The phrase “war on terror” encapsulates the Bush presidency. This phrase, which offered Americans so much hope in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, has defined our foreign and domestic policy for the past eight years. However, until now, I have never actually thought about what a “war on terror” means. Initially I thought it was a worthy endeavor, especially for America.
The old phrase, “go big or go home” comes to mind when I think of a “war on terror.” It’s why I stood behind the Iraq war, not because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but because it was the right thing to do. We are America, a superpower, and we can’t allow a tyrannical government to exist in the 21st century.
Sadly, the war in Iraq has captured the logical fallacy behind the phrase “war on terror” and behind most of Bush’s policies: Fear is the motivating factor behind fighting a war on terror and fear is the goal of terrorists. We have been fighting a war that by its very definition we are bound to lose.
Fear was the reason we invaded Iraq; more specifically, it was the fear of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a tyrant. We didn’t care that a tyrannical government existed (as I oftentimes like to fool myself into thinking); rather, we were fearful of a tyrannical government with arms that could hurt Americans. Upon entering Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime, we disbanded the Iraqi army out of fear of corruption.
This fear has crept into all our international relationships. We don’t talk to countries whom we deem rogue. We close off our embassies until, as Thomas Friedman noted in 2003, they resemble prisons. By leaving rogue countries out of our discussions, we allow ourselves more reason to fear them because we fear that which we do not know. How then can we fight terror when our very acts allow it to proliferate?
Fear was also influential in the creation of the Guantanamo Bay scandals that we know of today. This prison facility, which holds those individuals who are deemed “enemy combatants,” and its practices have shown a blatant disregard for human rights. Up until the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamden v. Rumsfeld (2006), these enemy combatants were not even entitled to the protections guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions.
Today, they are entitled to only those protections of Common Article 3, which are extremely minimal, considering that the United States boasts about the protections established by the Bill of Rights. Violations here include severe interrogation tactics, detainment for an unspecified amount of time, as well as the regular practice of not telling inmates why, where or by whom they are being held. Most still don’t have the option of legal recourse.
On Tuesday, Jan. 20, President George W. Bush will leave office and President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in. On Jan. 21, Obama is expected to sign an executive order that would close the Guantanamo Bay detention center that caused so much controversy during the Bush administration. This executive order won’t deal with the issue of what to do with the current inmates, but represents a definitive change from Bush’s policies.
Regarding the issue of what specific actions are to be taken with these inmates, Obama stated on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that “it’s going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do.” He also reiterated the fact that he does not support the Bush-Cheney interrogation tactics, which many consider torture. This is surely a step in the right direction.
Obama will face not only national security issues when he takes office, but also a crisis in the American economy. In dealing with these issues, he can’t allow fear to be the sole motivator when he makes decisions. We Americans can’t handle another four years of these types of policies and we don’t need another four years of being left in the dark. Closing Guantanamo Bay will be an excellent first step, but Obama can’t stop there.
The change that he espouses can be neither mere campaign rhetoric nor lofty principles about changing American politics forever. Change we will believe in is change we can see. This change must have tangible effects in American policies and actions. We elected Obama out of hope, not fear. Let’s replace fear with hope — hope for a better tomorrow based on reachable goals and not empty rhetoric. Change from the old model of policymaking is what America needs, and starting on Jan. 20, Obama will give it to us.
Michael Driscoll is a third-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.