The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 14, 2017

REFERENCE DESK
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Terror, War On
John Zmirak - 06/28/11

Hundreds of suspected members of al-Qaeda and soldiers who fought for the (internationally unrecognized) Taliban regime have been interned at U.S. military bases such as Guantanamo Bay, out of the reach of U.S. courts’ jurisdiction and unprotected by the Geneva Convention (which the Taliban never signed). At home, shortly after 9/11 the U.S. Congress created a new Department of “Homeland Security,” the purpose of which is to protect the soil of the United States from attack—leaving some to wonder what had been the purpose of the existing Department of Defense. Congress also enacted and renewed the “PATRIOT Act,” which (among many other extensions of federal power) enabled the FBI to undertake wiretaps of U.S. citizens with relative ease and to subpoena hitherto private documents. Most disturbing to many conservatives and libertarians was President Bush’s invocation of the concept of “enemy combatant” to justify the arrest and indefinite detention without charge or legal recourse of U.S. citizens—a power which they compared to the ancien régime’s infamous lettres de cachet. This power, upheld so far by federal courts and extended indefinitely into the future until the unforeseeable end of the undeclared War on Terror, is susceptible to enormous abuse, civil-liberties activists complained, amounting to a repeal not so much of the U.S. Constitution as of the Magna Carta.

Perhaps the centerpiece of the War on Terror has been the Bush administration’s April 2003 invasion of Iraq—a nation which had links to Palestinian terror groups, but apparently few or none to al-Qaeda and other organizations involved in attacks on the U.S. However, administration claims to the contrary—combined with the fear that the brutal Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was pursuing “weapons of mass destruction” that might someday be shared with terrorists—rallied public support behind this invasion and occupation, which continues as of publication. So do guerilla assaults on Anglo-American occupation forces and terrorist acts against Iraqis working with the newly constituted government. Threats of attacks on civilians on U.S. soil by agents of Iraqi insurgents and by “free-lance” terrorists inspired and even trained (via the Internet) by al-Qaeda, suggest that this “war” will continue for generations—as will, many traditional conservatives fear, the agglomeration of governmental authority required to constrain it. This phenomenon, the synergistic relationship between security “crises” and increasing federal power, has been noted by economic historian Robert Higgs. Advocates of limited government and U.S. disengagement from foreign wars find their warnings met (and so far, deflected) by charges of “appeasement,” “defeatism,” and even “unpatriotic” sentiments. The conservative movement is currently torn between its traditional commitment to ordered liberty and a potent strain of aggressive nationalism. It is unclear whether one will prevail or the movement will permanently split.

Further Reading
  • Anonymous. Imperial Hubris. Dulles, Va.: Brassey’s, 2004.
  • Higgs, Robert. Crisis and Leviathan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Horowitz, David. Unholy Alliance. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004.
  • Spencer, Robert. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2005.
  • Trifkovic, Srdja, The Sword of the Prophet. Salisbury, Mass.: Regina Orthodox Press, 2002.
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