Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mission accomplished? The end of "the global war on terror"

That's the name, not the "war" itself.

Forget "the global war on terror," it's now "a global struggle against violent extremism".

Honestly, does the Bush Administration think we're not paying any attention to this nonsense? Do they think that they can just change their rhetoric without anyone noticing? Look, Joe's right, the problem is more than just a military one, and it may very well be that "struggle" captures the essence of the conflict better than "war". But what exactly does "violent extremism" mean? I've long criticized the use of the phrase "war on terror," often prefacing it with "the so-called". And I do acknowledge that a "war" on "terror" doesn't make much sense: "Terror" is an intangible quality, like fear, and how exactly do you wage war on something intangible? But isn't it nonetheless true that the enemy, such as there is a definable enemy, is terrorism? Or, rather, terrorists -- those who engage in terrorism, those who use terror as a weapon? Why blur that truth by switching from "war" to "struggle" and from "terror" to "violent extremism"?

Could it be that the "war on terror" wasn't going so well? Ah, there's a thought.

Just like the rationale for going into Iraq -- WMDs, then Saddam's brutality, then the spread of democracy -- the name of this war (or whatever you want to call it) is changed according to political necessity (i.e., when things go bad, the Bush Administration changes the terms -- like when Iraq's WMDs became WMD-related program activities). But you know what? I don't think Osama or his followers care what we call it, and they're going to keep doing what they're doing regardless of how we define them.

Revamped rhetoric pumped out for domestic consumption to prop up a failing presidency simply won't get the job done. And this from a president who campaigned on the war on terror and who has repeatedly touted his war leadership? Yeah, right.

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  • I have always been disturbed by the Orwellian tendency of this (and, in fairness, other) administrations to use labels for essentially propaganda purposes, e.g., "Operation Enduring Freedom" as opposed to, say "Operation Overlord" (D-Day), or the term "Peacekeepers" as the name for the MS missiles during the Reagan Administration. This reflects a disturbing tendency to treat political issues as marketing opportunities. This self-conscious use of terms that apply normative labels to policies is, to me, something that goes against the grain of what I consider plain-speaking Americanism. If this spreads to the domestic front, I guess we will be talking about the "Growth Producing, Freedom Enhancing Central American Trade Agreement."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:40 AM  

  • Uhmmm got me thinking about that huh?

    Nice blog … Keep it up.

    By the way, do you think Christianity is a cult?

    If you have an opinion on the subject, please do email me. Alternately, you may want to check it out at the forum


    By Blogger La Bona, at 10:43 AM  

  • A conversation with myself....

    Q: Why is Bush using this language?
    A: Because it works. The American people respond to such inflated rhetoric.

    Q: Are the American people stupid?
    A: No. The ones who live on the coasts are alright, as well as the Great Lakes. It's the heartland and the south that are the idiots.

    Q: So how did these people become stupid? I mean, in the past people like FDR, JFK, and Bill Clinton got elected. Why are more people now supporting a moron like Bush?
    A: They are snowed by religion and antiquated notions of family values.

    Q: So what can we do? How can we enlighten them?
    A: You can't. There is no reasoning with a religious fanatic. Look at the bright side: at least the Daily Show has a lot of material to work with.

    Q: I feel so bloody frustrated, can't we enlightened states just secede and form out own country?
    A: No. This is the price of liberalism, at least in the classic sense. You have to respect a person's freedom to believe whatever they want, since tolerance is the foundation of a civilized society. To secede would be an ackowledgement that a diversity of beliefs is not workable- that can't be what you want to stand for.

    Q: But Europe doesn't have these crazy Christian right wackos. How did they avoid them?
    A: They do, just in smaller numbers. But they have a bigger problem: Islamic fascist wackos. They too have paid a price for their liberalism.

    Q: So is liberal democracy the way to go if it means harboring all these religious nuts? Maybe it would be better if the smart people took over and established an enlightened monarchy?
    A: This is the eternal quandary of the enlightened leftist. We believe in freedom, diversity, and tolerance, yet we can't stand the end results. If only humans would behave how we want them to behave, then we could have a democracy. But in reality giving humans complete freedom ultimately ends up in enslavement to consumerism, mass media, and trashy pop culture. In other words, the very same people who buy into Bush's rhetoric about the war on terror. Maybe we shouldn't allow people to be completely free.

