To contemplate a prewar map of Baghdad — as I do the one before me, with sectarian neighborhoods traced out in blue and red and yellow — is to look back on a lost Baghdad, a Baghdad of our dreams. My map of 2003 is colored mostly a rather neutral yellow, indicating the “mixed” neighborhoods of the city, predominant just five years ago. To take up a contemporary map after this is to be confronted by a riot of bright color: Shia blue has moved in irrevocably from the East of the Tigris; Sunni red has fled before it, as Shia militias pushed the Sunnis inexorably west toward Abu Ghraib and Anbar province, and nearly out of the capital itself. And everywhere, it seems, the pale yellow of those mixed neighborhoods is gone, obliterated in the months and years of sectarian war.
I start with those maps out of a lust for something concrete, as I grope about in the abstract, struggling to quantify the unquantifiable. How indeed to “take stock” of the War on Terror? Such a strange beast it is, like one of those mythological creatures that is part goat, part lion, part man. Let us take a moment and identify each of these parts. For if we look closely at its misshapen contours, we can see in the War on Terror:
Part anti-guerrilla mountain struggle, as in Afghanistan;
Part shooting-war-cum-occupation-cum-counterinsurgency, as in Iraq;
Part intelligence, spy v. spy covert struggle, fought quietly — “on the dark side,” as Vice President Dick Cheney put it shortly after 9/11 — in a vast territory stretching from the southern Philippines to the Maghreb and the Straits of Gibraltar;
And finally the War on Terror is part, perhaps its largest part, Virtual War — an ongoing, permanent struggle, and in its ongoing political utility not wholly unlike Orwell’s famous world war between Eurasia, East Asia, and Oceania that is unbounded in space and in time, never ending, always expanding. [complete article]