Blogs > HNN > Is It a Struggle or a War?

Aug 16, 2005 11:12 am

Is It a Struggle or a War?

A big deal is being made about the administration’s seeming confusion about the fight we're in. Is it a war as President Bush insists or is it a struggle against violent extremism as Donald Rumsfeld stated two weeks ago?

Frank Rich in the NYT this weekend says the confusion is a sign that the administration has lost its way:

When the war's über-managers start using euphemisms for a conflict this lethal, it's a clear sign that the battle to keep the Iraq war afloat with the American public is lost.

Tom Engelhardt in the Nation makes the same point today as did Jon Stewart on Comedy Central over the last few days.

But wait!

Checking our archives I came across an article written by Daniel Pipes a year ago in which the president conceded:

We actually misnamed the war on terror. It ought to be [called] the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.

Pipes's article was titled, "President Bush Admits He Misnamed the War on Terrorism." (The article was published on HNN on August 30, 2004.)

In the name of honesty war critics--me included--ought to admit that the media have made far too much of the change in nomenclature.

The war was always misnamed for the obvious reason that you can't make war on a tactic, which is what terrorism is. War critics pointed this out back in 2001 and hammered the president for several years for refusing to admit the obvious. He finally admitted the obvious in August 2004 and some of us celebrated the change at the time. (I for one did.) It is hypocritical of us now to hammer the administration for repeating what he said a year ago when most of us have wanted the administration to say this all along. Is saying the truth to be punished?

My guess is that the administration decided finally a few weeks ago that officials should begin using the word struggle instead of war for a variety of reasons, in part having to do with the unpopularity of the Iraq War, but also in part because since the arrival of Condi Rice the neocon hawks have lost control of policy. But then the NYT seized on the change in nomenclature as evidence of political weakness and the decline in support for the war in Iraq. That prompted President Bush to go out and reiterate his commitment to the war on terrorism.

This is an unfortunate development. It means the administration is once again misleading the public about the nature of the war we are fighting. We are not fighting terrorism. We are fighting violent Islamists who hope to use terrorism to force us out of the Middle East and who detest Western culture (these are two separate goals; some Islamists share both, some only one or the other).

Anybody who cares for truth in politics will regret this retreat from reality.

One could argue in defense of the media that the administration is retreating from its commitment to a"war" on our enemies. As Frank Rich says, a struggle is what you have with a landlord. By using the word struggle instead of war the administration is acknowledging the failure of the solely militaristic approach to the problem of violent Islamism--and isn't that worth pointing out? Of course it is. But there's more to what has transpired over the last few weeks, as I have tried to indicate here.

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More Comments:

HNN - 8/17/2005

Knowing which side to root for is always desirable--and usually the easiest choice to make.

Figuring out a wise course to help the side you want to win--that's where the difficulty comes in.

Jim B. Harris - 8/17/2005

Sometimes the key for myself personally is keeping the particpants in the war or struggle in perspective. Whether you agreed with the Iraqi war or not, it would seem that on the ground there today are 2 opposing groups. One committed to a new Constitution, a new government, hope for a better tommorow, including the hope of not being blown up.

The other side appears to be good at blowing things up and trying to stop the above from happening. What would be their favored outcome?

I look forward to the day the troops come home and word games are no longer needed, but I know what side I am rooting for. I think there is value in that.