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Do We Need A New Term?

I've been thinking lately about the term "war on terrorism" and whether we need a newer, better, term. A few months ago I heard Walter Russell Mead say something about this that, at the time, struck me as very convincing. Sure, he said, "war on terrorism" isn't a literally accurate expression, but who cares? Nobody, as he put it, thinks that the USA is or should be at war with ETA. The important thing is whether we understand what we're talking about, not some kind of semantic fastidiousness. That seemed about right. Nobody thought the United States was actually at war with the Soviet Union just because the rivalry was called "the Cold War" (similarly, no one thought the conflict had a temperature), people understood that that was a manner of speaking. There was a dynamic that existed between the USA and the USSR, it was basically a hostile one, and it was called "the Cold War." Simple enough.

More recently, I've been rethinking that position. My main concern is that it has people focused too much on the al-Qaeda movement as a terrorist group and not enough on the movement as a movement that also engages in other things, like guerilla warfare, propaganda, recruiting, attempted subversion of gvoernments, and, if it gains control of a state, presumably conventional warfare as well. Now I see that Juan Cole seems to think that we need to go to war with ETA or else we're racists, and I'm sure that we need a new word. ETA is, for my money, a totally despicable organization, but it's just not an issue for US grand strategy. If we can't talk about that grand strategy in a way that makes that perfectly clear to everyone, then we need a new way of talking.

December 5, 2004 | Permalink

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» Sunday Morning Couch Time from ~Neophyte Pundit~
Sunday 5 December, 2005 4:55 AM... Darn dogs anyway...my dog Roxy, decided to join the neighborhood dog chorus at 3:30 AM. I am not sure what has set off the dogs this morning, but they are all going nuts. I've... [Read More]

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» Sunday Morning Couch Time from ~Neophyte Pundit~
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Tracked on Dec 5, 2004 8:46:13 AM

» Not the Same from Liberals Against Terrorism

Juan Cole asks:

Is the difference in the way that the American press responds to ETA from the way it responds to al-Qaeda a form of racism?[Read More]

Tracked on Dec 5, 2004 12:37:46 PM

» On War, Terror, and the Destructiveness of Phrases from Kermit the Blog
Matt Y. brings up the importance of challenging terminology. As has been said before, but is worth repeating, talking about the "War on Terror" after 9/11 is somewhat akin to talking about the "War on Carrier-based Aircraft" after Pearl Harbor.... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 6, 2004 12:07:31 PM

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Tracked on Dec 6, 2004 2:25:58 PM

» On War, Terror, and the Destructiveness of Phrases from Kermit the Blog
Matt Y. brings up the importance of challenging terminology. As has been said before, but is worth repeating, talking about the "War on Terror" after 9/11 is somewhat akin to talking about the "War on Carrier-based Aircraft" after Pearl Harbor.... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 6, 2004 11:48:40 PM

» The war on terminology from locussolus
Yglesias writes about the need for a new term to describe the war on terror, focusing at first on the word war in a comparison with the term Cold War, but then on the word terror and the way it seems on its face to refer even to ETA and other nonintern... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 7, 2004 1:24:30 AM

» On War, Terror, and the Destructiveness of Phrases from Kermit the Blog
Matt Y. brings up the importance of challenging terminology. As has been said before, but is worth repeating, talking about the "War on Terror" after 9/11 is somewhat akin to talking about the "War on Carrier-based Aircraft" after Pearl Harbor.... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 7, 2004 8:04:11 PM

Comments

You are either with the ETA or against the ETA. Because you are not against the ETA, you are with the ETA.

Posted by: Dan the Man | Dec 5, 2004 2:01:13 AM

Sure, I got your term right here:

Campaign.

A campaign is more than a battle, more than a war. It's a set of actions taken together to attempt to defeat an opponent. A political campaign includes grassroots action, high-level fundraising, advertising, media spin, etc. all coordinated for the purpose of electing one person to an office.

A campaign against terrorism includes military action, financial work, public relations, education, police work, and a whole bunch of other stuff that people who do this for a living should figure out--all to attempt to radically reduce the effects of terrorism on our daily lives.

Not as sexy as "war," but I think it fits the bill jes' fine.

Posted by: Dan | Dec 5, 2004 2:25:52 AM

It's called the War on Terror because our leadership is to afraid to name the enemy. That's why our goals are muddled.

