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There Is No End In Sight For The Self-Perpetuating 'War On Terror'

January 11, 2013
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Source: Techdirt

No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country. ~Alexis de Tocqueville
War generally used to refer to a finite state, but as with the endless "War on Drugs," the War on Terror has scattered the US military around the globe to battle terrorists with no endgame. Hillary Clinton speculated back in 2009 that we would be in Afghanistan (in one form or another) for another "50 or 60 years." Greg Miller's article for the Washington Post quotes unnamed senior administration officials as stating these operations are "likely to be extended for at least another decade." [As this story was being prepped, the administration announced plans to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Seeing as this completely contradicts the Pentagon's claim that a large fighting force will need to be maintained seemingly indefinitely, we're probably better off believing this when we see it.] Eleven years and counting from the 9/11 attacks and the "action" only seems to be heating up. Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Guardian, points out the current administration's escalation of this undeclared war.
The policies adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.
Much of this has to do with the very nature of government itself: surviving a round of budget cuts is a larger victory than actually achieving stated goals. We've seen evidence of this perverted incentive in the TSA, which has done everything it can to protect its turf in order to remain "essential" enough to receive funding year in and year out.

Another bonus for those in power is that long-lasting wars create an atmosphere conducive to the expansion of government control. Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture quotes James Madison's warning about the corruption of executive power by the act of war:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
We have a government (and various industries) that has no interest in ending the War on Terror. In order to maintain the new, post-9/11 status quo, the "war" must continue. There is simply no incentive to end it, at least nothing that outweighs the side benefits.
If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It's that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.
Limitless power and impenetrable secrecy. That's what we've got and that's what's in store for us in the future. The FISA Amendments Act, which was recently extended for another half-decade with scarcely an objection, sanctions warrantless wiretapping on American citizens thanks to a "secret" interpretation of the law's language by a secret court. A so-called "National Counterterrorism Center" is collecting a giant database of information on innocent Americans, an action so breathtakingly wrong that it raised objections from the DHS. Law enforcement officials, with assistance from the FBI and CIA, have spent years violating the rights of US citizens who happen to be Muslim in hopes of uncovering terrorist plots. To date, they've found nothing. If certain "security" legislation fails to make its way through the proper channels, executive orders are issued to make it a reality.

The politicians and private companies benefiting from our ongoing battle will be pleased to learn that our "anti-terrorist" actions are going a long way towards making the War on Terror self-perpetuating.
There's a good reason US officials are assuming the "War on Terror" will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs. The New York Times' Matthew Rosenberg examines what the US government seems to regard as the strange phenomenon of Afghan soldiers attacking US troops with increasing frequency, and in doing so, discovers a shocking reality: people end up disliking those who occupy and bomb their country:

"Such insider attacks, by Afghan security forces on their Western allies, became "the signature violence of 2012", in the words of one former American official. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable, and American officials have expressed worries about its disruptive effects on the training mission that is the core of the American withdrawal plan for 2014. . . .

"But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings.
Our government has, over the past decade, ordained murder (targeted killing), torture (enhanced interrogation techniques) and kidnapping (extraordinary rendition) under the guise of "fighting terrorism." The administration has granted itself the power to authorize war/warlike tactics anywhere in the world without requiring congressional authorization. The conscription of local law enforcement into the War on Terror has availed them of the same questionable procedures and tactics, further eroding our rights as citizens.

Rather than make the world safer, our actions have created more enemies. And it's only going to get worse. Laws, especially far-reaching legislation that grants unprecedented powers, rarely, if ever, come back "off the books." The feeling that this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better is particularly disheartening because the "better" half of that sentence looks like its chances are moving from "slim" to "none."

It's no surprise that the War on Terror is endless. It is, however, discomfiting to hear administration officials confirm this. What began as merely overreaction to a horrendous attack has become the focal point of two administrations -- a vague quest against a poorly-defined "evil" that has been used to excuse criminal activities by national security agencies and as impetus for a swiftly-growing surveillance state.

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