We are fighting for the Almighty Orgasm and another PlayStation 3. And gas for the SUV.
The global “war on terror” represents the Bush administration’s effort to do just that-to change the way that they live. “They,” of course, are the 1.4 billion Muslims who inhabit an arc stretching from North Africa to Southeast Asia.
The overarching strategic aim of that war is to eliminate the Islamist threat by pacifying the Islamic world, with particular attention given to the energy-rich Persian Gulf. Pacification implies not only bringing Muslims into compliance with American norms. It also requires the establishment of unassailable American hegemony, affirming the superiority of U.S. power beyond the shadow of doubt and thereby deterring attempts to defy those norms. Hegemony means presence, evidenced by the proliferation of U.S. military bases throughout strategically critical regions of the Islamic world. Seen in relation to our own history, the global “war on terror” signifies the latest phase in an expansionist project that is now three centuries old.
This effort to pacify Islam has foundered in Iraq. The Bush administration’s determination to change the way Iraqis live has landed us in a quagmire. Today the debate over how to salvage something positive from the Iraq debacle consumes the foreign-policy apparatus. Just beyond lie concerns about how events in Iraq are affecting the overall “war on terror.” Expressing confidence that all will come out well, President Bush insists that historians will eventually see the controversies surrounding his Iraq policy as little more than a comma.
Rather than seeing Iraq as a comma, we ought to view it as a question mark. The question posed, incorporating but also transcending the larger “war on terror,” is this: Are ongoing efforts to “change the way that they live” securing or further distorting the American way of life? To put it another way, will the further expansion of American dominion abroad enhance the freedom we profess to value? Or have we now reached a point where expansion merely postpones and even exacerbates an inevitable reckoning
with the cultural and economic contradictions to which our pursuit of freedom has given rise?