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Renaming the war on terror and more.

From the August 8, 2005 issue: The GWOT no more.

Aug 8, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 44 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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GWOT's Up with That?

Is it conceivable that John Kerry is owed an apology by the Bush administration? All last year the Bush campaign pounded Kerry for minimizing the global war on terror (GWOT, as it's known to national security bureaucrats). "Senator Kerry has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all," said Vice President Dick Cheney at one point, with evident contempt. "In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and more of a law enforcement operation."

Then last week, in a story that gave every sign of being a deliberate leak from the administration, the New York Times reported:

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, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice.

From GWOT to GSAVE in just a couple weeks. So what, exactly, does the new slogan mean? Using a telltale bit of reporter's spackle, the Times notes that the terminological shifts "come at a time" when Bush favorite Karen Hughes assumes her new job as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy--that is, the two things are related in some way the reporter can't be bothered to spell out.

Hughes, as it happens, had her confirmation hearings last week. She told senators that her message to the world would be: "I want to learn more about you and your lives, what you fear, what you dream, what you believe, what you value most." This is what happens when you put a talented public relations professional into a foreign policy job--they redefine the problems of the world as public relations problems.

But Hughes is hardly alone in thus cavalierly undermining the seriousness of George W. Bush's defining mission. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because . . . if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." The solution, he said, will be "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military"--i.e., not part of my job description.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was similarly "on message": "It is more than just a military war on terror," he said. "It's broader than that. It's a global struggle against extremism. We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative." (Since when is winning a war a gloomy vision?)

It sounds for all the world as if the Bush administration wants to fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, and--dare we say it?--more sensitive war on terror. And if you think you've heard that language before, you're right. It came from John Kerry last fall. Kerry described the war on terror as "occasionally military" but argued that it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation." Richard Holbrooke, Kerry's senior foreign policy adviser, said: "We're not in a war on terror, in the literal sense. The war on terror is like saying 'the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor."

Bush, if you recall, was aghast: "Anyone who thinks we are fighting a metaphor does not understand the enemy we face, and has no idea how to win the war and keep America secure." But that was then.

The Scrapbook, just to be clear, understands that winning the GWOT will involve more than the application of brute military force. And we're all in favor of learning about what others dream and what they value most. But what we have learned to our horror in recent years is that far too many people dream mostly of murdering us.

Indeed the disturbing thing about this fascination with rebranding the war on terror is that it, if we may say, came at a time when a resurgent Taliban is stepping up its activities in Afghanistan, al Qaeda bombers are running amok in London, and tourist hotels are being blown up in Egypt. This is self-evidently not a great time to shift from a "Global War on Terror" to a "Long Struggle to Portray Americans as Good People Who Don't Hate Muslims and Respect Religions All Over the World Even as We Try to Dismantle the Networks of Ideological Extremists Who at the Very Least Disagree With Us and May Want to Do Us Harm." Or whatever.

Ricky's World