War on Overworked Metaphors

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Just a quick, additional example of how we should draw political conclusions from what everybody knows, this time with some criticism for the neocons.

What with the Christmas Day bomber guy and all, we are seeing another round of debate between the neocons, who say we need to treat this thing like a war, and the Obamacons, who want to treat these events as individual criminal acts, and so on. On paper, if the choices were those outlined above, I would be with the neocons. But the problem is this — the actual debate is between those who want loosey goosey law enforcement and those who want really tough law enforcement. The latter option might explain why, with Bush gone, we have seen and will continue to see terrorist attacks on our soil stepping up, as with Ft. Hood and this Christmas Day attempt. But the fact that the really bad guys are coming out to play tells us nothing one way or another about whether this is a war or law enforcement.

In this context, war is either a really tired and overdone metaphor (war on drugs, war on poverty, war on whatsit), or it is a legal category. When Congress declares war, which it has not yet done, then we are at war. Until it does, we are not, except to the extent we are stuck in a metaphorical quagmire. Granted, Congress could not declare war on every Islamist cave, or on every shadowy group behind the 14,000 terror attacks since 9-11. Fine. Don’t declare war on them — issue letters of marque and reprisal against them.

But we could have declared war on Iraq and Afghanistan and we declined to do so, because the neocons want to treat this as really, really tough international law enforcement. And I grant that they are much more likely to find bad actors and to give them an extended vacation in lovely Cuba.

But here is the problem. Law enforcement has checks and balances built in. Believe it or not, so do wars. What we are being asked by the neocons to accept is a state of affairs with the privileges of both and the responsibilities of neither. The Obamanauts want us, on the other hand, to have the responsibilities of both and the privileges of neither. Not easy to know which way to lean — do I want to get blown out of the sky on my next visit to Detroit, or do I want to get hauled off under a little known provision of the Patriot Act after preaching on Leviticus 20:13?

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