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War? What War?

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As co-author of The Case for Impeachment, the most common question I get besides "Why hasn't Bush been impeached yet?" comes from critics, who ask some variant (usually laced with profanities) of: "How can you criticize the president when the country's at war?"

It's understandable that people might ask such a thing, given that we have some 140,000 American troops fighting in Iraq, and another 10,000 or so in Afghanistan, but the truth is that these conflicts aren't what people have in mind (most people don't even think about those wars). They're talking about the so-called "War on Terror."

Let's first dispense with the Iraq "war" and the Afghanistan "war." Neither of these is really a war. The first ended when Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, in April of 2003--back when Bush told us "major combat" had ended. Today, Iraq has an elected government, they tell us, and the U.S. is there at that government's request, to help police the place. Sure, some Americans are continuing to die, but you can't call it a war, or even an occupation. Not when you've been invited there by the local government.

The same is true of Afghanistan, where the Taliban were defeated way back in 2002. Again there is now an elected government there, and NATO forces, not US forces, at the invitation of that government, are conducting operations against the overthrown government of the Taliban. No way you can call that a war either, any more than the U.S. efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo were a war.

As for the "War" on Terror, the confusion seems to date back to the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson, deeply involved in a genuine war in Indochina, decided to divert public attention with a second "war"--this one on poverty.

That "war" wasn't much more successful than the Indochina War. The Vietnamese won their war in 1975, and poverty won its "war" almost without firing a shot.

The main legacy of Johnson's "war" on poverty, really, was not on poverty, but on political language. It lead directly to the subsequent Nixon/Carter/Reagan/Clinton "war" on drugs.

That inaccurately titled policy initiative had nothing to do with a war, but everything to do with expanding police power and police tactics within the U.S., and with filling prisons with people who didn't belong there.
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In that regard, the "war" on drugs was a model for Bush's subsequent "war" on terror. Claiming that hordes of dark-skinned "Islamofascist" terrorists are out to destroy America, Bush and his cronies, following the 9-11 attacks, declared "war" on the terrorists.

But a strange "war" this has been. First they attacked Afghanistan, reportedly to go after the alleged author of those attacks, Osama Bin Ladin and his Al Qaeda hordes. But then, with Osama reportedly surrounded, Bush pulled his troops out and attacked Iraq, a bankrupt third-world state which had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks and which posed no threat to the U.S. Several hundred thousand US troops, and a handful of troops from a coalition of the "willing" were dispatched to Iraq where they have remained since, while the pursuit of Bin Ladin has languished and, by some accounts, been called off altogether.

But as for the "war" on terror? It's going strong, but all along it's been all about not military, but police activity. In Europe, alleged terror cells have been efficiently infiltrated and busted. In Britain, there was the bust of a cell which succeeded in blowing up some buses and subway cars and another bust of an alleged plot to blow up multiple airliners. In the U.S., there have been...well, not much in the way of productive busts of terror actions, but certainly a lot of police activity.

Thousands of people of Islamic faith, or of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, including American citizens, have been rounded up on the flimsiest of excuses, and jailed without charge, often to later be deported--sometimes to the very countries they were given asylum from earlier. An unknown number have been secretly kidnapped and "renditioned" to third nations to be tortured in secret gulags, before being warehoused indefinitely at Guantanamo's detention and torture center. Massive spying by the high-tech National Security Agency on hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans, all without benefit of a court order, has been ordered by the president, in violation of law and Constitution.

A so-called "USA PATRIOT" Act was pushed through Congress undermining the Bill of Rights, due process and the right to privacy.
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The CIA and Defense Department Intelligence Agency, and other secret police organizations have been unleashed against the public.

And critics of all this are publicly denounced and threatened by government officials and political leaders including the president as being "traitors" and "aids to terrorists."

This is what Bush's phoney "War on Terror" is about in reality. Not a war, but an excuse for a police state. He has even claimed that this fake "war" makes him "commander in chief" and since the so-called war is global, taking place everywhere including within the U.S., he claims that gives him the power of a generalissimo both internationally and here at home--the power to declare anyone he wants, including you and me, an "enemy combatant" without rights of any kind, the power to ignore the courts, the power to ignore laws passed by Congress, and even the power to ignore the Constitution itself.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)

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