Is “War on Terror” the Wrong Way to Frame the Issue?

Val Dorta has a long and thoughtful post about conceptual flaws in our “war on terror.” I agree that we aren’t dealing openly with the problems posed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. However, unlike Val I think that our behavior in this regard is probably more a function of our trying to finesse these situations, and if possible avoid war, than of any unwillingness on our part to face the truth. But I may be wrong, and Val makes the contrary case well.

6 thoughts on “Is “War on Terror” the Wrong Way to Frame the Issue?”

  1. Jonathan G ewirtz is right. One problem is that an accurate name would be too long. “The war on Islamist extremism, Ba’athist fascism, Palestinian terrorism and allied movements” – that’s not what you’d call a catchy phrase. Plus if we’re too candid in our labeling we could give credibility to the enemy’s contention that we are trying to destroy the Islamic religion.

  2. I realize this is not entirely related to the WOT post, but am a little surprised to see no mention of the Free State Project on ChicagoBoyz today – especially since the group chose New Hampshire to convert into a combination of Hong Kong (economically) and the Netherlands (socially) – isn’t Sylvain from the “Live Free or Die” state?

  3. Jonathan,

    I think you’re too generous to the Bush brain trust to ascribe their vague definitions to a failure to finesse a complicated problem. Given the first Bush administrations adoption of the “War on Drugs” gimmick, it seems much more likely that it is consciously understood that terms which aren’t clearly defined can be altered or fudged when politically useful… i.e. when the even application of some particular principle or mythical “war” against a faceless or politically unopposable “enemy” might turn into a political liabiliity.

    This is not to let the Democrats or Clinton off the hook, as delaring a “Was on Terror” isn’t fundamentally different from FDR’s “Four Freedoms”… Promising the world “Freedom from Fear” is about as likely as Bush succeeding in his “War” against a certain variety of political violence. And certainly the Democrats and GOP alike have their own lists of political adversaries that the other isn’t willing to expend political capital defending, and which are thus perfect targets to apply vague requirements towards regarding the use of force (like those weirdos in Waco). But because the Republicans are so shameless in their PR campaigns against irregular behavior, they should certainly be viewed with an extra dose of skepticism (just as Democrats any time they claim to do anything for “children”).

    This skepticism regarding the WOT leads me to believe it no accident that the conflict was framed poorly as it was expressed to those of us who are unwilling to accept simple partisan explainations. Just what level of political activism qualifies as terrorism? Are the Republicans going to start tracking every former IRA member from every IRA faction that isn’t the provos? The manner in which the debate has been framed has basically stifled open discourse about fundamental principles in the US regarding the relationship between international Law and US domestic Law, the relationship between political organization of dissident foreign Nationals seeking to oppose what they consider an oppressive or tyranical faction ruling their own country and the responsibility of US citizens to police them, and the relationship between a US citizens duty to the US versus their perceived duty to their Nation or origin or residence. … &etc. When the GOP yells “Patriotism” and the Democrats yell “Reactionary”, the entire debate turns into a polemic excercise and misses what I think we as Libertarians want to cover as more basic or primary underlying questions….

  4. Alexander,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t know if Bush and his close advisors are as cynical about the “war on terror” as you (and I sometimes) think. However, it seems clear that there is no lack of bureaucrats and legislators willing to hitch their various statist agenda to the WOT horse.

  5. Jonathan,

    With the qualification that this link is to an EU parliment source, and could be an example of simple paranoia, it is well referenced. I think it suggests the EU parliment might view the War on Terror is a pretext for UKUSA intelligence collection under the guise of legitimate law enforcement activity along the same lines that the “War on Drugs” traveled throughout the 90’s.

    This isn’t to claim there isn’t a legitimate or serious or reasonable cause for the US to pursue a coterie of specific groups of ideological groups that are supra national in nature and dedicated to attacking the US. But I think it is grounds to remain skeptical, and to ask why exactly our 280 million person nation should care about ALL forms of “terrorism” and ALL “terrorist” organizations (beyond any relation to our self-interest or specific injury to the US) period… and I’m speaking as someone who nearly got his ass blown off by a suicide bomber in April of 2001 (and thus don’t like Saudi missionarys overmuch).

    Who knows. I suspect we’re going to have to wait until after the election anyway (as the Democrats would be worse).

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