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State of War

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Around the time of our invasion of Iraq (I suppose Bush would want to use the euphemism liberation) I was involved a couple of threads on a messageboard discussing... Well, I was going to say the wisdom of going in there.  But most of the posts were about whether or not there was any possible justification for attacking.

From what I remember (I can't look it up because the board atrophied and eventually was taken down) nobody else who posted could envision any reasonable justification for the invasion.  I think I was the lone voice saying, "Hold on a minute.  Some of Bush's other international situations were handled quite well.  He appears to have a good group of advisors around him.  Maybe they know something we don't."

Apparently not.

But what I'm writing about today is not our decision to go in there.  The decision was made.  We're there.

Now what?

What bothers me the most is this bizarre limbo we're in right now.  On the one hand, Bush tells us "...to go about your business."  And then he turns around and says he needs extraordinary powers to protect us from terrorism.

So which is it?  Are we at war or not?

If we're at war then I think both the pragmatic and the moral position is that we should do what is necessary to end the war as quickly as possible.  Extraordinary powers can be used.  But always with the obligation to return essential liberties once the enemy has surrendered.

So.  Who do we attack to "...fight the war on terrorism?"  Who can surrender to us so that we can declare the war over.  When can we return to making this nation the beacon of liberty to the rest of the world?

Not Iraq.  That war is already over.  Sure, nobody ever formally surrendered.  Sure, we're still occupying the country.  But as a nation they are no longer (if they ever were) a threat to us.

Not Osama bin Laden.  Even if we do capture him.  And even if we caught him on a bad day and he chose to surrender in front of cameras of all the new agencies in the world, including al Jazeera.  That still would not end the "war" on terrorism.

The truth is, nobody can surrender to us to end this war.  The fight against terrorism is eternal.  There will always be some form of terrorism directed against our country.

So, when will we ever get our liberties back?  When will the government cease warrantless/secret warrant spying on our own citizens?  How much longer do we have to live in a culture of fear?

The essential problem is that the fight against terrorism is not a war.  It is, at its core, a police enforcement issue.  But it is not a conventional police enforcement issue.

Up to this point one big problem with treating it as a conventional police enforcement issue is that terrorists have been able to cross borders to evade capture and arrest.  Our police and military have not had the legal authority to chase after them.  That's the problem right now hindering us from tracking down bin Laden in Pakistan.

Does that mean we have to go to war with Pakistan in order to cross the border to apprehend bin Laden and his cohorts?

Right now, yes.  But it turns out there is a legal precedent that we could adapt to civilized nations' abhorrence of terrorism.

The worlds' nations should treat terrorism as it does piracy.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article that spelled all this out.

The short version is, up until a couple of hundred years ago piracy was a tool used by nation-states against each other outside of declared war.  That worked for a long time.  But as the world community matured they stopped using pirates, who went on to become mercenaries for any nation that would pay for them.  But they had to survive between contracts, which made them a scourge to everyone.

Eventually, in the Treaty of Paris in 1856, signed by most of the nations of Europe, piracy was abolished as a tool of the state.

But more than that, international laws allow any nation to pursue and attack pirates wherever they are found.  Even within the borders of another nation.  And any nation which actively employs or protects pirates are subject to attack from the signatories of this treaty and the treaties that followed.

That has proven disastrous to pirates.  They have been essentially removed as a serious threat to nations.

There are more parallels between piracy and terrorism in that article.  How both groups tried to raise themselves to the level of nation-states.  How they both saw themselves as being "...at war with the entire world."

There are also differences.  Piracy on the sea (or hijacking of airliners before 9/11) were fairly small events, in the great scheme of things.  We don't think of pirates knocking down skyscrapers.  Nor do we worry about them setting off a device to take out most of a city.  Those kinds of acts are precisely what terrorists hope to achieve.

There are still pirates today.  They cause some havoc around the shores of southeast Asia.  But in the international realm they are little more than an ongoing nuisance.

In my minuscule opinion, the piracy laws are a valid template for how we should be dealing with terrorists.  As international criminals.  And any government which actively supports terrorism (Iran and Hezbollah.  North Korea.  Etc.) should become the target of the rest of the world.

If we did that then we could declare that the United States is again at peace.  And we could rein the government back in, as the Founding Fathers envisioned.  Remind our elected officials that we are citizens of a republic.  Not subjects of an empire.  The power should come  from the people.

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Last modified: September 23, 2006
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