Perhaps the domestic installation of wartime technologies and military surveillance in civilian settings has become acceptable to us because we have become accustomed, as Soviet citizens did during the endless Stalinist purges, to open-ended wars–wars with no opening salvo and no concluding treaty. Whether or not one agrees that American detention centers and secret prisons are the “Gulag of our time,” the comparison deserves serious consideration. It might help us shine a torch into the dark corners of repression, where the totalitarian qualities of our own society lurk, before the scale of violence ascends to Gulag dimensions.
That’s certainly the hope, which is why it’s so vital to stand up now. John Ikenberry points out that:
increasingly it is a national security problem for the United States [that] America’s global standing — its authority, respect, credibility, prestige — has weakened in recent years and this has made it harder for the United States to lead and pursue its interests. The danger is two-fold. First, as America becomes increasingly unpopular in countries that are friends and allies of the U.S., their leaders have growing domestic political incentives to resist and oppose us. We have seen this in Germany, Brazil, South Korea, and elsewhere. Second, as America becomes more unpopular in other parts of the world, it fuels anti-Western social and religious movements that give aid and cover to extremists and wielders of violence.
And the intelligence report that famously claimed “that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks” was delayed while statements about “actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at GuantÃ¡namo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal” were toned down.
We are sowing the seeds of our own destruction with our actions. The destruction is not just the loss of lives and property in Iraq, it’s also deeply moral. We won the Cold War in no small part by being better than the Soviets, being less repressive, less authoritarian. That’s the only way we’ll win this latest war.