We're at war, but not with "terror"
Carroll concludes that we are not at fact at war, not even in Iraq: "But, regarding the Iraq conflict as it involves the United States, something essential is lacking that would make it a war -- and that is an enemy."
Carroll's point is that the conflict in Iraq has lost whatever justification it might have had. We're fighting to occupy a country that we allegedly set out to liberate. I agree. But nobody ever said that a conflict needed a sound justification or a clear objective in order to qualify as a war.
There's certainly a war going on in Iraq. It's the kind of low-level foreign war that rich countries fight all the time while carrying on business as usual at home. By itself, the conflict in Iraq wouldn't justify any extraordinary war measures at home. The PR triumph of the Bush administration is to convince people that our nasty little war in Iraq is part of something much grander: A Global War on Terror.
GWOT-talk invites comparisons total wars like WW1 and WW2 in which entire nations were mobilized to fight. It's during those kinds of all-consuming, but ultimately-time limited struggles that democratic governments temporarily invoked special powers that would have been unthinkable in peacetime, or during some remote colonial skirmish.
It's convenient for the Bush administration to have a real shooting war to point to. Without Iraq, the "War on Terror" would diminish in stature. It would be obvious that the GWOT is like its predecessor, The War On Drugs--an amalgam of policework, PR, and powergrabs dressed up in war metaphors.
Whenever anyone questions whether we're at war, Bush points to our troops in the field. They are objective evidence that he is a war president. The question is, which war? Not the war on terror, because there's no such thing.