Letter from Baghdad
July 31 in Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago… you would find a long discussion of how our government had decided to change how we discuss what we are doing around the world. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) was to become the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) - a change in terms to better capture what we were doing. Yes, it was awkward, but not a bad idea. Precision is nice.
But GSAVE has gone the way of the great auk. We're back to GWOT. Disregard GSAVE. It’s dead. It's extinct. How that came about was covered Sunday, August 7, here. Folks got a bit ahead of themselves.
Major Cook in Baghdad has some thoughts:
Major Cook will be back here in Southern California on a fifteen-day leave starting around Labor Day. I'm not sure I'll have any ideas even by then.
As you recall, the idea is we're not fighting "terror" - as that's a tactic an enemy uses, and not the enemy itself. As General Myers himself pointed out, that's like saying WWII was "a war on submarines." No, we were fighting the fascist powers in Europe - Germany and Italy - and that Hitler fellow, and then fighting Japanese take-over-the-world imperialism. They used submarines, and so did we.
But whatever the name of the enemy is it has to be catchy, and sum everything up nicely. So drop this "terror" word? And use what?
We don't want to call it a war on Islam, and somehow a war on "Radical Islam" cuts too close too. Some have suggested a war on Islamacists (huh?) or a war Islamofascists (sounds too much like a carnival thing?) - but clearly "terror" and "terrorists" makes too vague an enemy - as some Irish fellows would fit here, and Basque folks, and folks in the new republics south of Russia, and the Tamil Tigers in Ceylon, and so on. We’re not fighting all of them. We need to be selective.
As is often said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - we ourselves didn't exactly play by the rules against the British in the 1770s after all. Dick Cheney himself, as a congressman way back when, famously held onto the position for years that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Now Mandela is a grandfatherly hero. Some say when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, then another on Nagasaki, and wiped out hundred of thousands of civilians, that was terrorism. Curtis LeMay, the man who ordered the firebombing of Tokyo, wiping out a third of the city, said if we had lost the war he would probably be tried as a war criminal. A war on "terror" presents problems.
So let's be selective and precise.
Is this a war on backward states that are troublesome, and happen to have a lot of oil? Is it a war on states at all? Is this a war on a stateless movement that wants us out of the Middle East, along with any number of the governments in power there now? Is this a war not against one thing in particular but for a finite resource, oil? No, that's too crude. (Bad pun.)
No, we seem to be up against an angry international movement, not tied to any formal government in any particular country, with a list of grievances all tied up with getting the west out of the Middle East entirely, with anger at everything that has happened or been done to the Palestinians since 1947, and with a demand for the freedom to practice a strict and repressive form of Islam all over the Middle East, where they say the folks want just that. They're saying, "Just go away and let us be." We say no. Oil and Israel seem curiously bound up with all this. We cannot abandon an ally we pretty much created, and we need the oil. There's a lot over there, so they have us over a barrel. (Another bad pun.) We cannot walk away from Israel. But they want to force the issues, with terror as the most effective tool they can find.
How do you sum up all that? We are fighting a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works. And they're pretty good at acts of terrorism. And they don't use submarines.
How do we name our enemy? And if we cannot name our enemy with some precision, then how do we win, or know when we have won?
Note this from Associated Press, Sunday, August 7 -
Well, he died in the Iraq subset of the larger war against a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works, and are pretty good at acts of terrorism, and don't use submarines. How Iraq is involved in this? Let's see - no trace of WMD like we thought and no real connection to or support for the loose confederation, al Qaeda or whomever, like we thought - but now we have this general idea that a democracy there would help things, even if it turns out to be run by a group of fundamentalist Shiite guys who are all cozy with the fundamentalist Shiite Iraq bad guys....
I'm not sure she'd be happy with that.
But Major Cook is right about the W in GWOT - you don't have to worry about calling it a war, or a struggle, as long as you understand it's more than battles or sniping, and includes everything from criminal gumshoe work to PR, and from forensic accounting to trace the flow of funds to being the good guys and winning some trust. But it isn't easy, whatever it is.
I guess we could call the whole business WWD - What We Do.