A Kinder, Gentler War on Terror?

Debate over the term, "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) has been going on in defense circles ever since the Bush Administration coined it in the wake of 9/11.  Heretofore, disagreement has focused largely on whether the GWOT moniker and the sometimes synonymously used "Long War" accurately describe the proper focus of the conflict.  Although with many variations, there have been two general criticisms.  The first is that a lack of precision in defining the enemy allows for a similar imprecision in determining how he must be fought and defeated; to wit, that a war on terrorism (a tactic) does not identify the real strategic enemy-e.g., violent Islamic extremism.[i] The second argues that the use of the term "war" is inappropriate and even illegitimate, used to justify a host of activities against individuals and groups who are not akin to soldiers, but instead are mere criminals, and thus must be dealt with within the structures and strictures of the criminal justice system.[ii]

Now, for reasons not clearly tied to either strain of objection, the Obama administration has decreed that the GWOT indeed is history.  Military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan henceforth will be referred to as "Overseas Contingency Operations." 

At the same time, we learn from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that acts of terrorism will no longer be called such, and instead be termed "man-caused disasters." 

And in its rush to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the Justice Department has indicated that it will discontinue use of "enemy combatant" -- a legally defined status
[iii] -- to refer to well, enemy combatants.  The new label for such detainees is still TBD; look for something like, "involuntary guest," or "person understandably mad at America" (PUMA-sorry Hillary). 

In all seriousness however, the move to create designations for our enemies and their inhumane actions that are less precise, and considerably more innocuous in their connotations than their antecedents is no accident, and goes far beyond simply wanting to demonstrate "change" from the policies of  George W. Bush.  As someone once remarked, words have meaning, and names have power.  While deliberately and tirelessly stoking fear about the economy to both justify and obfuscate the gargantuan expansion of government and attendant explosion of national debt contained in their first budget, Team Obama seeks to draw attention away from the threat posed to the country by ruthless enemies of our way of life, and in fact all external threats to our national security.

Despite characteristically soaring rhetoric about defeating Al Qaeda being his highest responsibility, the President's actions since he took office indicate otherwise.  Only after more than two frenetic months advancing his various domestic priorities did he get around to announcing a strategy for combating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; no word on how or whether we will conduct "overseas contingency operations" in any of the dozens of other countries where Al Qaeda-associated movements fester and grow. 

Time will tell whether Obama is actually willing to devote the resources and personal engagement necessary to wage this fight as effectively as did his predecessor, or whether he instead will wage his war primarily with words, unquestionably his strong suit.  Given the eloquence and ease with which this president dissembles, and the nearly complete lack of critical reporting or analysis in the dominant media, the smart money is on oratory over action, style over substance.

The truth is that Obama and his hard-left allies controlling Congress have no real enthusiasm or stomach for the arduous task of defending this country against the very real and existential threats that confront it, whether they be Islamic terrorists armed with WMD, or staggering levels of debt that will increasingly place our fate in the hands of our creditors, chief among whom are the communist Chinese.  Catering to the most radical elements of their base, the Democrats currently in power have an abiding aversion to anything approaching moral truth.  Their only certitudes are political: that they can change the world through governmental activism; that by expropriating an ever greater share of private wealth, and "investing" it in state-controlled endeavors, human suffering-indeed, human nature itself-may be eliminated. 

Being far too sophisticated to subscribe to pedestrian notions of good and evil, they reflexively resist the proposition that on balance, the United States has been the greatest (temporal) force for good in the history of the planet.  Believing that if only we could talk more with the likes of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad all would be right in the world, they are uncomfortable with using the military except as a provider of their on-demand private air travel. 

Perhaps most telling, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, et al. fail to acknowledge that every public sector job-including their own-must be financed through the labor and ingenuity of the private sector.  They therefore view the most successful and productive elements of our society with contempt, consistently attacking them for "greed."  Of late, this is done to deflect attention from incompetence at Treasury, Congressional oversight committees, or the White House, and from the huge power grabs by those same entities, presently unfolding in Washington.  More often, it is to incite class envy against those who may have the temerity to resist confiscatory taxation, and refuse to go gentle into their good night(mare) of collectivism governmental control of the economy.  Come to think about it, much like radical jihadists, our current political leadership doesn't much like our way of life either.

Ultimately, events will intervene and America will discover the precise nature of the change they have purchased through their election of an extremely well-spoken, but exceptionally inexperienced and radical statist and his band of fellow travelers.  In one of the few lucid thoughts uttered by Vice President Biden during the late campaign, he warned that within six months of election, Obama would be tested by America's enemies:

Watch. We're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.  And he's going to need help . . . Because it's not going to be apparent initially-it's not going to be apparent that we're right.[iv]

Indeed. The Obama era already promises to host a number of "man-caused disasters"-his recently submitted budget immediately comes to mind. Yet notwithstanding their deep skepticism, serious people should support the president by insisting that he call terrorism and the many related threats to our current and future security by their proper names, and relentlessly focus on eliminating them where possible, and mitigating them when total destruction cannot be achieved.  As with his predecessor, if President Obama succeeds in this, much else can be forgiven, or at least eventually repaired.


[i] See, for example, Jeffrey Record, "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," Strategic Studies Institute, December 2003.  May be searched for online at http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs.

[ii] Ken McDonald, Britain's senior-most prosecutor expresses this view in "There is no War on Terror in the UK, says DPP," The Times, January 24, 2007, p.12.

