James Carroll asks an important question in his column in today's Boston Globe: "Is America actually at war?"
Certainly there is a war ongoing in Iraq, but Carroll suggests that we have no enemy there: the insurgents who almost daily attack American troops merely want the invader and occupier to leave. With respect to the broader "war on terror," Carroll notes that the United States is not actually engaging its real enemy "because Al Qaeda is a free floating nihilism, not a nation, or even a network."
The nature of the insurgency in Iraq is more complicated than Carroll suggests, but it's hard not to be struck by the fact that the most serious part of the conflict there began only after President Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" almost three years ago. It's equally difficult to ignore the fact that Osama bin Laden and his associates continue to taunt the United States via videotape over four years after the 9/11 attacks prompted Bush to proclaim a "war on terror."
Declaring a "war on terror" was a mistake in part for what it has done for bin Laden. Carroll makes the point well:
Bin Laden was a self-mythologized figure of no historic standing until George W. Bush designated him America's equal by defining 9/11 as an act of war to be met with war, instead of a crime to be met with criminal justice. But this over-reaction, so satisfying at the time to the wounded American psyche, turned into the war for which the other party simply did not show up.
Saddam Hussein is on trial, but what no doubt amazes observers in the Muslim world is that Osama bin Laden is not.