Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Definitions Matter--a War is a War is a War

Via Washington Monthly James Carroll writes in the Boston Globe challenging the idea we're at war:
Is America actually in a state of war? "Iraq is not a war, because, though we have savage assault, we have no enemy. The war on terrorism is not a war because, though we have an enemy, the muscle-bound Pentagon offers no authentic means of assault."
I don't agree with everything he says, but I emphatically agree that determining whether the current state of affairs is a "war" is crucial. My answer is "no"--this is not a war, not a war between states, not a war of armies whose leader can be convinced to surrender. It may be a war as in the "war on organized crime" or the "war on cancer". But precision of language is vital.

My main concern about Guantanamo is the idea we're at war. It's inhuman to sentence prisoners when we can't define the conditions under which the sentence would end.

My doubt as to the "war" also underlies my position on NSA wiretapping. If we were at "war", as Judge Posner posits in the TNR (registration required), I'd be more comfortable with Bush's position. Bush does have historical precedents for his position. We Americans do accept Presidential excess in times of crisis--look particularly at the Civil War. In my case, and perhaps the case of many liberals, the fact is that we disagree with Bush's analysis of the current situation: we don't call this "war".

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