Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lions for Lambs Raises Important Questions About War on Terror

What would a win in the war on terror look like?

"Do you want to win the terror?" Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) asks. "This is the quintessential yes or no question of our time."

Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) shuffles uncomfortably in her chair. Like many Americans -- like many citizens in countries participating in the War on Terror (including in Canada) -- she probably knows her instinctive answer to that question. But then again, a question is nagging in the back of her mind: what do we do next?

Irving, an up-and-coming young Senator (annointed as "the future of the Republican party" by Roth herself) doesn't really seem to have an idea.

Lions for Lambs, Robert Redford's recent political drama about the war on terror (focusing almost entirely on Afghanistan), asks this question. Even if we all share Irving's single-minded desire for "a win", what precisely do we do next?

Lions for Lambs also inspires an even more important question: what, precisely, would "a win" in the war on terror look like? Just as Iraq has exposed the importance of the question of what we do following a military victory, we must also be very cognizant of this question.

If addressed from the point of view of pure elementary logic, it seems very simple: victory in the war on terror entails the elimination of terrorism. At its most simplistic, the idea of winning the war on terror suggests that we will one day live in a world without terrorism.

We desperately need to reconsider this answer. It's nothing more than a pipe dream.

In order to determine the truth of this, we need look no further than another historical pipe dream, one that allegedly originates from the opposite side of the political spectrum as the war on terror: the idea of a world without nuclear weapons.

In Weapons and Hope, Freeman Dyson -- a notable anti-nuclear weapons activist -- asks what he felt to be the most important question of the Cold War period: what would a nuclear weapons free world look like?

In the end, Dyson determines, it's virtually impossible. Once released from the lamp, the Nuclear genie could never be forced back inside.

Equally sadly, the idea of a terrorism-free world is equally impossible. Like nuclear weapons, terrorism is a genie that can never be forced back into the lamp. So long as individuals consider themselves oppressed and have a much more powerful enemy they want to fight, terrorism will always be a tempting option, be it as a form of societal intimidation or as asymetrical warfare.

In the single minded desire to win the war on terror, we need to be very cognizant of how we conceptualize victory.

Secure homelands are clearly an integral part of that concept. Whether we like it or not, we will have to engage the rest of the world -- both militarily and diplomatically -- in order to attain that security.

We must also avoid sinking to the depths of our opponents. Mutually Assured Destruction can come about from the careless disregard of the principles our civilization was built upon as from unrestrained escalation of the conflict abroad. And while dismantling terrorist networks by force is an absolute necessity, we must also ensure that terrorism doesn't become a bogeyman that can be exploited to push political agendas -- that is, if it hasn't already (and there's a good deal of disagreement on this).

Most importantly, we must ensure that our troops are fighting for what we tell them they are.

That's the responsibility of those of us on the home front, as Lions for Lambs reminds us. Whether we support the war on terror or not, it's our responsibility to hold our leaders accountable, and to ensure that our fighting men and women aren't put at unnecessary risk.

Certainly, we must win the war on terror. By the same token, we do ourselves -- and those who are fighting in this war -- a grave disservice if we fail to understand what victory in this conflict means, and how it will be won.

We must all do our part. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of allowing our fighting men and women to do all the heavy lifting for us.

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