“Do you think Daniel Pearl is alive or dead?” my sister asked me last weekend.
“He’s probably dead,” I said. I’d read the reports that he’d been killed in late January trying to escape. To me, it sounded plausible. If he were still alive, wouldn’t his captors still be making demands? They had nothing to gain by staying silent, as long as they had him. Likewise, if they had killed him in accordance to their threats, they’d have said something too. They probably would have offered proof, and made another threat–such as to take another hostage. But they were silent.

Still, I held out hope. I like to be wrong about things like that.

Daniel Pearl was a high-profile case. There have been 11 other journalists killed since the undeclared war broke out. There have been a couple dozen military casualties on our side. I don’t think anybody knows how many Afghans–Taliban, al Queda, or innocent bystanders–have been killed. It’s just that a star reporter for a prominent newspaper with a wife pregnant with their first child makes for a dramatic story. And Daniel Pearl has come to symbolize everything that’s wrong with the present situation.

This isn’t a war. We have troops overseas, yes. We’re building weapons, yes. But the objective is vague. There is no declaration of war. Our way of life is undisturbed. That’s not how it needs to be. Our way of life needs to be disturbed. But temporarily.

What we have right now is a police operation. This is like us chasing Pancho Villa near the beginning of the last century. We talk about protecting American interests, protecting democracy, supporting our troops. That’s nice. What does it all mean? Ask your cubicle neighbor and post it here. I’ll bet your cubicle neighbor and my cubicle neighbor define all of those things differently.

Our presidents over the course of the last 60 years haven’t liked that constitutional provision that only Congress can declare war. It’s hard to get a majority of those 535 people to agree to something like that. So they use a loophole. That’s not a good thing. The Founding Fathers knew that it would be hard to get a large number of people to agree to drastic action, such as passing a law or waging war. That’s how it should be. But if a majority of those 535 people can agree to a set of objectives, it’s probably going to be something pretty worthwhile. We can be pretty certain that they won’t come back with something ridiculous like nuking the entire Middle East until it’s a big sheet of glass.

So. We need to figure out who we’re fighting. Can we wage war only on suspicion? Let Congress sort that out. We have to figure out what we want. We know we want Osama bin Laden’s head. Fine. Anything else? I’m sure there are lots of things. Let Congress sort those out too. Then our generals can come up with a plan to get what Congress decides it wants.

Most importantly, our current way of life, for all we know, is supporting our enemies. I’ve advocated buying more fuel-efficient cars in these pages before. I still stand by that. Do you think a formal statement like that coming from our leadership would rally some people to action? I think so.

The most important thing about figuring out what we want, declaring a war, then getting it over with is that at some point, it’s over. We can go back to something resembling how it was before. We don’t have that now. And we won’t.

All we’re doing now is sitting back, watching helplessly, hoping we’ll stumble across solutions one problem at a time. Sometimes we find three leaders standing outside a vehicle well within range of a missile. More often, we don’t find what we need on time. And someone we want dead gets away. Or someone we want to get away dies.

As long as our faceless enemy knows we’re not serious, nothing’s going to change.

They’ve disrupted our economic system. They’ve made us afraid to travel. We’ve voluntarily given up liberties we wouldn’t have thought of giving up a year ago. We’ve changed our way of life, permanently.

We gave them just what they wanted.

So, what about Danny Pearl?

Pakistan has said they’ll go after his captors. We should let them. Let them be subject to Pakistani justice. If Pakistan lets them go, then we can show them American justice. Our Special Forces are very good at quickly carrying out those kinds of things, without the need of a messy trial. The job of the State is to protect its citizens. Sometimes that means war. And sometimes that means deterring repeat events. So it’s very easy to justify such a position on moral grounds.