Thursday, January 29, 2009

Goodbye to GWOT?

A curious thing happened during the confirmation hearings of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, soon to be confirmed Attorney General Eric Holder, and several lower level Pentagon appointees. It wasn't so much what they said as what they didn't say. None of them mentioned that phrase which has been at the the center of American national security policy for the last seven plus years: "war on terror."

This hasn't held in all cases, DCI designate Leon Panetta did use the phrase in prepared remarks after his nomination and Obama himself, while not using the GWOT phrase directly, did claim in his inaugural address that "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." But it does seem clear that the term has lost some of its cache now that we are eight years removed from the 9/11 attacks and in the early days of the Obama administration.

Is the GWOT moniker useful anymore, if it ever was? Should we keep it? Replace it with something else?

I think it's clear that, if it was ever useful, the term has certainly outlived its usefulness.

First, the GWOT approach tried to lump too many disparate groups, problems, and conflicts under a single umbrella. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently made this point, arguing for putting the kibosh on GWOT because the term "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda [when] the reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate." Intrepid Patterson School blogger OMARCOMIN! made a similar point in a post from last semester.

Second, as we discussed in class Tuesday, we aren't actually treating our Al-Qaeda enemies and other assorted ne'er-do-wells like combatants in war, and rightly so. The war moniker doesn't seem to fit the approach. We aren't for example, exempting "enemy combatants" from prosecution for their actions during "wartime."

Finally, wars on "things" just don't seem to work. See, for example, the current one on (some people who use) drugs or the abandoned one on poverty. Now, obviously, we would like to see the tactic of terrorism used less and less and for its complete unacceptability to become an international norm, but I'm not sure declaring war on it was or is the best way to accomplish this.

So, what do you say? Keep GWOT? Ditch it? Why or why not? And I wonder what this War on Terror video game (pictured) is like.

1 comment:

M.B. said...

As the only commenter here (and in most of these posts, actually), I feel at complete liberty to state opinion as if it were fact.

The phrase "global war on terror" was useful for one thing that was very important to the Bush Administration - winning the 2004 election against John Kerry. Of course, back then, they still pretended that Iraq had ANYTHING AT ALL to do with the thing.

In all, the phrase is even less accurate than the myth during the Cold War of global, unified Communism. It served a political purpose. A (IMHO) somewhat sinister one at that, meant to frighten the American people into mobilizing support around failed policies beautifully designed to make some very wealthy mercenary and other private defense contractor types even wealthier.

Turns out it worked. But look on the bright side - we did get a color-coded terror alert system out of the deal.