Monday, April 16, 2007
The Global War On Terror is Dead
The British government has stopped using the phrase “war on terror” to refer to the struggle against political and religious violence, according to a Cabinet minister’s prepared remarks for a Monday speech.
International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, a rising star of the governing Labour Party, says in a speech prepared for delivery in New York that the expression popularized by President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks strengthens terrorists by making them feel part of a bigger struggle.
We wouldn’t want the terror masters and jihadis think that we took them seriously, now would we?
Maybe what we should do is acknowledge their seriousness of mind and purpose, the danger that they pose, and the reality that our war is with not a single organization or nation, but with those who would use TERRORism as a weapon to gain their political aims. Maybe now, when many are questioning our and our allies’ will to continue the fight, isn’t the best time to try to find gentle euphemisms that won’t offend the wrong people and won’t make the terrorists “feel part of a bigger struggle.”
The terrorists know who they are and what they are; I don’t think we should be worried about anyone’s self-image.
We could call it World War 3, recognizing the global scale of the conflict. But, honestly, it isn’t nearly as all-encompassing as that war--our economy and our military might have grown well past those years of national sacrifice and we aren’t seeing anything nearly as bloody, either. Our enemy isn’t as numerous nor nearly as strong. Arguably, the stakes in the long view are similar, though. This is a war of ideologies and cultures that is much more meaningful than just “a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger.”
We could call it the War on Islamic Extremism, which I think would be about right. Terror isn’t only a tool of the Islamic extremists, of course, but those are our enemies, aren’t they? And it is their ideas and their culture that we must vigorously oppose.
Global War on Terror is ungainly (and, perhaps, so is War on Islamic Extremism), but it had the virtue of being honest about the scope and the enemy. I can’t imagine that anyone believes that this will be won by “military means alone"--the use of all forms of our national power will be in play. Economic, “soft” diplomacy, small and large scale military projection, and information dissemination. In fact, I remain convinced that the last will be the most important--convinced that in the war of ideas, our ideas are far more attractive than theirs.
Freedom and liberalism are more desirable than religious dictatorships (at least when the former can be had with political stability and an individual sense of security). In line with Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, it is our moral duty and pragmatic obligation to support democratic movements around the world both because it is right and because it will help ensure our own future security.
We can call this struggle whatever we want, but let’s not fool ourselves about its ultimate importance or scope. The term “Global War on Terror” doesn’t preclude a use of wide ranging powers to achieve our goals any more than “Cold War” left us unable to use those same powers to defeat the USSR in a similar war of ideologies. Turning to a new name just feels like re-branding.