For almost two decades, the United States has waged a war against “terror.” A large chunk of U.S. foreign policy, and a fair bit of domestic policy over this time has been justified by this grandiose campaign. The global war on terror has taken us to far-flung places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; not to mention the drone programs in countries like Pakistan and Yemen.
Domestic bills, such as the Patriot Act and the expansion of the National Defense Authorization Act, have come alongside this war. Foreign adventures, nation building, astronomical increases in executive power, ludicrous amounts of state spending, and the implementation of a surveillance state is the price American citizens have paid for this twenty year excursion.
Looking at U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II, our response to the attacks on 9/11 should not come as a surprise. The military has clearly taken on the role as the world police, with bases in nearly every major country. In fact, much of our foreign policy is the United States subsidizing our allies.
We are told our enemy, the terrorists, hates us for our freedom. America’s permissive culture, well-respected civil rights, religious tolerance, and rule of law are the reason so many extremists hate and want to kill us, we are told. The way of life enjoyed in the West, especially the United States, is the source of our woes.
So I ask, hasn’t the war been won? Our liberties have been devastated, our Constitution destroyed, and any sense of privacy we might have previously enjoyed is gone. In the years since 9/11, Americans have endured awful violations of their civil liberties and are, by any definition, less free.
The United States government is wiretapping Americans without warrants, torturing and detaining suspects, practicing rendition, spying on average citizens, and keeping records on our phone calls. Shouldn’t the enemy like us now?
The truth is, terrorists don’t hate us for our freedom. An analysis of U.S. foreign policy over the past 50 years provides an ample explanation of why we are continually the target of repeated terrorist attacks. We have continually meddled in the affairs of other countries, to the point that it has harmed us.
Our Constitution, civil liberties, and right to privacy have all been sacrificed for nothing. Of course this is not the end. The revelation that the National Security Agency collected an enormous amount of data on Americans hasn’t changed the mood in Washington.
The reason why the phrase “War on Terror” is so pertinent is there is no clear end goal. Much like the failures of the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, it incentivizes meaningless, destructive activity to no end. Before, when the military would wage war against a foreign country, it would imply the boundaries of possible military activity, and a definite objective. But if we are at war with an idea, like terror, military action can be justified anywhere in the world, even inside the United States.
After all, you can’t defeat “terror.” Terror is an idea and will always exist in the world. Waging war against an idea is as silly as waging a war against jealousy, and as dangerous as waging a war against freedom. For us, this truly is an unwinnable war.
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Updated by Joseph Simnett
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.