It is, I believe, increasingly apparent that the Bush Administration's first mistake after 9/11--and the one from which all others have flowed--was the decision to declare a general (but very ill-defined) "war on terror." With different leadership--more restrained leadership--such a determination might have been acceptable given the enormity of the crime committed on 9/11. But the neocons are not realists and do not understand the dangers of moral crusading. Nor are they idealists who understand the dangers of unrestrained power.
In Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War (p. 8), James Carroll indicates one of the reasons why declaring a "war on terror" was a mistake:
Instead of perceiving unconnected centers of inhuman violence–tribal warlords, mafia chieftains, nationalist fighters, xenophobic Luddites–President Bush projects the grandest and most interlocking strategies of conspiracy, belief, and organization. By the canonization of the war on terrorism, petty nihilists are elevated to the status of world-historic warriors, exactly the fate they might have wished for. This is why the conflict readily bleeds from one locus to another–Afghanistan now, Iraq then, Iran or some other land of evil soon–and why, for that matter, the targeted enemies are entirely interchangeable–here Osama bin Laden, there Saddam Hussein, here the leader of Iran, there of North Korea. They are all essentially one enemy–one "axis"–despite their differences from each other, or even hatred of each other. (italics added)
In Iraq, we are engaged in an bloody struggle with "petty nihilists," but every time the President speaks about the war, he suggests that our enemies are the enemies of freedom and the sole obstacles to peace and justice in the world.
There are other reasons why the "war on terror" is Bush's Original Sin. I will discuss some of them in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, William Butler Yeats' famous line from "The Second Coming" seems appropriate: "Things fall apart; the centre will not hold."