Since September 11th, the United States has waged a global war against terrorism. The original target was the terrorist group al-Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan greatly disrupted its operations and weakened its structure. Nevertheless, the global war on terror continued with both the war in Iraq and covert drone operations in the Afghan/Pakistan border. The war in Iraq has allowed other terrorist groups to emerge, most notably ISIL, while the drone assaults may serve as a recruiting tool for other terrorist groups. Given the time, money, and human resources invested in this war, it is worth asking two questions: are we fighting a just war (if it is indeed war) and is it worth it?
Unfortunately, I think the evidence more reasonably supports a negative answer to both questions. Not only are the means in which the United States prosecutes the war against terrorism unjust, but they are unjust in a way that is reminiscent of one of Plato’s ring of Gyges. There Glaucon suggests that were there a ring that rendered its wearer invisible, any man who wore it would proceed to do as he wished with impunity. The United States, like Gyges with his ring, can effectively do as it pleases on the world stage without the threat of legal sanctions. In the context of the global war against terrorism this has meant the ability to conduct a woefully immoral campaign for the past 13 years.
I want to do three things in this essay. First, I want to examine the ways the United States has conducted the war on terror. In particular, I want to look at four aspects: the war in Iraq, the detention of suspected terrorists, torture, and drone attacks. Second, I intend to show that these are indeed immoral tactics and actions. They are ones that would be met with international sanctions if the United States could not hide behind its own ring of Gyges: super power status. Lastly, I want to argue that ultimately we may be worse off by utilizing a second of Plato’s helpful images: the tyrant’s soul.