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Endless War?

Endless War?: Hidden Functions of the 'War on Terror'

David Keen
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 296
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt18fs8np
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  • Book Info
    Endless War?
    Book Description:

    Was the Iraq war really an act of goodwill to liberate people from injustice? Or was it a strategic move to maintain US dominance globally? Endless War? casts a critical light on the real motives behind war and conflict. David Keen explores how winning war is rarely an end in itself; rather, war tends to be part of a wider political and economic game that is consistent with strengthening the enemy. Keen devises a radical framework for analysing an unending war project, where the "war on terror" is an extension of the Cold War. The book draws on the author's detailed study of wars in Sudan, Sierra Leone, as well as in a range of other conflicts. It provides a new approach to conflict analysis that will be of use to students across development studies and the social sciences.

    eISBN: 978-1-84964-277-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Business
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. iii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. vii-vii)
  4. 1 Introduction (pp. 1-7)

    Current tactics in the ‘war on terror’ are predictably counterproductive. These tactics have included the use of military offensives to combat terrorism: notably in the attack on Afghanistan, the attack on Iraq and the heavy handed suppression of resistance and use of collective punishment inside Iraq. Torture has been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and a range of other countries, and the British government has taken the radical step of telling its diplomats they can use information obtained through torture (as long as the torture is done in some country other than Britain).¹ International law – and often the whole...

  5. 2 Fuel on the Fire: Predictably Counterproductive Tactics in the ‘War on Terror’ (pp. 8-50)

    US President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have been very clear, repeatedly proclaiming that America and its friends must ‘wage war on terrorism’, that they must ‘hunt down the terrorists’ and destroy them. In his State of the Union speech in January 2002, Bush summoned all nations to ‘eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries and our own’. After the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May 2003, Cheney advised an audience in Washington ‘to recognise the fact that the only way to deal with this threat ultimately is to destroy it. There’s no treaty can solve...

  6. 3 War Systems: Local and Global (pp. 51-83)

    To understand the ‘war on terror’, we need to look more closely at the notion of ‘war’. We may think we know what war is, but do we? Many contemporary civil wars can be better understood assystemsthan ascontests. The normal assumption is that the aim is to ‘win’ – a position that assumes that there are ‘two sides’ with aims that are essentially military and set ‘at the top’. However, the aims in a war are likely to be numerous, with many of the most important actors being more interested in manipulating (and perhaps even prolonging) a...

  7. 4 Elusive Enemies and the Need for Certainty (pp. 84-95)

    Although the current tactics in the ‘war on terror’ are fuelling the anger that in turn fuels terrorism, the ‘war on terror’ nevertheless has held out the (false) promise of certainty and safety in an increasingly frightening world. Whether in launching their international attacks or in dealing with insurgency within Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush and Blair have acted on the basis that there exists a discrete and finite group of terrorists and state backers who can usefully and legitimately be eliminated. Whilst counterproductive in reducing terror, this approach has the advantage, above all, of identifying an enemy in circumstances where...

  8. 5 The New Witch-Hunt: Finding and Removing the Source of Evil (pp. 96-114)

    If a calamity happens, how are we going to explain it? In his classic studyReligion and the Decline of Magic, Keith Thomas noted that when suffering is not explicable within existing frameworks, human beings have tended to resort to magical thinking: in other words, to turn to solutions with no logical or scientific connection to the problem. The limits of medical knowledge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for example, created a powerful impulse to explain illness through ‘witchcraft’. Thomas wrote, ‘In the seventeenth century … doctors were quite unable to treat or diagnose most contemporary illnesses. … Nowhere...

  9. 6 The Retreat from Evidence-Based Thinking (pp. 115-130)

    In August 2004, the London-basedEconomistmagazine noted, ‘Mr Bush has got the big foreign-policy decisions right … on the evidence that presented itself at the time, he rightly decided to invade Iraq’.¹ But evidence did not simply ‘present itself’: it was sought out, interpreted, highlighted, distorted and sometimes ignored.²

    It is worth examining in more detail the extraordinary approach of the Bush administration to ‘evidence’, notably in relation to Iraq.

    A conventional approach to crime involves searching for evidence about who was responsible, establishing proof of responsibility and then punishing those found guilty. But this procedure was set aside...

  10. 7 Action as Propaganda (pp. 131-144)

    In the ‘war on terror’, extreme and unlawful violence has been used to make violence seem legitimate and necessary, a disturbing example of what Hannah Arendt called ‘action-as-propaganda’. Explaining this term, Arendt referred to ‘the advantages of a propaganda that constantly ”adds the power of organization” to the feeble and unreliable voice of argument, and thereby realizes, so to speak, on the spur of the moment, whatever it says’.¹ For Arendt, factual propaganda actually worked better even than Joseph Goebbels’ rhetoric. Although Arendt focused on the way action-as-propaganda could persuade others, the concept can also help to explain how abuses...

  11. 8 Warding off the Shame of Powerlessness (pp. 145-159)

    The tendency to blame bad things on a small and implicitly finite group of evil people has been fed not only by a desire for safety and certainty but also by a desire to ward off feelings of shame. The desire to defuse the threat of shame seems to have helped to shape terrorism as well as counter-terrorism (as when Iraqi resistance was seen as washing away the shame of Fallujah or when bin Laden depicted terrorist violence as washing away the shame of Western domination).

    Psychiatrist James Gilligan has suggested that people will go to extreme and violent lengths...

  12. 9 Shame, Purity and Violence (pp. 160-189)

    If the powerlessness of 9/11 fed into shame and a violent response, a second threat of shame arose from the suspicion that 9/11 was linked to Americans’ actions or inaction. Many said America had shown too much weakness (see the section, ‘America “goes soft”’ below), and a few suggested it had exhibited too much interference and belligerence (see the section, ‘Resisting those who “blame America” for 9/11’ later in this chapter). A third threat of shame – arising from the violent response to 9/11 – is addressed in the section ‘Counter-terror and the proliferation of enemies’.

    Many catastrophes – across...

  13. 10 Culture and Magic (pp. 190-209)

    Counterproductive counter-terror cannot be explained simply by focusing on key individuals like Bush and Blair. This simplistic approach risks a new kind of scapegoating, and it may yet be that US conservatism will turn on Bush (battered by Hurricane Katrina and an array of other scandals) in a bid to keep right-wing politics on the road.¹ It is stressed here that the US-led response to 9/11 – and especially the ‘magical thinking’ it involved – did not come out of nowhere. It sprang from forces and traditions that would help to shape a Democrat administration, and not just a Republican...

  14. 11 Conclusion (pp. 210-219)

    The ‘war on terror’, then, is based on the false premise of a finite number of evil individuals and their ‘state backers’ and the false assumption that the source of the problem can be physically eliminated. This damaging approach effectively reduces complex historical processes to something akin to a crude video game in which an identifiable enemy can simply be shot away. We need alternative and non-violent models if we are to come up with less crude and less counterproductive solutions. Even video games are not necessarily this simple: in a game called ‘September 12’, players can blast away at...

  15. Notes (pp. 220-269)
  16. Bibliography (pp. 270-278)
  17. Index (pp. 279-296)