Let's ignore for the sake of this that there is nothing in political discourse that is dumber than a "War on (Concept)". Since Johnson declared War on Poverty, the idea of declaring war on a concept has served only to oversimplify complex issues and reduce matters of personal and social conscience to an "Us and Them" duality. It's stupid, seriously. But let's pretend that the whole premise isn't flawed in its basis, and take a look at the practice of it, since that's where we conservatives really come off looking like idiots.
Let's start with the idea that you can't fight a popular rebellion (I mean this in the sense of "having its source in the people" and not in the sense of "everone wants it") by hardening conditions. Ask the Romans how well that worked in Syria and Palestine. Heck, ask the British how well that worked against a bunch of drunken New Englanders. When you respond to dissent and rebellion with a hardening of conditions, you foment more rebellion. When you hold people indefinitely without trial or even the rights afforded to enemy combatants, you're going to make a lot more people sympathetic to their cause, simply because you're acting like such a huge douche.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the detainees in Guantanimo Bay should be released on the streets of San Francisco to have their fun. I'm just saying that holding these guys for up to eight years is not the way to convince the world that you are the paragon of liberty that we like to believe we are. In fact, it sort of sounds like those Central American prison horror stories from the '80's. Admittedly, we're not electrocuting anyone's junk (that we know of), but you don't need to be actually torturing people for the whole thing to seem kind of hinky. Incarceration without remedy of defense is enough to make Gitmo the American gulag.
Because it denies one of the basic principles of our nation. We don't keep people in jail without a trial. Even after the Civil War, the Confederates were mostly sent home, and the ones who weren't were put on trial for the atrocities they were known to have committed.
Of course, our government wouldn't be able to do what it's been doing in Gitmo for the last nine years were it not for the Patriot Act and a number of other "Laws" that disempower the people and empower the government to violate its own limitations. Warrantless wire-taps, seizures of online activity, nebulous accusations of "conspiracy to commit x": these are all means that dictatorial governments use to control their poulation and wear down their will to self-defend. But you guys have been signing off on all of that, even the rise of the ominously-titled Department of Homeland Security.
Yeah, yeah...you're all big on protecting Second Amendment rights, and I'm totally with you there, because an armed society can't help but be free (except in Somalia and Albania where it turns out that an armed society can't help but be a pain in the ass). But you know what's more important than the inalienable right to defend yourself—against your own government, if neccessary? Being afforded the will to do so. The authoritarian structure created by the Patriot Act and a variety of other laws and executive orders, erodes that will. It causes people to look first to "authorities" and not to their own resources to resolve conflicts. Eventually, it makes the entire population dependent on that authority, so they become unable to act rationally in a crisis. And when crisis develops, you end up with a thousand people slouching around in a convention center waiting for rescue instead of helping their neighbors fix or deal with the problems.
You see, the thing about terrorism is that it's an effort to destroy your way of life. You guys are right about that. But they don't destroy your way of life by blowing up airplanes or collapsing buildings. They destroy your way of life by encouraging you to destroy all the things that make your life good. If you give up your rights, and your willingness and responsibility of defending those rights on the impossible promise that doing so will prevent such horrors as 9-11 from ever happening again, then you've already lost the War on Terror.
'Cause that would be bin Ladin's "Mission Accomplished."