The term “shadow wars” aptly describes the U.S. approach to the war on terror. Policymakers perceive they are fighting an enemy composed of shadow and dust, one hidden in and facilitated by the dark underworld of global politics. But to prosecute this campaign, the U.S. has itself, to borrow a term from the writer J.R.R. Tolkien, “fallen into shadow”: Its moral high ground and once-principled politics have been replaced by a recourse to policies such as arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings that have tarnished its reputation and bolstered its enemies.
The blowback from these policies demonstrates that a just war cannot be fought using unjust means—indeed their use erodes the moral authority to fight truly just wars when the need arises. Winding down this “war” both necessitates and provides a window for stepping out of the shadows and adhering to basic standards of international law and human rights.
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