End The War On Terror, Too

Demonstrators opposed to the Iraq war march across the Memorial Bridge in Washington Saturday March 17, 2006, during a protest to mark the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the war. The Lincoln Memorial is in the background. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
This column was written by Katrina Vanden Heuvel.
This Monday is the fourth anniversary of America's war against Iraq. The Nation vigorously and rigorously opposed the war before it began. In "An Open Letter to Congress," published on the eve of the vote on the war resolution, we wrote, "the case against the war is simple, clear and strong."

As we mark what may well be the most colossal foreign policy disaster in U.S. history, we mourn the death and destruction — which has not ended. We mark the lies and delusions that launched this war — since they too are continuing.

The majority of the American people have found their way to the truth and are demanding an end to this catastrophe. Yet the political system continues to crawl hesitantly toward accepting the enormity of this failure.

The political battle is joined in Congress as the House approaches a fateful vote on how to compel withdrawal through legislation on military appropriations. We applaud those who seek to defend the principles of a fully funded withdrawal. Yet we also understand that the new Democratic majority is struggling to find ways to force the President's hand and an exit from his wrongful war. It will be a long and tortuous process — judging from the painful political calculations the House leadership is making to cobble together a compromise bill.

As the House grapples with legislative maneuvers it is worth remembering that from the start of this war four years ago, House Democrats stood tall and bravely alone. A substantial majority opposed the original war authorization and their initial skepticism has been fully confirmed by subsequent events.

But as we mark the anniversary of the Iraq war, it is also time to consider the long-term damage the misconceived "war on terrorism" has inflicted on our security and engagement with the world. Eventually U.S. troops will leave Iraq because the brutal facts on the ground will compel it. But even as we struggle to get out of this failed war, our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from the "war on terror." At a time when we need a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine and an alternative vision of what this country's role in the world should be, we see both parties calling for intensifying the "war on terror" — even for increasing the size of the military, and for expanding its ability to go places and do things. But who is asking the fundamental question: Won't a war without end do more to weaken our security and democracy than seriously address the threats and challenges ahead?

Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. This administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything — unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty and condoning torture.

The administration has also justified the expansion of America's military capacity — over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets topping $500 billion — as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism and to fight the "war on terror." What too few politicians are willing to say is that combating terrorism — a brutal, horrifying tactic — is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Illegality and immorality aside, it simply doesn't succeed. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance U.S. security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world. Indeed, the failed Iraq war demonstrated anew the limits of military power.

Fighting terror requires genuine cooperation with other nations in policing and lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; withdrawal of support for oppressive regimes that generate hatred of the U.S.; and real pressure to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and justice and a secure state for the Palestinians. (There are other effective means of combating terrorism; what is important is that they are harnessed and coordinated so as to provide a true alternative to hyper-military ventures.)

It is also worth remembering as we mark this anniversary that military invasion and occupation, and crusades masquerading as foreign policy, divert precious resources from real security. Four years ago, the doubts and warnings about military action in Iraq were brushed aside (including those clearly and consistently expressed by the Nation). Now that reality has confirmed the argument, isn't it time to act on the knowledge?

Alongside the get-out-of-Iraq debate, the political system needs a parallel debate that lays out how we will exit this "long war" — which is a formula for unlimited militarization and recurring wars. (As an industrial project for the arms industry, it could be even more open-ended than the Cold War.)