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Last Updated: 08/18/2005
The Misnomer Continues
Peter Krupa

It could have been a step in the right direction, but it turned out to be just an accidental head-fake. In late July, Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials ditched the “Global War on Terror” in favor of the more accurate (if less catchy) “Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.”


The media were abuzz. Did it signal a change in policy? A more thoughtful approach? Political spin? And what’s the shorthand for that anyway, G-SAVE? Globe-SAVE? Weird.


Commented National Security Advisor Steven Hadley to the New York Times, “It is more than just a military war on terror… 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.”


Unfortunately, eight days later Bush himself put a stop to all that silly, soft-ball terminology.


“President makes it clear,” said another New York Times headline. “Phrase is ‘War on Terror.’”


It’s sad, because it looked for a second like the Bush administration was getting something right. First of all, it’s absurd to declare war on a military tactic. Second of all, as much as one wishes it were a “war” - as clear-cut as the Normandy Invasion or the Battle of Britain - it’s just not.


“The only way to defend against terrorism,” says Rumsfeld now, “is to go on the attack.”


If only there were something to attack. If only there were a “Terrorist” carrier battle group floating off the coast of California, or a “Terrorist” capital city that, once toppled, would bring things to a close.


But recent events and revelations have shown how frustratingly subtle and unique the current conflict is. For one thing, the British have learned that terrorism can come from within, and no longer is it simply a matter off keeping the bad people out. For another thing, terrorist “organization” is practically a misnomer. This is no top-down IRA or Soviet spy ring. It’s a laterally structured movement in which each “cell” tends to take initiative on its own. And, as the recent bombings in Bangladesh illustrated, it's an ideology that transcends ethnicities, regions, and national boundries.


Not only is the “go on the attack” strategy ineffective against such an adversary, it’s actually harmful. Shooting the bad guys, you often shoot some neutral guys, subsequently turning their family members into bad guys, and on and on. It’s reminiscent of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice trying to stop the out-of-control brooms by smashing them up with an ax. It just makes the problem worse.


The “War on Terror” should have been renamed a struggle, because that’s what it is. You don’t bomb an idea into submission, you struggle against it, on many, many different diplomatic, intellectual, economic, and yes, even military levels.


But a war it is now, and a war it will remain, and as with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the problem will only get worse until there is a change in strategy that addresses it comprehensively.


Too bad there is no Sorcerer to return and fix the problem for us.  

Peter Krupa is the editor of the Peace & Conflict Monitor