Fighting Words and False Promises

For almost five years, the “war on terror” has proved to be a false metaphor that has led to counterproductive and self-defeating policies. A misleading figure of speech has been applied literally to unleash a real war on several fronts, including Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, enraging millions around the world.

Yet al-Qaeda has not been subdued, as was shown by the recent plot to blow up United States-bound commercial flights from London. That plot, which could have claimed more victims than the 9/11 attacks, was foiled by the vigilance of the British intelligence authorities. Clearly, it won’t be the last.

Unfortunately, the American public accepted uncritically the war metaphor as the obvious response to 9/11. Indeed, even now, when it is widely admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a blunder, the “war on terror” remains the frame into which American policy has to fit. Most Democratic politicians, too, subscribe to it for fear of being branded as weak on defense.

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