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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 30 July 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago…

As reported Tuesday, July 26, in the New York Times, on Monday last things changed - U.S. Officials Retool Slogan for Terror War. The Global War on Terror is over. Or it has been renamed.

Salient points:
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. Administration officials say that phrase may have outlived its usefulness, because it focused attention solely, and incorrectly, on the military campaign.
Whatever. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, Monday was saying he had "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."

They're not? Then what are we doing in Iraq? He clarifies and says future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military."

Oh. But? Nevermind.

The Times reports this all grew out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January - and it reflects "the evolution" in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the September 11 attacks. But didn't Bush say the jury is still out on evolution?

The Times also snags an interview with Steven Hadley, the national security adviser to Bush.

His point? "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."

So this is the positive alternative.

Reactions? Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM is skeptical
Are these guys really this clueless?

What else to make of the story's opening sentence:

"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."

Three subquestions arise just from the lead. First, this is the administration's solution to the spike in terrorist incidents, the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, and the politico-military deterioration in Iraq - to retool the slogan?

Second, the White House and the Pentagon are just now coming around to the idea that the struggle is as much ideological as military? This wasn't obvious, say, three or four years ago?

Apparently not.

... It took four years for the president of the United States to realize that fighting terrorism has a political component? It took six months for his senior advisers to retool a slogan? We are witnessing that rare occasion when the phrase "I don't know whether to laugh or cry" can be uttered without lapsing into cliché.
But what really gets to Kaplan the comment from Steven Hadley that they were basically looking for an alternative to gloom - a positive alternative. In short? A happier acronym.

And they got it:
Look at the first letters of Global War on Terrorism. GWOT. What does that mean; how is it pronounced? Gwot? Too frivolously rowdy, like a fight scene in a Marvel comic book (Bam! Pfooff! Gwot!). Gee-wot? Sounds like a garbled question (Gee what?).

Then look at Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Its acronym is GSAVE - i.e., gee-save. We're out to save the world, see, not wage war on it. Or, as national security adviser Stephen Hadley puts it in the Times piece, "We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."
Kaplan goes on to wonder whether Hadley and all the rest of our other top officials really believe this nonsense? The question he asks whether they so enraptured with PR that they think a slogan and a strategy are the same thing - and that retooling the one will transform the other?

It would seem so. Reality is what you make it, and these guys make it.

Remember these guys say things like this -
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Got it? Change the words and you change the reality.

Sidney Blumenthal suggests all this renaming is how the Bush administration is silently signaling defeat - but I suspect they don't it see that way. Blumenthal is just the disgruntled left, after all - that other reality, that one doesn't count any longer.

I haven't found anyone saying it yet, but I'm sure it has been said - GSAVE is just a shorted form of "Jesus Saves." It's a crusade thing. (Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney also points out that GWOT was far too close to G-Spot.)

Paul Glastris, curiously, here asks us to consider this passage from Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War" -
The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man.
Yep, it's all how you look at things, and who controls the words used.

And who reads Thucydides these days?

People read John Hinderaker over at Powerline - and Time Magazine says Hinderaker with what he writes on his site is one of the most influential people in America. And Hinderaker says this:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
It's all how you look at it. One man's reality is not another's.

So it's GSAVE now. And the guys in the military may have to turn in these and get the revised version.

Posted by Alan at 13:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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