Another example of how we are sending mixed signals is by analyzing the causes of Muslim hatred. Why would we do this? Are Muslims terrorists? Shouldn't we be more narrow, analyzing why the terrorists hate us? This is important for two reasons: 1) The terrorists hate us for different reasons than everyday Muslims, and 2) we don't want to get Americans thinking that Muslims are the enemy and thus putting us on the road to genocide.

Both establishment liberals and conservatives have been talking around the issue for the last three years. The blogosphere has had the best thoughts on the issue.

The enemy is clear: radical Islam. The solution is clear: a twin strategy of killing radical Islamists intent on killing non-Muslims, and attempting to discredit radical Islam in the long term by offering better alternatives to the Muslim(especially Arab) masses.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Dec 5, 2004 2:38:10 AM

Dan,

How about this: The Campaign. It sort of falls in line with The Terrorists.

Posted by: KC | Dec 5, 2004 2:42:13 AM

So Adam, what about radical christians?
Were supposed to let them hide in our midst and organize their radical agenda to enslave us?

Posted by: ladder | Dec 5, 2004 3:09:09 AM

KC,

Sure, that works. The idea of "the terrorists" as if they were one giant group of people with one coherent aim is kind of ridiculous, though. It's not "the terrorists" we're after. It's terrorism. Our goal should be to eliminate terrorism as a means of advancing a particular political or social agenda. Lots of different groups use terrorism as that means; if we made it (economics, here) more costly (not just in monetary terms) to use it than to use other means, then we've started to win.

Posted by: Dan | Dec 5, 2004 3:20:31 AM

How about the "Campaign to Bring it On to the Evildoers and make them no Longer a Problem to the United States of America"? The C-BOELPUSA, for short.

Like Homeland Security, the WOT is here to stay. Grand strategy, criteria, mayonnaise, all these big words are why you Blue State elitists can't connect to the simple Heartlanders of the, er, Heartland.

Seriously though, it seems to me that Cole is either being deliberately obtuse, or has just temporarily gone nuts. We may not have any desire to travel half-way around the world to fight the ETA personally, but that doesn't mean we don't sympathise with and support those who are fighting the ETA. The WOT, IMO, is a perfect phrase that perfectly describes what we're trying to do.

We are trying to unite all people of goodwill, all across the world, regardless of nationality, religion or race, for the somewhat narrow, limited purpose of defeating all people of badwill, all across the world. "Because the future does not belong to fear, it belongs to freedom"

How do you tell people of goodwill versus people of badwill? Well, mainly by the fact that people of goodwill really, really hate killing people, and don't do it unless there is a really good reason, and even then only as a last resort. People of badwill either like to kill people, or they don't dislike it very much. Also, people of badwill don't kill for good reasons, or even if they do have a legitimate cause, they kill heedlessly, and not as a last resort.

With the important caution that the impulse to good or evil runs in each of us, the last two long-winded paragraphs describe what the "War On Terror" is all about. I don't think there's any need to change the phrase. Of course, it doesn't really matter what I think, because it's too well-established at this point to change.

This comment is already too long, but since you mentioned the term Grand Strategy, let me link to a comment I made on Winds of Change that argues that "doctrines" or "strategies" are overrated when it comes to thinking about defense & foreign policy matters.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Dec 5, 2004 3:39:37 AM

What's wrong with TWOT?

Posted by: bad Jim | Dec 5, 2004 3:45:03 AM

How about "The Effort to Stop People Who Are Actually Trying To Kill Us And Who Have a Realistic Chance of Doing So."

We could contrast this effort, for which which we could secure very broad-based and steadfast popular support, with other possible efforts, campaigns and wars for which there seems to be some degree of enthusiasm among more narrow and fanatical sectors of the public. These other struggles include:

The Struggle against Angry Unemployed People Who Maintain Islamist Web Sites,

The Great Nuclear Payback Against Those Arab Guys Who Harshed My American Buzz With That Whole 9/11 Thing,

The War Against People Who Are Really Pissed Off At Israel But Would Just As Well Leave Americans Alone If They Would Stay Out of It,

The War Against the People Who Live On Top of Our Oil,

The War Against The Saracen Occupiers of the Holy Land Who We Should Have Whipped In Those Earlier Crusades,

The War Against Surly-Looking Mullahs Who Rub Me the Wrong Way,

The War of Vengeance Against The Guys Who Blew Up Our Marines in Beirut and Took Americans Hostage In Tehran - Or At Least Against Their Nephews And Cousins Or Whatever,

The War Against People Who Fail To Match My Personal Standards of "Liberality" or "Modernity,"

The War Against Easy Targets, Whoever They Are, Because War Is Fun When We Don't Get Killed,

