Hertzberg’s SotU Thoughts

In this week’s New Yorker Hendrik Hertzberg makes two interesting points regarding the language of W’s State of the Union Speech.

First, the requisite description of the inherent silliness of a term like “War on Terror:”

“War on Terror” has always been problematic, at both ends. The word “war” has the requisite urgency, and it has proved useful in intimidating the political opposition at home. But, as we have seen in Iraq and elsewhere, its associations–pitched battles, clashing states, disciplined armies with general staffs–can invite actions that are, at best, beside the point. “Terror” is not a conquerable enemy, or an end in itself.

This rings very true. As time has passed since 9/11, the War on Terror has become less a system to eliminate extant threats to the United States and more a justification for the President to do basically whatever he wants. Overwrought 1984 references notwithstanding, when the President authorizes himself to do whatever he wants because we are at war, and yet defines that war such that it can never end, it doesn’t take a pessimist to sense dystopia around the corner.

The second point in Hertzberg’s article that I liked dealt with exactly that administration position:

He defended–no, boasted of–the National Security Agency’s vast, formerly secret program of warrantless electronic eavesdropping, undertaken on his orers and rebranded in his speech as “the terrorist-surveillance program.” “If there are people inside our country wwho are talking with Al Qaeda,” he said, “we want to know about it, because we will not sit back andd wait to be hit again.” But those who are questioning Bush’s program, both Democrats and Republicans, agree that terrorists must be surveilled. What alarms them is not jusst that the President is breaking a particular law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but that his rationale for doing so amounts to a claim that he can flout any law at all, as long as the flouting is under cover of an endless . . . war.

Dystopic indeed. I love reading Hertzberg because he gets right to the heart of the matter, and with such clarity. Bush appears to think that as long as the War on Terror is going on, which will be forever, he can do anything he personally deems necessary to prosecute it. I can’t wait for 2006 mid term elections.