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  • The Rhetoric of Security
  • Yaseen Noorani (bio)

The Bush administration perpetually affirms that the war against terrorism declared in response to the attacks of September 2001 is "different from any other war in our history" and will continue "for the foreseeable future."1 This affirmation, and indeed the very declaration of such a war, belongs to a rhetoric of security that predates the Bush administration and which this administration has intensified but not fundamentally altered. Rhetorically speaking, terrorism is the ideal enemy of the United States, more so than any alien civilization and perhaps even more so than the tyrannies of communism and fascism, terrorism's defeated sisters. This is because terrorism is depicted in U.S. rhetoric not as an immoral tactic employed in political struggle, but as an immoral condition that extinguishes the possibility of peaceful political deliberation. This condition is the state of war, in absolute moral opposition to the peaceful condition of civil society. As a state of war, terrorism portends the dissolution of the civil relations obtaining within and among nations, particularly liberal nations, and thus portends the dissolution of civilization itself. [End Page 13] Terrorism is therefore outside the world order, in the sense that it cannot be managed within this order since it is the very absence of civil order. For there to be a world order at all, terrorism must be eradicated.

In prosecuting a world war against the state of war, the United States puts itself outside the world order as well. The Bush administration affirms, like the Clinton administration before it, that because the identity of the United States lies in the values that engender peace (freedom and democracy), the national interests of the United States always coincide with the interests of the world order. The United States is the animus of the world order and the power that sustains it. For this reason, any threat to the existence of the United States is a threat to world peace itself, and anything that the United States does to secure its existence is justified as necessary for the preservation of world peace. In this way, the existence of the United States stands at the center of world peace and liberal values, yet remains outside the purview of these values, since when under threat it is subject only to the extra-moral necessity of self-preservation.

I will argue that the symmetrical externality of the United States and terrorism to the world order lies at the foundation of the rhetoric of security by which the U.S. government justifies its hegemonic actions and policies. This rhetoric depicts a world in which helpless, vulnerable citizens can achieve agency only through the U.S. government, while terrorist individuals and organizations command magnitudes of destructive power previously held only by states. The moral-psychological discourse of agency and fear, freedom and enslavement invoked by this rhetoric is rooted in both classical liberalism and postwar U.S. foreign policy. The war of "freedom" against "fear" is a psychic struggle with no specific military enemies or objectives. It arises from the portrayal of the United States as an autarkic, ideally impermeable collective agent that reshapes the external world in its own image. The war of freedom against fear thereby justifies measures said to increase the defenses and internal security of the United States as well as measures said to spread freedom and democracy over the world. Now that the destructive capacity of warlike individuals can threaten the world order, the power of the United States must be deployed in equal measure to neutralize this threat throughout the world. The world as a [End Page 14] whole now comes within the purview of U.S. disciplinary action. Any manifestation of the state of war, terrorist activity, anywhere in the world, is now a threat to the existence of the United States and to world peace. There is no "clash of civilizations," but the Middle East, as the current site of the state of war, is the primary danger to the world and must be contained, controlled, and reshaped. The symmetrical externality of the United States and terrorism to the world order, then, allows its rhetoric to envision a...


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