There’s an interesting blog-article about winning the War on Terror. It mentions how Brent Sowcroft, who was President H. W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense and John F. Kerry both discussed the same idea about winning a war on terrorism:
Sowcroft in 2002: “…we can break its back so that it is only a horrible nuisance and not a paralyzing influence on our societies.”
Kerry in 2004: “We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance…”
Bush in 2004 said the same thing, essentially, in an interview with Matt Lauer:
“Lauer: So I?m just saying can we win it? Do you see that?”
“President Bush: I don?t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world ? let’s put it that way.”
After criticism about the statement, Bush backtracked, and said: ?We meet today in a time of war for our country, a war we did not start yet one that we will win… In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table… But make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win.?
Bush felt that we can’t win a “war on terror,” but that terrorist attacks can be minimized. According to Rumsfeld, expressing much the same sentiments, essentially says you can’t win a war against insurgents in Iraq.
I think Sowcroft, Kerry, and Bush’s unintentionally candid first response was correct: Terrorism is a form of warfare that doesn’t rely on any particular technology to inflict damage. Take away their bombs and they’ll poison the water supply, etc. You also can’t win a war against extremism. Extremists will always be around as they always have. You can, however, create conditions to minimize extremists’ impact.
It is this idea, that you can’t “win” a war on terror, that informs the Bush administration’s decision to stop using the slogan “War on Terror:”
“The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, according to senior administration and military officials.”
According to the conservative Washington Times, “Officials told the [New York Times] that the new language is a product of meetings of President Bush’s top national security advisers.”
What will replace the four year old slogan?
“In recent days, senior administration figures have been speaking publicly of “a global struggle against the enemies of freedom”, and of the need to use all “tools of statecraft” to defeat them.”
Why did they change the name? Here’s what the conservative think-tank “The Heritage Foundation” had to say:
“The Administration made the change for a number of reasons. The ?war on terror? incorrectly focused too much attention on the military side of the campaign… The term ?war on terror? overlooked the ideological component of the struggle…”
And, in concert with my point above:
“Finally, the change in terminology overcomes a problem long recognized in the phrase ?war on terrorism.? Terrorism is a tactic employed by people to achieve certain political purposes. The new, broader approach captures not only the enemy?s political intent, but also suggests more precisely that our efforts will be a long-term ?struggle? that may not have a termination date. Unlike with a war, there will be no simple peace treaty.” [emphasis mine --ed.]
This is obviously a PR move by the Bush administration to quell growing domestic dissent over the War in Iraq (an article about poll results of June 8, 2005 can be found here). Polls from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International indicate that the answer of “Disapprove” to the question “Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq?” has never dipped below 50% since mid-October 2004, and since June 2004, it only dipped below 50% once. It reached a high of 57% this past week in July. Also this past week, 47% said that “in the long run, the war in Iraq has increased the chances of terrorist attacks in the U.S.”
On the bright side for Bush, and using the same Pew Research Poll, only 40% disapprove of the way Bush is handling terrorist threats, the same percentage this time last year.
Bush reacted to polls, although he claims he never does. This change in name must be recent, because in his address to the nation a month ago, he used the term “war on terror” four times.
Changing the slogan, however, does not change the strategy. Changing the slogan does signal that the U.S.’s militaristic rhetoric immediately after 9/11, calling for war against unseen enemies, where we thwart a 100 plots no one ever knew about, and for war in Iraq, which had no connection to 9/11 and a never substantiated connection to al Quaeda, was all too much psychological warfare for a shocked and awed American public.
We can relate to war; we’re used to seeing clips of it on t.v. After 9/11, we wanted a War on Terror, and the Bush administration gave it to us by invading Iraq, calling it the “central front in the War on Terror:”
“Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: “This Third World War is raging” in Iraq. “The whole world is watching this war.” He says it will end in “victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.”"
The Iraq War provided us with years of images the we could relate to; explosions, gun fire, tanks, and soldiers. Now the Bush administration tells us it really isn’t a war, after all. Then what is it? What are we looking at? If this isn’t the War on Terrorism, what, then, is the War on Iraq?
Bush has sent out a confusing message to the American public. Bush wants us to think that the War in Iraq is about terrorism, but there is no War on Terror, so we’re not actually waging war on terrorists in Iraq; we’re “struggling” with them in a war we can’t win, but only hope to make a nuisance. Got it?