Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Defining the Struggle

There is news out today that the Bush Whitehouse has shifted from calling the world struggle now raging the "War Against Terrorism" to something more like the "Struggle Against Violent Extremism". Many times people underestimate the importance of words. How we define our struggle can change to a large degree in which way the debate moves. According to General Richard Meyers, the name change is designed to express the broadness of the struggle; so that the public does not forget that this is not simply a military struggle but rather a far reaching broad fight touching on every aspect of society. I agree whole heartedly with the need to remind both US citizens and all her allies that this is a struggle which will not stop with the end of armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead this is a multi generational conflict which requires the use of all America's assets.

Like the verbiage used to discuss past world conflicts "War Against Terror" had its strengths and weaknesses. It seems open-ended and in some ways this is good. It reminds us that this is no small challenge. Also by using the word "terror" it reminds us all of the event which has led the West to action (the largest act of terrorism to date-9/11). But its weakness is also that for the above reasons it may be interpreted both too narrowly and too broadly. For the US is not in a battle against the tactic of terrorism (though it is a tactic which we abhor), rather the US is specifically fighting Islamic extremism, a force whose preferred weapon (due in part to its own technological weakness) is terror. By using the word "terror" many may forget that the enemy is both particular and is capable of using multiple tactics. The connection which is undoubtedly made between the word "terror" and 9/11 is good for rallying the homefront but is a poor choice so far as it makes one think that the only enemy are those directly connected to the attacks on 9/11.

A quick look at past phrases used in the great world conflicts demonstrates that no definition of major struggles is perfect. World War I was defined as a "defense of democracy". This despite the fact that one of the main allies (Russia) was quite possibly the most autocratic regimes in the western world. Now granted this phrase was used mainly in Britain and America and Russia had dropped out prior to America's entry but undemocratic aspects of American society still makes one suspect of the definition of the war aims. Yet, despite this the world was "made safe for democracy" with the defeat of the autocratic German/Austro-Hungarian/Ottoman axis.

World War II was a fight against the fascists, and yet Franco was allowed to remain in Spain virtually unchallenged. Also the USSR and communism in general is not that much different from fascism. So one might argue the correct definition of the fight was one against fascists who attacked us. It is hardly doubted however that the destruction of the Axis put a death nail into the coffin of world fascism.

Finally, the Cold War was a fight against Communism. But with the use of Communist China to pressure the USSR, the retreat from facing down Communism's spread as had once been done in Korea and Vietnam, it is clear that our ultimate enemy was the one we most felt threatened by: the USSR. But then again with the fall of the Soviet Union, communism took such a hit that it is difficult to imagine a situation where it will fully recover. China is communist just in name (while still as authoritarian as any communist) and all the remaining true communists are small and relatively weak (Cuba, North Korea, etc...).

While the "War Against Terror" had serious flaws, if the west is to defeat Islamic fascism then terrorism as a tactic would probably experience a short term decline. But in this multi-faceted struggle every weapon must be used, including words. And so if by renaming this conflict a "struggle against violent extremism," the effort is helped, then it will have been a wise (though some might think meaningless) move.


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