonathanturley.org/2015/12/08/trump-calls-for-total-and-complete-shutdown-of-muslims-entering-the-united-states/

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