In which permanent war is located

The Al Qaeda Seven debate puts me back in the frame of mind of puzzling out some of the larger-scale oddities in the Cheneyite wing of American foreign policy thinking, which is to say I’m about to sketch a broad inconsistency or self-contradiction that has many individual exceptions but also, I think, some validity as a critique, or as an arrow pointing to genuinely disturbing inclinations. On one hand, in the more Wilsonian redoubts of American hawkishness, confidence and moral self-assurance in the use of American force in Iraq drew heavily on the idea that the invasion represented a sort of end-game: democratic transformation in Iraq as a way of replacing a posture of permanent war with something resembling normalized and organically peaceful relations among democratic states, first, certainly, with Iraq itself but eventually the region as a whole, at least in the minds of some. On the other hand, from the same hawkish Wilsonians who envisioned a new Prague on the Tigris, we get something resembling Schmittian* realism when it comes to the disposition of American law towards terrorism suspects – that is, well, a posture of permanent war, in which long-term, highly public exceptions to American legal norms are not just tolerated but actively maintained, because the claims of law are trumped by the claims of war, and the effectively endless nature of the war in question causes no anxiety on behalf of American law. Those who push for a normalization in the legal status of detainees because we don’t like the corrosive precedent it sets for American law, and we don’t think the American Constitution should be asked to countenance this stuff indefinitely, are told, “This is war, yella-belly. Get used to it.”

(*I mean no slur-by-association with the Carl Schmitt reference. It’s merely the most apt theoretical precedent I could think of. I myself find Schmitt enlightening reading on related matters. But then, I come from an academic environment where people just pick up and read Heidegger without a single worry about who might be watching (except maybe the worry that nobody’s watching). We come by literary guilt and outrage only with great resistance, is what I’m saying.)