    Q: You sound like a fascist.
    A: Yeah, I know. Which is why I ultimately accept George Bush. He is the outgrowth of a modern democracy, and and as bad as he is, he is better than whatever horrors an enlightened monarcy might evolve into. The best we can do is hold on for the ride, and do our best to find the good in our system.

    Q: Does that mean I can't watch John Stewart? After all, he is bitingly cynical about everything.
    A: No. It does mean you should watch him with a grain of salt. You don't want to fall into the trap of thinking yourself superior to all these Republican idiots- if you do that, you aren't that much different from the people who watch the Jerry Springer show, taking pleasure in the stupidity of others. Moreover, when you embrace Jon Stewart as the gospel you become gasoline that is poured on a Republican machine that gains strength from smug, self-righteous Democrats.

    Q: So basically even though I can't stand what these people stand for, I'm not vent my anger? Don't they do that to us, the Democrats, all the time on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh?
    A: Yes. You make a good point. All I can offer is that you should hold yourself to a higher standard.

    Q: I don't know. I feel like one has to get dirty to fight these people.
    A: Another valid point. But if you ask me, I think people will ultimately come around to see the error in Bush and the Republicans' ways. Appeal to their higher nature.

    Q: But you said earlier that a lot of these people are religious idiots entranced by consumerism and a dumbed-down culture.
    A: That hasn't completely killed off their humanity and intellect. I have faith that the good will out.

    By Blogger N. Lowe, at 8:03 PM  

  • Tell us what you really think, Nate!

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 10:59 AM  

  • I don't really know what I think. Speaking from the heart, I'm having a kind of existentialist crisis of late. I've been reading a very interesting book lately called "What's Wrong with Liberalism" by Ronald Beiner (A Canadian philospher) that critiques classcial liberalism from the left, and a lot of it makes sense. I wonder lately whether free-market capitalism and liberal democracy truly constitute freedom- or do they offer a different kind of enslavement, either to money, materialism, and base pleasures like sex, drugs, food, celebrity culture. For so long I've scoffed at cultural cynics, but lately I can't help but see a fairly extensive emptiness in a lot of what constitute modern life and culture.

    I'm not ready to discard our current system, since I don't see any other viable alternatives, but I've been pondering the deficiencies in it lately. Both the French and American models have their drawbacks and sources of ennui for their citizens, which seem more similar than different. My perspective on this issue still comes very much from the right: I see a softening government protectionism of citizens in our culture as more of a threat to our core humanity than a help. But the right's emphasis on economic virility and traditional religion strikes me as equally empty of true meaning.

    By Blogger N. Lowe, at 12:46 PM  

  • I hear you, Nate. However certain I may seem here at The Reaction, I, too, struggle to work through what I believe. I'm not going through an existential crisis at the moment -- unless it's just the one that consistently plagues our civilization -- but I go back and forth on a number of fundamental issues. I guess that's why I still consider myself a moderate. Regardless, I'm certainly not an ideologue, and I cerainly don't think that I have all the answers.

    By the way, Ronald Beiner, whom I know quite well, is on my Ph.D. dissertation committee at the Univ. of Toronto. He's incredibly unassuming and reserved, but his work, I agree, is excellent. I liked WWWL? a great deal, but be sure to check out Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit, an excellent collection of essays.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:10 PM  

  • Wow, what a strange coincidence. The only reason I'm reading the book in the first place is that I came across it in an old used book store and the title jumped out at me. I haven't finished it yet, and while I find the points he makes interesting, the prose is very dense and filled with references to people I have not read. I haven't yet gotten to the final chapter, "Socialism?", so I don't know exactly how he wraps up his critique of liberalism.

    I very much agree with his refutation of an overly tolerant, rights-based political discourse and his call for a return to discussing the "good" as Aristotle understood it. And yet he doesn't really go deeply enough into the problems that confront us today- it's almost as if he is writing for an audience that already buys into the idea that modern culture is a vapid consumer wasteland. I understand that view, but I would like to see it spelled out how exactly our current culture is inferior to the past, or at least to what is possible. But Beiner seems to be focused exclusively on theory, as is the norm among academic writings.

    I suppose crisis is the wrong word for me current conundrem. Existential musings would probably be more accurate. The ideas put forth by Neitze (sp?) are particularly resonant at present, the notion that we have evolved into a kinder, gentler civilization that in smoothing out the rough edges of life has sapped our existences of vitality. I wonder what Beiner would make of him, seeing as he diagnoses the same emptiness.

    By Blogger N. Lowe, at 6:05 PM  

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