This narrow choice between big violence and smaller violence shows, I think, just how fully we have all implicitly adopted the conceptual framework of the War on Terror, how much George W. Bush’s advisers continue to set the terms of our thinking years after they’d been dispatched from office. Because that argument presupposes that we are at war and must continue to be at war until an ill-defined enemy is vanquished.
What, people ask, is the alternative to small war, if not big war? And the answer no one ever seems to even consider is: no war. If the existence of people out in the world who are actively working to kill Americans means we are still at war, then it seems to me we will be at war forever, and will surrender control over whether that is the state we do in fact want to be in. There’s another alternative: we can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks.
The Obama administration quite ostentatiously jettisoned the phrase war on terror from its rhetoric, but it’s preserved and further expanded its fundamental logic and legal architecture. Even after the troops come home from Afghanistan, we will still be a nation at war.
In 1832, German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz declared that “War is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force….a clash of forces freely operating and obedient to no law but their own.” Much of the history of war and international law in the last century, particularly after the horror of the second world war, was an attempt to prove Clausewitz wrong. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves. We may find ourselves at some point facing a stark choice between the war we are now fighting and the law which we all at least pretend is the bedrock of our republic.
I say we choose the law.
Via Glenn Grenwald and my niece Linda