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Clear and Present Fog
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace

She's yet to see the smoke clear

Clark Kent Ervin—not relation to anything Kryptonic—is a former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security and a director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Aspen Institute. A few days ago in the Times he wrote a piece called “Answering al-Qaeda.” It begins with the following three paragraphs:

More than five years have passed since terrorism struck our country. Some say this is no surprise. After all, since then we have reorganized the government and created an agency dedicated to protecting us from another attack — the Department of Homeland Security. We have spent billions of dollars to better secure potential targets. We have dislodged Al Qaeda from its sanctuary in Afghanistan, and killed or captured scores of its followers around the globe.

Perhaps another strike on the country is unlikely, but I very much doubt it. From everything we know, Al Qaeda is as determined as ever to attack us at home, and it remains as capable as ever of doing so. While many of its operatives have been killed or captured since 9/11, the supply of young people who are willing and even eager to attack Americans seems limitless.

Our disastrous misadventure in Iraq has only increased that desire. Al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in Pakistan and is trying to reclaim Afghanistan. It is only marginally harder for terrorists to enter the United States now than it was before 9/11, and once they’re inside our borders the potential targets are infinite. Many of those targets are more secure today, but not to the degree they should be.

One is tempted to ask how half-savvy editors would permit logic so blatantly flawed to be presented in their pages as a serious argument. But flawed logic is what the rationale of the “global war on terror” feeds on. It’s what it needs for sustenance. You cannot fight a perpetual war paid for by the good graces and tax dollars of a public that blindly buys into the national security state without a core contradiction: that untold spending is making us safer, but that more untold spending is necessary because an attack is a matter of time.

Have a look at Clark Kent’s reasoning again: “Some” say it’s no surprise that another attack hasn’t happened since 9/11 because “We have spent billions of dollars” securing targets, gotten rid of al Qaeda from its sanctuary and killed “scores” of its followers. And yet, “from everything” he knows, “al Qaeda is as determined as ever to attack us at home, and it remains as capable as ever of doing so.” The writer hasn’t reasoned that, after all those billions, al-Qaeda is still capable of hitting us—that it’s pulling itself by the bootstraps and scrapping together a counter-attack. No. It remains as capable as ever. Those are strong words. In other words, it is just as strong, if not stronger, than it was in 2001, which is to say that everything that has happened since in the “war on terror” has been either useless, or has aided and abetted al-Qaeda. Which, in fact, is what Ervin says when he concedes that Iraq has been a disaster while “Al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in Pakistan and is trying to reclaim Afghanistan.”

What are we to make of all this? Ervin’s answer: spend more money securing the country. Billions and billions more. And spend more time constricting the nation’s freedoms (example: “Provide money for mass transit authorities to deploy armed police patrols, bomb-sniffing dogs and technology, surveillance cameras, public awareness campaigns and random bag searches permanently, not simply during heightened states of alert.”) In other words: more of the same.

At this rate al Qaeda won’t need to attack. It’ll just need to stand by and watch the country bankrupt itself financially and ideologically until it becomes just another exhausted police state. And in reality al Qaeda hasn’t needed to attack: the financial bankruptcy, courtesy of Iraq and other assorted wars, is well on its way (true, the immediate effects of the wars are limited, as the Post noted this week; its long-term effects won’t be). The ideological bankruptcy even more so. Then again, it’s my logic that’s flawed now. I’m reasoning that the slide began on 9/11. Recall Gore Vidal’s observation about that day, however: “I was not surprised that despite the seven or so trillion dollars that we have spent since 1950 on what is euphemistically called “defense,” there would have been no advance warning from the FBI or CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency.” (Let’s not forget the NSA.) What Vidal aptly called the “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” is a national enterprise of long date going back to Harry Truman in 1947. Nine-Eleven was its middle-age bounce. Happy 60 th anniversary.

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