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 You Call This a War? 

July 12, 2005 
The London terror bombings make one thing clear: the United States and the United Kingdom are never going to win the “war on terrorism.” Today's column is "You Call This a War?" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.The reason is simple: it isn’t really a war. And nobody can win or lose it.

We should stop talking about it as if it were a war. It’s a clash of wills. The enemy is obscure, but can’t be fought or defeated as if he were a state. He has no vital secrets or single mastermind that can be found by, say, taking, questioning, and torturing captives.

“He,” in fact, is a loose federation, not a centralized power. His numbers aren’t huge, but he has millions of sympathizers who share his hatred of us. He has no ambition to conquer us or destroy our freedoms; such talk is foolish. “Democracy,” if that’s what you want to call it, isn’t at stake. The enemy merely wants to harass and shock us until we stop irritating him.

And our government has no intention of doing that. It will keep doing what it does, and he will keep retaliating. This will go on indefinitely, since neither side can force the other to do what it wants. What costs can random acts of terrorism against a few civilians impose on the politicians who make the decisions? Don’t such acts in fact reward and encourage them?

What incentive could cause President Bush to change his course? Every new terrorist act fortifies his determination not to change. Nothing he does gives the enemy any reason to change, either. He even profits by the stalemate. From his point of view, the Iraq war isn’t futile.

For a time it appeared that Prime Minister Tony Blair might suffer political damage for supporting the war. But he survived his last election easily, winning by a larger margin than Bush did last November.

[Breaker quote for You Call This a War?: Why nobody wins]Does Bush feel the same frustration most of us feel? Somewhat, probably; but not enough to make him reconsider. He is a patient, stubborn man, but not the sort of creative thinker whose mentality is disturbed when reality doesn’t yield to his will. “What am I doing wrong?” isn’t the kind of question he asks himself.

Because he thinks of himself as engaged in war, he is content with old “lessons” of war he learned as a youth. For him this is World War II all over again, and his role is to act like the “heroes” of that war, Roosevelt and Churchill.

The same is probably true, more or less, of the enemy. He can wait. If his occasional strikes kill innocent people and cause an uproar, he has his reward; his conscience has long since ceased to bother him. He isn’t trying to “convert” Bush, and he no longer cares, if he ever really did, whether the Western public changes either.

Both sides are adapting to a new way of life, in which neither victory nor defeat is a prospect. Each has made its arrangements and alliances; there is no turning back. The rest of us may as well come to terms with it, since, as James Burnham used to say, when there’s no solution, there’s no problem. This is just the way we’re going to live from now on.

Expensive “security” measures, most of them useless, will be a permanent feature of our lives and economies, like the huge military budgets of the Cold War. We are still paying hundreds of billions in taxes for weapons systems we never needed; more to the point, we pay most of the money for military salaries and pensions that have become an ineradicable part of modern existence, like a second welfare state.

Do you get a regular check from the government? If not, you may be missing the point of the whole thing. Government programs ostensibly begin with the purpose of “protecting” us from something — poverty, old age, deadly enemies, carcinogens in the water and air. But our “protectors” keep on getting paid long after any danger has passed.

What starts as a means eventually becomes an end in itself. What we thought was only a specific emergency measure turns out to be a whole way of life. Some very brainy people never catch on to this.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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