Don't Oversell an 'Idea War'

Don't Oversell an 'Idea War'
Posted by FoM on September 26, 2001 at 10:29:33 PT
By Douglas McGray
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Eighty-five percent of Americans today are in favor of war, according to a recent New York Times poll. On the surface, that seems to be a powerful statistic. In fact, it means only as much as the war does - which, in the case of a war against terrorism, is very little. President Bush declared war from the Oval Office and from a heap of rubble in lower Manhattan. Congress did it, forcefully, from the floor of the Capitol. Pundits were almost as unanimous.
It is important to pay attention to cooler heads, especially as forces build at Afghanistan's frontiers. Secretary of State Colin Powell, for instance, was quick to remind Americans that war is difficult when the enemy has no land, no defenses, and no military target more concrete than an idea.Indeed, where is the United States military to fight? Afghanistan, which has sheltered deadly terrorists for years, is an almost certain target. But Pakistan, which has sheltered deadly terrorists for years, is suddenly an ally.And how is the United States military to fight? It could bomb Afghanistan to mountains and scrub, but Afghanistan is already little more than mountains and scrub. It could send in troops, but if you are a terrorist, and you see the US Army coming, you make like a civilian and head for a crowd - or better, the border. The Soviet Army killed more than a million people in Afganistan before giving up and withdrawing in defeat. Washington has fought this kind of war before.Every president since Richard Nixon has declared "war" on drugs. Every presidential candidate has emphasized that he will win the war on drugs, because each president before him has failed. But there is no drug lord in chief, no single network to break, no one nation to beat or sanction into submission. The idea of a war on drugs implies that we can eradicate the problem - as likely as police eradicating crime or firefighters eradicating fire - and that dooms the US to failure.Even earlier, President Johnson's administration declared "war" on poverty. Poverty is an insidious enemy. The suffering it visits upon Americans and the world is staggering, the deaths slow and bitter. Yet the problem with a war on poverty is the same as the problem with a war on drugs. The enemy is vast and fluid, and victories against it are seldom more than a reminder of how much remains.These wars are "idea wars," in which leaders appropriate the language of war to rally political support and signal big budget commitment. But we have never moved aircraft carriers to combat poverty. We have not marched ground troops on coca farmers. This time, for the first time, an idea war is intended to be a shooting war as well. That is a dangerous and politically risky proposition.If our recent idea wars are any indication, our impending war against terrorists could prove long, expensive, and bloody - yield little in the way of meaningful results within the time frame that Americans have typically been willing to support a foreign military campaign. Meanwhile, the real fight against terrorism, an ongoing combination of thankless police and intelligence work - more like fighting crime on a global scale than waging war - could get overshadowed.The 85 percent of Americans who support war expect victory. If that victory is largely symbolic - for instance, forcing extradition of Osama bin Laden or executing gunpoint justice abroad - war will have been a therapeutic distraction.Right now, Americans are consumed by grief and rage. Real retribution, however, will come from aggressive counterterrorism efforts that pull together the resources of America's military, intelligence, and law enforcement communities. Struggle, but not war. There will be no parades for the victories, many though they will be. It would be a shame if calls for an impossible war diminished the real fight against terrorism as less heroic than a vengeful march through Kabul.Douglas McGray, a contributing writer at Foreign Policy magazine, has also written for The New York Times Magazine.Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)Author: Douglas McGrayPublished: September 26, 2001 Edition Copyright: 2001 The Christian Science Publishing SocietyContact: oped csps.comWebsite: Articles:Ashcroft Takes Terror Case To Senate Launched The 30 Years' War as Election Issue
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Comment #9 posted by Felonious Punk on September 30, 2001 at 16:21:57 PT:
Hell has no fury like what we can create
Dear Friends:What troubles me most about this rush to war as well as the national media coverage I've read or watched is the dismissive depiction of our foes as nuts whose turbans are on too tight and guys motivated by simple greed and envy. This seems to be a common belief in allot of what I hear these days. However, I believe our 'enemies' are very bright, resourceful people motivated by the belief that their god stands firmly behind them. Their disrespect for America goes far beyond recent (Gulf War) events and their resentment has deep roots in our unexamined support of Israel as well as our general policies towards other mideast countries which are not our 'petrol-pals'. 
I've always had a bit of a cautionary approach to knee-jerk patriotism (Although this situation seems more like Shiloh or Bunker Hill than a ruse) but I still can't bring my self to hand-over a blank check of patriotism to an administration I neither support nor feel confident of. At least these events have distracted W from his harebrained plan of stationing weapons on orbiting platforms in space fercryin'outloud!
No doubt these religious fanatics, both the domestic variety blowing up abortion clinics and the international type destroying our cities, need to be stopped. And it is a sort of war. But the aspects of this future war which are never mentioned by anyone in government or media is that when a terrorist attack is waged, we may be fighting them in the hills of Afghanistan or Iraq but they will be seeking us out in the streets of L.A. and Denver and Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Is the USA ready to look like Tel Aviv? I doubt we are ready for it.
