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War? What War?



As co-author of The Case for Impeachment, the most common question I get besides “Why hasn’t Bush been impeached yet?” comes from right-wing critics, who ask some variant (usually laced with profanities) of: “How can you criticize the president when the country’s at war?”

It’s understandable that people might ask such a thing, given that we have some 140,000 American troops fighting in Iraq, and another 10,000 or so in Afghanistan, but the truth is that these conflicts aren’t what people have in mind (most people don’t even think about those wars). They’re talking about the so-called “War on Terror.”

Let’s first dispense with the Iraq “war” and the Afghanistan “war.” Neither of these is really a war. The first ended when Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, in April of 2003–back when Bush told us “major combat” had ended. Today, Iraq has an elected government, they tell us, and the U.S. is there at that government’s request, to help police the place. Sure, some Americans are continuing to die, but you can’t call it a war, or even an occupation. Not when you’ve been invited there by the local government.

The same is true of Afghanistan, where the Taliban were defeated way back in 2002. Again there is now an elected government there, and NATO forces, not US forces, at the invitation of that government, are conducting operations against the overthrown government of the Taliban. No way you can call that a war either, any more than the U.S. efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo were a war.

As for the “War” on Terror, the confusion seems to date back to the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson, deeply involved in a genuine war in Indochina, decided to divert public attention with a second “war”–this one on poverty.

That “war” wasn’t much more successful than the Indochina War. The Vietnamese won their war in 1975, and poverty won its “war” almost without firing a shot.

The main legacy of Johnson’s “war” on poverty, really, was not on poverty, but on political language. It led directly to the subsequent Nixon/Carter/Reagan/Clinton “war” on drugs.

That deceptively titled policy initiative had nothing to do with a war, but everything to do with expanding police power and police tactics within the U.S., and with filling prisons with people who didn’t belong there.

In that regard, the “war” on drugs was a model for Bush’s subsequent “war” on terror. Claiming that hordes of dark-skinned “Islamofascist” terrorists are out to destroy America, Bush and his cronies, following the 9-11 attacks, declared “war” on the terrorists.

But a strange “war” this has been. First they attacked Afghanistan, reportedly to go after the alleged author of those attacks, Osama Bin Ladin and his Al Qaeda hordes. But then, with Osama reportedly surrounded, Bush pulled his troops out and attacked Iraq, a bankrupt third-world state which had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks and which posed no threat to the U.S. Several hundred thousand US troops, and a handful of troops from a “coalition” of the “willing” were dispatched to Iraq where they have remained (well okay, the “willing allies” have mostly slipped away) since, while the pursuit of Bin Ladin has languished and, by some accounts, been called off altogether.

But as for the “war” on terror? It’s going strong, but all along it’s been all about not military, but police activity. In Europe, alleged terror cells have been efficiently infiltrated and busted. In Britain, there was the bust of a cell which succeeded in blowing up some buses and subway cars and another bust of an alleged plot to blow up multiple airliners. In the U.S., there have been…well, not much in the way of productive busts of terror actions, but certainly a lot of police activity.

Thousands of people of Islamic faith, or of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, including American citizens, have been rounded up on the flimsiest of excuses, and jailed without charge, often to later be deported–sometimes to the very countries they were given asylum from earlier. An unknown number have been secretly kidnapped and “renditioned” to third nations to be tortured in secret gulags, before being warehoused indefinitely at Guantanamo’s detention and torture center. Massive spying by the high-tech National Security Agency on hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans, all without benefit of a court order, has been ordered by the president, in violation of law and Constitution.

A so-called “USA PATRIOT” Act was pushed through Congress undermining the Bill of Rights, due process and the right to privacy.

The CIA and Defense Department Intelligence Agency, and other secret police organizations have been unleashed against the public, and dossiers are piling up on thousands of law-abiding citizens.

Critics of all these police-state tactics are publicly denounced and threatened by government officials and political leaders, including the president, as being “traitors” and “abettors of the terrorists.”

This is what Bush’s phony “War on Terror” is about in reality: not a war, but an excuse for a police state. He has even claimed that this fake “war” makes him “commander in chief” and since this faux war is global, taking place everywhere including within the U.S., he claims that gives him the power of a generalissimo both internationally and here at home–the power to declare anyone he wants, including you and me, an “enemy combatant” without rights of any kind, the power to ignore the courts, the power to ignore laws passed by Congress, and even the power to ignore the Constitution itself.

It’s important to understand what is being done in the name of “war”. Those who somehow believe that America’s survival as a nation is really threatened by terrorists, and that thus the president needs absolute power, need to ask themselves: How many terrorists do there have to be out there trying to harm America or American interests to justify calling this a “war” and tossing out the Constitution? Is 10,000 a good number? 1000? 100? 10?

Are 10 terrorists enough of a threat that we should suspend the Constitution and let the president be a dictator, or should we hold out for 1000? And should we count in that number “terrorists” like the bozos who were arrested in Miami, who were supposedly planning to take down the Sears Tower in Chicago but didn’t even know where it was or how to spell TNT? Or the seven and eight-year olds who were captured in Afghanistan and shipped off to Camp Iguana in Guantanamo?

Because let’s face it: With America not only the most powerful military power on earth (our military budget exceeds that of all other nations combined), there will always be some people out there who feel aggrieved enough or angry enough at something to want to take violent action.

So do these hyperventilating critics really want a permanent state of war because some terrorists want to hijack a plane, bomb a building, or try to bomb some city? Mt. Rainier near Seattle/Takoma, or the volcanic caldera in Yellowstone Valley could do much more damage than any terrorist bomb if either one blew, and nobody thinks America would be finished if either of those catastrophes struck. Besides, President Bush destroyed a city all by himself a year ago, and the country’s still here.

Let’s get real: There is no “war” on terror, just a war on the American people and on our Constitution.

And we know who the enemies of America are: Not some bunch of loony fanatics in turbans, but rather people in hand-tailored $6,000 suits in Washington, eager to turn a two-centuries-old experiment in democracy into a one-party police state.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at:



Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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