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Unlimited War?

For more than a week everyone has been saying that our world changed on Sept. 11.

In fact, it was on Sept. 20 that the world changed, the day that George W. Bush spoke to the nation and announced the American jihad

“Every nation in every region now has a decision to make,” he said. “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Independent policy, middle ground — it appears these are concepts of the old world.

The Taliban, he said, must “hand over every terrorist and every person in their support structure.” Punishment only for the guilty — another irrelevant concept. What is a support structure? That’s a question for those who don’t understand the new war.

“They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.” Collective punishment is part of the new world order.

Bush has said repeatedly this isn’t about a clash of religions. But, he told us, “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”

God has signed on with us, and so difficult questions need not be asked. We need have no qualms about a campaign to — in the words of the secretary of defense — “drain the swamp,” borrowing on an old counterinsurgency term that translates into killing civilians to deprive targeted groups of their “cover.”

The goal of this new campaign is “Infinite Justice.” The Pentagon has retracted that name, with its overtones of Christian fundamentalism, in deference to the sentiments of Muslims. But it cannot retract the uneasy feeling the phrase leaves us with, for the Pentagon planners are not speaking of justice spread infinitely throughout the world.

Instead, it is “justice” ad infinitum — to the end. The war of the 21st century begins now.

It is justice by the sword. It ends in victory not peace, and Bush has made it clear that the sword will be unsheathed for a long time to come.

It did not have to be this way. Even after the provocation of such a brutal and inhuman attack, the United States could have chosen the path of sanity. Bush could have said that 56 years of a national security state has done nothing to assure our security and has only endangered us.

He could have said that America’s course of unilateralism, military aggression, and economic domination must be rethought.

He could have said that support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine and for the brutal economic siege of Iraq should be rethought.

He could have said at least that there was no need to exacerbate risks at a time of great tension, that there was no need of a rash insistence that our demands “are not open to negotiation or discussion.” He need not have threatened to use “every necessary weapon of war.”

We stand at a juncture in history, a moment in which our course can be changed. We need political leaders who can see what a disaster past policies have been. We need people with vision, who can imagine what a just world would look like.

As Democrats and Republicans in Congress all showered with praise Bush’s call for an Unlimited War? with unending enemies, never before has it been so clear that the existing political leadership of this country is bankrupt

No one from any part of the political spectrum — left, right, or center — or any walk of life — rich, poor, or middle class — can any longer afford the illusion that being a good citizen means supporting the status quo.

Bush wanted to galvanize a nation, and in a strange way he might have. As we watch leaders callously leverage the suffering of Americans into carte blanche for their jihad, we see how the world has changed for the worse.

There is nothing to do but face that reality — not cynically in despair, but realistically with hope and the understanding that we can change it for the better. In the spontaneous demonstrations of resistance that have sprung up the past few days, we may be seeing the seeds of that change. Ordinary Americans are beginning to see that we are connected more to Afghan peasants, in our shared vulnerability, than to any of the people with the fingers on the triggers — the terrorists or the man in the White House.

Radical change is not only possible, it has begun. CP

Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Board of Peace Action. Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas. Both are members of the Nowar Collective. They can be reached at rahul@tao.ca.

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