[iii]  Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 37-38 (1942).
Debate over the term, "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) has been going on in defense circles ever since the Bush Administration coined it in the wake of 9/11.  Heretofore, disagreement has focused largely on whether the GWOT moniker and the sometimes synonymously used "Long War" accurately describe the proper focus of the conflict.  Although with many variations, there have been two general criticisms.  The first is that a lack of precision in defining the enemy allows for a similar imprecision in determining how he must be fought and defeated; to wit, that a war on terrorism (a tactic) does not identify the real strategic enemy-e.g., violent Islamic extremism.[i] The second argues that the use of the term "war" is inappropriate and even illegitimate, used to justify a host of activities against individuals and groups who are not akin to soldiers, but instead are mere criminals, and thus must be dealt with within the structures and strictures of the criminal justice system.[ii]

Now, for reasons not clearly tied to either strain of objection, the Obama administration has decreed that the GWOT indeed is history.  Military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan henceforth will be referred to as "Overseas Contingency Operations." 

At the same time, we learn from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that acts of terrorism will no longer be called such, and instead be termed "man-caused disasters." 

And in its rush to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the Justice Department has indicated that it will discontinue use of "enemy combatant" -- a legally defined status
[iii] -- to refer to well, enemy combatants.  The new label for such detainees is still TBD; look for something like, "involuntary guest," or "person understandably mad at America" (PUMA-sorry Hillary). 

In all seriousness however, the move to create designations for our enemies and their inhumane actions that are less precise, and considerably more innocuous in their connotations than their antecedents is no accident, and goes far beyond simply wanting to demonstrate "change" from the policies of  George W. Bush.  As someone once remarked, words have meaning, and names have power.  While deliberately and tirelessly stoking fear about the economy to both justify and obfuscate the gargantuan expansion of government and attendant explosion of national debt contained in their first budget, Team Obama seeks to draw attention away from the threat posed to the country by ruthless enemies of our way of life, and in fact all external threats to our national security.

Despite characteristically soaring rhetoric about defeating Al Qaeda being his highest responsibility, the President's actions since he took office indicate otherwise.  Only after more than two frenetic months advancing his various domestic priorities did he get around to announcing a strategy for combating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; no word on how or whether we will conduct "overseas contingency operations" in any of the dozens of other countries where Al Qaeda-associated movements fester and grow. 

Time will tell whether Obama is actually willing to devote the resources and personal engagement necessary to wage this fight as effectively as did his predecessor, or whether he instead will wage his war primarily with words, unquestionably his strong suit.  Given the eloquence and ease with which this president dissembles, and the nearly complete lack of critical reporting or analysis in the dominant media, the smart money is on oratory over action, style over substance.

The truth is that Obama and his hard-left allies controlling Congress have no real enthusiasm or stomach for the arduous task of defending this country against the very real and existential threats that confront it, whether they be Islamic terrorists armed with WMD, or staggering levels of debt that will increasingly place our fate in the hands of our creditors, chief among whom are the communist Chinese.  Catering to the most radical elements of their base, the Democrats currently in power have an abiding aversion to anything approaching moral truth.  Their only certitudes are political: that they can change the world through governmental activism; that by expropriating an ever greater share of private wealth, and "investing" it in state-controlled endeavors, human suffering-indeed, human nature itself-may be eliminated. 

Being far too sophisticated to subscribe to pedestrian notions of good and evil, they reflexively resist the proposition that on balance, the United States has been the greatest (temporal) force for good in the history of the planet.  Believing that if only we could talk more with the likes of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad all would be right in the world, they are uncomfortable with using the military except as a provider of their on-demand private air travel. 

Perhaps most telling, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, et al. fail to acknowledge that every public sector job-including their own-must be financed through the labor and ingenuity of the private sector.  They therefore view the most successful and productive elements of our society with contempt, consistently attacking them for "greed."  Of late, this is done to deflect attention from incompetence at Treasury, Congressional oversight committees, or the White House, and from the huge power grabs by those same entities, presently unfolding in Washington.  More often, it is to incite class envy against those who may have the temerity to resist confiscatory taxation, and refuse to go gentle into their good night(mare) of collectivism governmental control of the economy.  Come to think about it, much like radical jihadists, our current political leadership doesn't much like our way of life either.

Ultimately, events will intervene and America will discover the precise nature of the change they have purchased through their election of an extremely well-spoken, but exceptionally inexperienced and radical statist and his band of fellow travelers.  In one of the few lucid thoughts uttered by Vice President Biden during the late campaign, he warned that within six months of election, Obama would be tested by America's enemies:

Watch. We're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.  And he's going to need help . . . Because it's not going to be apparent initially-it's not going to be apparent that we're right.[iv]

Indeed. The Obama era already promises to host a number of "man-caused disasters"-his recently submitted budget immediately comes to mind. Yet notwithstanding their deep skepticism, serious people should support the president by insisting that he call terrorism and the many related threats to our current and future security by their proper names, and relentlessly focus on eliminating them where possible, and mitigating them when total destruction cannot be achieved.  As with his predecessor, if President Obama succeeds in this, much else can be forgiven, or at least eventually repaired.


[i] See, for example, Jeffrey Record, "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," Strategic Studies Institute, December 2003.  May be searched for online at http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs.

[ii] Ken McDonald, Britain's senior-most prosecutor expresses this view in "There is no War on Terror in the UK, says DPP," The Times, January 24, 2007, p.12.

[iii]  Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 37-38 (1942).