The War on Drugs
The War on Illiteracy
The War on Teen Pregnancy
We Americans sure love our wars, don’t we? Why do we always gravitate toward this metaphor to solve our problems? Why haven’t we figured out that it never works?
War is a strategically planned series of violent encounters between one aggrieved party and another. While one could posit that war is never productive (“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing”), at least traditional war involves two parties in opposition and a conclusion where one party is victorious over another. That is why true wars are finite. Nation X declares war on Nation Y and the war continues until one is the victor or both sides agree to stop fighting.
However, when we declare “war” on an ideology or a concept, we’re in for an endless struggle with no satisfactory conclusion. War on a concept is an infinite war. The latest case in point is our “war on terror”. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday while discussing the war on terror, Newt Gingrich stated that “war is over when the terrorists disappear”. Well, just how ridiculous a statement is that? Terrorists have always existed and will always exist. So long as there are aggrieved parties who, for whatever reason, find it impossible to express their frustration through legal means, there will be terror. Are we really to believe that our military should be in an endless fight against this “enemy”.
When Tim McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, did we send the military after him and his co-conspirators? No, we treated him like a criminal. Al Quada and the Taliban are not national entities against whom we can declare war. They are criminal organizations. Every terror network is a criminal organization. The fact that they may be politically motivated (so was McVeigh) is irrelevant. The way to pursue criminals is with law enforcement officials, not the military.
In a prior post, I defended the part of the Bush Doctrine that stated that countries who knowingly harbor terrorists are our enemies. We should take diplomatic steps with these countries to get their cooperation. We should use sanctions if necessary. We certainly can’t declare war on them when they have not formally attacked us.
While we pursue terrorism as a criminal matter, we should also take steps to reduce the incentives for terrorists. The incidence of homegrown terrorism in the United States, Canada and other wealthy western countries is low for a reason. The level of desperation in these countries is lower than in others. We must use our influence to help countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve the standard of life for their citizens. International efforts to stamp out poverty and increase education are the way to go. (By the way, these are the very same efforts that would help in our struggle against drug dependency and teen pregnancy, i.e. a concerted effort to reduce poverty and increase education.)
Folks, we need to stop declaring war on everything we don’t like. Concepts and ideologies don’t die because you try to kill everyone holding the particular concept. Concepts change when you make an effort to change hearts and minds. Communism in Russia did not die because of military action. It died because the people realized it no longer served their purposes.
When it comes to ideology, war is good for absolutely nothing.