Toward A Cultural War On Terror

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Another one bites the dust:

The Afghan immigrant at the center of what the authorities described as one of the most serious threats to the United States since 9/11 pleaded guilty Monday to terrorism charges in what he said was a Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb in the New York subway.

The man, Najibullah Zazi, admitted that he came to New York last year near the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks to kill himself and others on the subway using a homemade bomb. He characterized the plot as a "martyrdom operation" that he was just days away from executing when he said he realized he was under government surveillance.

Mr. Zazi, 25, pleaded guilty in United States District Court in Brooklyn to charges that included conspiracies to use weapons of mass destruction and to commit murder in a foreign country, and to provide material support for a terrorist organization. He faces a possible life term when he is sentenced on June 25.

Eric Holder sees vindication:

"This demonstrates that our federal civilian criminal justice system... is a powerful tool in our fight against terrorism," he said. "It doesn't mean it is the only tool we should use. We have to couple it with what we do on the military side, what we do on the intelligence gathering side. But to take this tool out of our hands, to denigrate the use of this tool, flies in the face of the facts, flies in the face of the history of the use of this tool. It is more politics than about facts. "

I think this misses the point of the right-wing critique. Newt Gingrich put it best on the Daily Show, when asked why he wanted KSM to go through a military tribunal:

It defines the terrorists in a criminal context, instead of a war context.

This is a standard line from conservative critics of the Obama administration. For them it isn't about the efficacy of military tribunals vs. civilian courts. (Jane Mayer debunked this argument.) And, frankly, I'm convinced that it isn't about whether torture is the most effective method of interrogation. When you're calling for the potential torture of the underwear bombing, you aren't really concerned with what's effective.

I think this is much more existential. It's about why elements in a young society need, almost crave, war. Obama could win the war in Afghanistan and capture Bin Laden. It won't be enough. Some of us need something to define ourselves against.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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