 European and Canadian networks ran the actual shocking footage of the events. During and after the heavily censored USA coverage of this tragedy, most American networks choose to focus on the 'Heros' and the petty nuisances masquerading as increased airport security rather than showing this horror for just what it was; American streets full of dead Americans…that is what this very real war looks like,,,not simulated graphics and newsmen interviewing each other. If Americans knew what we were in for we'd temper our patriotism with caution and not wrap the grim reality in flags and tales of valor. 
Hell will have no fury like what we can bring down upon ourselves….Sleeping with one eye open;
Seattle, Wa., USA
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Comment #8 posted by jack on September 28, 2001 at 05:10:07 PT
"The bigger question"
The last war waged on US soil was the war between the states.The industrial north and the rural south,the south feeling the north was infringing on their "rights".Remember that the right to keep and bear arms in case you had to form a militia had't been robbed of it's meaning yet,everone grabbed their gun and powder, chose sides and started shooting.The ruralists were outmaned but not out gunned,and all things considered they could have won if there was just a few more of 'em. BUt they had to finally call a truce and give up the cause.Wake up folks,...round to is getting ready to start!.......
 The only thing now is that we're gonna be out unned and outmanned this time,....So,.we have to outsmart them this time..It'll be a war of words and wit.Unless we can get the government to finance us,..I'm sure the CIA would be willing to help out the cause!
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Comment #7 posted by tdm on September 27, 2001 at 09:14:53 PT:
Dan's war questions
"is it possible to separate the war on some drugs from the war on freedom?"It is not possible within the context of our own government being the perpetrator. However, it is important to make a distinction between what our own government is trying to do supposedly within the confines of the constitution, and what the terrorist nations of the world are attempting to do, which is defeat the very idea of individual freedom on which this country was founded. That is the larger context.The solution is two-fold. First we must protect and defend the very idea of individual liberty against those who would subvert it wholesale both in their own countries and in ours. Once that task is complete, we can then turn our attention back to efforts which will return the U.S. government to its intended limited function of defender of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Until step one is complete, step two is futile.Of course, it is also important to be vigilant about preventing *further* erosion of our liberties in the name of combating terrorism. However, this is a different effort than trying to turn back the clock.We need to speak loud and clear, telling our government to remain focused on destroying the governments in terrorist, freedom-hating countries. This means waging all out war using all the superpower at our disposal until no government/nation/terrorist would dare think that it could lift a finger against the U.S. without suffering complete and total destruction.Like it or not, the reality is this: we must use the very leaders we accuse of perpetuating the war on some drugs to wage war against terrorism on a global scale (I hope they are competent for the job, though I doubt it). They are the only leaders we have right now even though they taint our smaller cause (ending drug prohibition) temporarily as bedfellows. It is now our responsibility to ensure that they wage that bigger war in a way that both ensures total victory and guarantees no further encroachment on our liberties on our home soil.**********"The questions I have asked are purposely impossible to answer with certainty."Not true if the questions are those of ethics. I believe we can answer those questions with demonstrable truth. Which questions in particular do you feel are unaswerable?
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Comment #6 posted by Ethan Russo MD on September 27, 2001 at 09:14:12 PT:
Tough Questions
Dan, you surely know how to ask the difficult questions. The "War on Drugs" has taken a backseat for a couple of weeks, but an interesting convergence is now occurring. The Taliban links to the opium trade are being emphasized. Dissent of any type to the Amerikan party line is being vilified. Soon someone will say that anyone who smokes a joint (recreational or medicinal) is guilty of treason.For the moment, which would be more dangerous to me, to enter the airline terminal in dreadlocks or wearing a kaffiyeh? I venture that the headdress would doom me to attack in minutes, but soon, it will be dangerous for anyone to be different, unless we as a people extend our hand of friendship to people of every stripe. Positive example is a stronger weapon than a club.Recent events provide a convenient excuse to press a reactionary agenda. Any day now, I expect that someone in the administration will insist that we drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge immediately to reduce demand for foreign oil. Dissenting environmentalists will be painted as drug users and sympathizers with the enemy. It is all very expedient.The real problem is that the shock and horror of the moment will enable such excesses by the temporary surge of public opinion, unless a few cooler heads in Congress prevail. A plunge toward totalitarianism will destroy the American ideals, and ensure the victory of terror. That is the greater enemy to freedom, and freedom is what we must preserve.