The War Against The Guys Who Are Trying to Depose Government Leaders We Don't Like Much Either, But Who May Or May Not Be Worse Than Those leaders, And Whom We Should Therefore Wack Just In Case,

The War Against Those Blithering Civilian Idiots Who Are Too Stupid To Avoid Getting Hit With Our Smart Bombs,

The War Against The Barbarians Who Either Stubbornly Refuse To Be Democratic, Or Who Want To Be Democratic But Only So They Can Perniciously Vote For Their Own Interests And Against Our Own,

The Next Campaign In The War of Never-Ending Escalation To Prove The Last Campaign Wasn't Such A Stupid Idea After All,

The Campaign Against People Who Make Women Wear Veils,

The Bombing Campaign Against Everyone Who Michael Moore Does Not Want To Bomb,

The Struggle Against the Diaboloical Islamist Online Chat Network,

The War Against Men Who Don't Wear Pants,

The War Againt Men, Women And Children I Have Never Met But Who Are Easily Explodable, And Whose Casually Discussed Deaths Afford Me An Opportunity to Convince My Scarce-Bearded Liberal Friends That I Am A Real Man, A Big-Time Strategic Thinker and A Suitably Ruthless Grownup, And That Even Though I Am For Gay Marriage I Am No Pansy Myself,

The War Against Islam - a 1400 Year-Old Religion with Hundreds of Manifestations and a Billion Adherents That We Can Still Easily Eradicate With A Fw Well-Planned CIA Covert Operations, And Some Good Ol' American Elbow Grease,

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Dec 5, 2004 3:51:12 AM

Cole is a bozo. By his rules, his almost total failure to mention Darfur, when compared to his blovations about Israel make him a raving antisemite.

Suggest you find someone slightly saner to read.

Posted by: am | Dec 5, 2004 3:51:37 AM

We don't need a new term. The old one got us into a pointless invasion and occupation.

More to the point, we don't need new lipstick for dressing up another war.

As odious as the Islamofascists may be, it seems silly to worry more about them than about the sort of country we expect to be ten or twenty years from now.

When I walk into my yard I'm not preoccupied by fear of bees. When visiting a city, crime is something I keep in the back of my mind.

We're creating the future and our hopes and dreams are what we need to keep foremost in our minds.

Posted by: bad Jim | Dec 5, 2004 3:56:59 AM

I think we should let War on Terror stands as it is. Those who want to add sundry and all into it(ETA, Maoist rebels, eco-terrorism, computer hackers, Darth Vader, Sauron, Lord Voldemort) should be forced to use the term the 'War Against things that I really hate but doesn't really affect my Real Life (if I have one) and since I don't have one, I would love to see someone bomb them while I watch on TV.' (well, may be computer hackers and virus writers are legitimate targets for the War on Terror.)

Posted by: Weco | Dec 5, 2004 4:53:55 AM

I think Post-Modernist Jean Boaudrillard would probably argue for a new term.

As a Sociologist and Semeoticist, he is especially concerned with the disjunction between reality and the Simulacra.

(ie. The "map" doesn't match the "terrain". And when we start using the "map" as if it were the real "terrain".)

Or in this instance, "The War on Terror" doesn't seem like a "War".

In Boaudrillard's "The Precession of Simulacra" he talks about 4 phases of the Simulacra.

These phases are:

1. Reflects a basic reality
2. Masks or preverts a basic reality
3. Masks the abscence of basic reality
4. Bears no relation to any reality; it is its own Simulacrum.

I'd say The War on Terror, as a Simulacra of everything that is going on involving this effort, probably started at phase 2 after Afganistan, is in phase 3 in Iraq, and seems to be sliding into phase 4 with recent news on the weakness of Al-qaeda as an organization.

Posted by: The Key | Dec 5, 2004 5:09:00 AM

I don't think you're reading Cole correctly. He's commenting on the response of two entities: The Bush admin and the american press.

On the first front, he suggests that if they were serious about fighting terrorism in the general sense, they'd join this fight. The implication is that they're not really engaged in a war against all terrorism and terrorists. This is, of course, true. As you point out.

The racism charge seems directed at the American press, whose racism ostensibly derives the tone and volume of their response and coverage of terrorist acts, which (he claims) varies in relation to the skin color of the bad guys in question. I'm not saying he's right or wrong about either the premise or conclusion drawn from it, but neither infer anything about the Bush administration or any other entity with the power to go to war.

