Recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman christened the war aganst terrorism
World War III. But that's too apocalyptic. A better name would be Cold War II.
The first Cold War was ''a prolonged twilight struggle,'' in George Kennan's famous phrase. It was
punctuated with periods of hot war, in Korea and in Vietnam. But for the most part it lived up to its
name - an uneasy armed peace with jittery alerts, cloak and dagger operations, and proxy skirmishes
between client states.
The first Cold War also had its benefits. It stimulated myriad technological advances. Government was
allowed to do things in the name of fighting the Soviets that many Americans might otherwise not have
approved. These included a massive interstate highway program, the National Defense Highway Act, a
federal program to promote higher education, the National Defense Education Act, as well as advances
in public health and civil rights.
If we were fighting a global enemy that preached brotherhood, it wouldn't do for America to practice
The crusade against communism also led Americans to be more generous with foreign aid to susceptible
developing nations. We rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan, and sided with anticolonialists in the
Third World, often against our own European allies, so that the communists wouldn't win hearts and
There were also big costs. Operations mounted in the name of fighting communism infringed on the
liberties of Americans. The CIA infiltrated dozens of domestic organizations, such as the National
Student Association and the international department of the AFL-CIO. The FBI often had trouble
distinguishing constitutionally protected speech from treason.
But at least we knew when the Cold War was over. Cold War II could drag on indefinitely.
This war will have at least as many negative domestic consequences as Cold War I, and far fewer
positive spillovers. For the moment, government has greater prestige again - at least when it comes to
firefighters, police, bomber pilots, public health officials, airport security officers, and spies.
But unlike World War II and Cold War I, this cold war is not doing much for civilian benefits. Instead of
surtaxes on millionaires, it offers tax giveaways. Before Sept. 11, both parties were agreed in principle
that local schools needed more help, that Americans deserved affordable prescription drugs, and that
managed care companies needed to be reined in for the sake of patients' rights. That agenda has been
buried in the rubble.
The first Cold War produced McCarthyism, but also coincided with a period of expansion of the rights
and liberties of Americans. The 1960s, when American dissenters were spied upon, was also a period
when criminal trials became fairer, the press became freer, and minorities won the protection of basic
rights from the courts and Congress.
This new Cold War is barely three months old, and already the administration has done stunning
violence to due process of law in the name of fighting terrorism.
Before Sept. 11, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox were on the verge of negotiating a
significant liberalization of the immigration laws. Now we are facing the most severe immigrant
crackdown since the quota laws of the 1920s.
Attorney General Ashcroft, with scant regard for the Constitution, has lately backpedaled a bit on his
Star Chamber courts.
Some leaders of his own party, such as Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector, think he has gone too far.
Even former senior FBI officials have gone on the record to declare that general dragnets are of little use
in cracking terrorist cells, while they violate fundamental rights.
Plainly, there is no constitutional reason why the names of detainees cannot be made public and the
charges against them specified.
Despite Ashcroft's tactical retreat, this kind of inconclusive war is likely to bring a narrowing of civil
liberties and an increase in presidential police power.
One constructive piece of fallout from this cold war, like the last one, is that the American role in the
world is now necessarily more multilateral.
Despite the skepticism of the right, this war cannot be won unless multilateral agencies and
peacekeeping forces play a very major role. This was also true of the first Cold War, which compelled a
somewhat isolationist United States to stake its security on such institutions as the United Nations,
NATO, and international economic development agencies.
A cold war is necessarily a time of anxious vigilance. Just as we are vigilant against terror, we need to be
no less vigilant about what our own country stands for.
You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)