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Comment #5 posted by Dan B on September 27, 2001 at 08:37:02 PT
You Make A Great Deal of Sense, Kap
The questions I have asked are purposely impossible to answer with certainty. I think that the problem we are facing in the drug war today are different from the problems we faced on September 10. That is, like it or not, the terrorist attacks have changed the war on drugs just like they have changed everything else. Before the attacks, the principle case we made concerning our freedoms had to do with our rights to put into our bodies what we deem right for us as individuals--not what our government deems best for us. Now, we have an issue that has eclipsed all other issues (at least as far as this administration is concerned): terrorism. Part of the difficulty of our task now will be simply to get them to listen to us at all. But we also now have a broader base of human rights and human freedoms issues to contend with. The measures this country takes against terrorism will, like it or not, have a direct bearing on the war on some drugs. Perhaps, then, we should be asking ourselves (1) how to get the politicians' ears, and (2) what is really our core issue here? That is, are we concerned with changing only the draconian laws that apply to drugs, or are we concerned with the larger issue of restoring all of the freedoms guaranteed to us by the U. S. Constitution? It's certainly something to think about.Thanks, kaptinemo, for responding. I always appreciate your perspective.Dan B
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on September 27, 2001 at 06:43:48 PT:
Dan, I can't say I have a concrete answer
"I don't know--is it possible to separate the war on some drugs from the war on freedom? Might we, at some point, see some reversals of drug war policy without seeing any changes in government intrusion? That is, if cannabis were legalized, but other substances remain illegal, would that change anything in terms of the government robbing us of our freedoms?" Here's how I look at it:We all know how vast the DrugWar is. The whole planet is involved. Both hemipsheres; Pole to Pole. It intrudes into everything. Over 70% of the currency we Americans have in our wallets and purses is contaminated with cocaine residue. One-fifth to One-third of the M1 (currency) presently in circulation has been laundered drug money. Withdraw it from circulation, and banks collapse. As well as nations.The frustration of fighting and endless and pointless war has taken it's toll on the sanity of those forced (or in some cases, desiring) to fight it.The DrugWar itself causes behavior amongst it's proponents that is symptomatic of a substance even more insidious and addictive than heroin or nicotine. In essence, we are dealing with addicts who are adamant in 'maintaining' themselves, at all costs...even to turning a blind eye towards the murder of children they purport to be saving (Alberto Sepulveda, for one). They favor the impoverishment, incarceration and death of otherwise productive and law-abiding members of many cases, demonstrably purely for their own financial gain (the Donald Scott case being a perfect example; his widow is having the property stolen from her even as we read, and neither one of them committed any wrongdoing.)We are up against people who think our protestations of maintaining our (dwindling) rights are the mewling cries of babies. They simply are incapable of seeing the pit that awaits the destruction of civil liberties "just for a little while". In their pride, arrogance and simple stupidity, they think America won't make the exact same mistakes that other nations have made for themselves...and which we helped extricate them from in the not so distant past. At a huge cost in blood.It's a mindset that we face, one for whom force is an alternative not used enough for their tastes. If they wren't killing us over drugs, it would be brussell sprouts. Any challenge to authority, however mild and reasonable, threatens them to their core, and must be dealt with swiftly and viciously.I'm afraid, deeply afraid, that America is going to learn those lessons of history very shortly. And this time, there'll be no 'arsenal of freedom' to help us out from under the jackboot of home-grown tyranny; we'll have to do that ourselves.And, as usual in such cases, we're the one eyed people in the land of the blind. And the blind are all swinging battle-axes, trying to cut down the voices of reason calling for a halt to all this madness before it's too late. It's going to become distinctly unhealthy to become a reformer in the US.
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Comment #3 posted by Dan B on September 27, 2001 at 00:05:46 PT:
I appreciate the allusions to the "war on drugs" and the "war on poverty." Of course, of particular interest to us here is the allusion to the "war on drugs." Which brings me to an attempt to steer this conversation back to our primary issue of concern. How far do you think the American people will let the government go in its crusade (I use that term purposefully) against some drugs? It has already, "sent in ground troops" against its own citizens--what more is there? An escalation of the violence we have already seen?I ask this with specific attention to the war on some drugs. That is, many of the surveillance and attack measures that have (for the most part) passed public muster in this country have been put into place under the pretense of fighting a war on drugs, but those measures are really part of the larger war against freedom. I don't know--is it possible to separate the war on some drugs from the war on freedom? Might we, at some point, see some reversals of drug war policy without seeing any changes in government intrusion? That is, if cannabis were legalized, but other substances remain illegal, would that change anything in terms of the government robbing us of our freedoms? If not,perhaps we can forge some alliances with other groups that may not be interested in drug laws, but may be interested in protecting other freedoms.As I have said, this post is really an exercise--an attempt to get us talking about the war on some drugs again. Still, I am curious about what everyone thinks regarding these issues.Dan B
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Comment #2 posted by The GCW on September 26, 2001 at 20:39:34 PT
Big difference?
For quite a while, the U.S. Fed. Gov. has fought a war on drugs, war on citizens, etc... It has been for the most part, with out violence. They are uping the eni, and now are going to put young people in harms way. and this war will probabley be fought on our own turf, by way of the terorist. Wouldn't it be better to put most of our efforts to keep us safe in America, first, before gong to other countries to kill, more? What if 7,000 died by those air crashes, and in the end, Bush sends off 10,000 or more citizens to give their lives, and still no end in sight?
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Comment #1 posted by mayan on September 26, 2001 at 17:06:19 PT
Like Your Status Quo Now?
Not much to say here except that our only real hope is to oust the corporate duopoly I refer to as the "Republicrats". It is their foreign policy over the last 50+ years which has culminated in this. Keep voting for them if you want more of the same.Support Bill Maher 
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