Posted by: DJW | Dec 5, 2004 5:19:38 AM

I think the "The War on Terra" sounds correct. It's exactly what it is.

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 5, 2004 7:07:10 AM

The US government is objectively pro-ETA.

Posted by: Rob | Dec 5, 2004 8:05:00 AM

Being anti-war puts me at a disadvantage, but I agree "war" is not the right term. I mean, what was the last "war" that we won?
The Korean War?--no, right that was a peace action, but we didn't win it.
The Vietnamize War? Still fighting it during the 2004 campaign.
War on Poverty? More poor people today than when LBJ introduced it.
War on Drugs? Lost, lost, lost--now medical marijuana is before the Supreme Court
The Cold War? Won or stalemated?

Let's face it, not since World War II, have we actually WON a war. And why do we need these cutesy names anyway. Operation this, operation that. Sounds like a medical convention.

Posted by: Lee Benning | Dec 5, 2004 8:24:07 AM

"The Nth Crusade"

(A discussion of the proper number would provide a useful history lesson....is the Children's Crusade counted?)

Slogan:"Remember Constantinople!"

Flag:An oil derrick with a Stealth-Fighter crosspiece, on which a crucified George Bush stares to heaven with a beatific smile.

Anthem:"Bohemian Rhapsody"...to confuse and confound our enemies ("Mahmed, why are the Marines singing about Scaramouche?") and cause it is stupid and cool.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 5, 2004 8:25:39 AM

It's going to be near-impossible to dislodge the phrase "war on terror." It was chosen for a reason: because the concepts "We're at war" and "during wartime" provide an indispensable carte blanche for justifying all manner of otherwise unacceptable actions.

Posted by: Swift Loris | Dec 5, 2004 9:04:04 AM

"ETA is, for my money, a totally despicable organization, but it's just not an issue for US grand strategy."

One could say much the same thing about Hamas and Hezbollah . . .

The whole point about the administration using a term like "War on Terror" (TM) is to allow the adminstration to garner support for things like the invasion and occupation of Iraq, or aid to the government of Colombia, by pretending that such policies are somehow responsive to 9/11.

Posted by: rea | Dec 5, 2004 9:14:06 AM

And I should have included support for the policies of the goverment of Israel in my examples . . .

Posted by: rea | Dec 5, 2004 9:19:08 AM

ETA is, for my money, a totally despicable organization, but it's just not an issue for US grand strategy. If we can't talk about that grand strategy in a way that makes that perfectly clear to everyone, then we need a new way of talking.

The problem is that the right - from the administration to the warbloggers to Fox News - has become so enamoured of categorical statements about terrorism vs. liberty that "terrorism" as a concept can't possibly fit anything so sullied as a "strategy". And, more to the point, they have invited a willful confusion that suits their policy ends.

Posted by: Chris Cagle | Dec 5, 2004 9:23:23 AM

"Nobody thought the United States was actually at war with the Soviet Union just because the rivalry was called "the Cold War""

Thank you for reminding us all why nobody takes the left seriously on national security.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 5, 2004 9:46:29 AM

The point about the War on Terror being a silly, counterproductive name is valid.

The point that the ETA, who called in the bomb threats an hour before the explosion and waited till all the gas stations were evactuated before detonating the explosives - a sign that they're trying not to kill people - should be treated the exact same way by the government (AND THE MEDIA!), as a group that tries to kill massive amounts of innocent civilians is cartoonishly embarrassing.

So unless terrorist attacks designed not to kill people are treated the same way as terrorist attacks purposefully designed to kill lots of people, everyone's a racist in Cole's mind.

If al Qaeda called in their bomb threats and waited till everyone evacuated before blowing things up, they'd be considered a much smaller deal/threat than they are right now.

It's also fairly sad coming from someone who supposedly cares a lot about Muslims, because al Qaeda kills Muslims indiscriminately as well - their presumptive "reasoning" being that random, innocent Muslims that get killed in al Qaeda "martydrom" operations become "martyrs" themselves.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Dec 5, 2004 9:47:31 AM

(re: we weren't actually at war with the Soviet Union)
Brett:
"Thank you for reminding us all why nobody takes the left seriously on national security. "

Brett, thanks for the reminder that nobody should take you seriously. We didn't need it, but it's good of you to make sure that we don't forget. I was in the Army in the early 1980's (2 years in Germany, the designated battlefield), and can reassure you that we were actually not at war.

BTW, how is it in Iraq these days?

Posted by: Barry | Dec 5, 2004 10:06:58 AM

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