Jonah Goldberg

The hawks (including me) were wrong about a lot, but some got one thing right. It's going to be a long war.

In the early days after 9/11 there was a lot of talk about a "clash of civilizations" and a long "existential struggle" facing the West. I once asked the late Christopher Hitchens what he felt on that terrible day, and he said he felt no small amount of joy. Not for the suffering and death, but for the fact that the West finally had been awakened to the terrible but necessary struggle before us.

And for a time, many liberals bought into the idea that America was heading into a generational struggle with jihadism. There were a slew of books on the subject. Peter Beinart, for instance, wrote "The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again." As the subtitle suggests, there was a lot of partisan mischief in his argument, but it rested on the premise that liberals must accept that "Islamic totalitarianism" -- his phrase -- has replaced communism as our enemy. On this, at least, Beinart and company, briefly agreed with George W. Bush that the war against "Islamic fascists" (Bush's term) was the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

That consensus evaporated in the hot rage ignited by the Iraq war. By the time President Obama was elected, even the war in Afghanistan -- once the good war according to most Iraq war critics -- had become an emotional albatross. Tellingly, among Obama's first executive orders was one to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay as quickly as possible.

This was a triumph for the new enlightened consensus that the war on terror wasn't really a war at all. In 2007, retired Gen. Wesley Clark co-authored an op-ed for the New York Times ridiculing the idea that Al Qaeda was a military enemy. "Labeling its members as combatants elevates its cause and gives Al Qaeda an undeserved status," he argued. The "more appropriate designation for terrorists is not 'unlawful combatant' but the one long used by the United States: criminal."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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