War has been an engine of freedom in U.S. history. The nation’s biggest wars transformed the meaning of citizenship، creating new rights. The Civil War abolished slavery and made all American-born men citizens for the first time. World War II promoted welfare rights — a social safety net، decent employment and higher education، among others — what Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called “freedom from want.”
But over the past 16 years، war has imperiled rather than advanced American ideals by becoming about dominance rather than freedom. Our military actions، from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria، have reflected increased investments in firepower، accompanied by diminished attention to political change، economic development and institution-building — the essential prerequisites for democratic freedoms. Fear of terrorism has justified excessive and habitual suspension of good governance، ultimately creating a more fertile seedbed for terrorists.
Abandoning freedom abroad has consequences at home. Dominance has emerged as the driver of domestic politics، as well. Demands for “border security” are used by the president and his core supporters to justify racism and domestic violence aimed at protecting white male dominance. Our leaders have nurtured what the Justice Department calls a crisis of “domestic terrorism” within U.S. borders، perpetrated by U.S. citizens، not foreigners.
Osama bin Laden famously promised to expose America’s decadent culture and destroy the United States. Despite his death at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces in 2011، he accomplished many of his goals.
President Trump said the military is "relentlessly pursuing and destroying" the "horrible enemies" of America، at the Pentagon's 911 remembrance ceremony. (The Washington Post)
The war on terrorism has made the U.S. presidency itself a threat to، not a defender of، democracy. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama drastically expanded executive powers by combining secrecy with new technologies to incarcerate and kill hundreds of people، including numerous Americans، with little public oversight. They interrogated thousands of alleged terrorists without due process in military prisons، including Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in Iraq، and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Presidential powers increased considerably at home، as well. Bush created a gargantuan new Department of Homeland Security، expanded domestic surveillance (especially through electronic technologies) and funded the militarization of municipal police forces. Obama continued many of these programs، and he pursued new efforts to limit media freedom by aggressively prosecuting alleged government “leakers” and the reporters who wrote about them. Anti-terrorism measures necessitated fewer freedoms at home under both of these
Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at The University of Texas at ---Austin****