The above silliness is what happens when you pretend Obama’s charisma can stop the GWoT.
If you have read this blog even a few times, you know I thought Bush was a pretty poor president. He got lots of things wrong, and the country is much worse off after W than before. But flagging the post-9/11 anti-terrorism campaign as the ‘Global War on Terror’ was a good rhetorical move, and the expression should kept, if only because no one else has come up with a good alternative – one that rings of the scope, focus, and moral weight of ‘GWoT.’
Getting the GWoT rolling was a success. Getting other states to take terrorism seriously in the wake of 9/11 was foreign policy success. There is no doubt that Islamic jihadists are targeting the US. OBL and the rest believe this is a clash of civilizations. They believe Islam is encircled by non-believers, and they will fight to defend the faith. Americans are the primary threat to it. Bush, for all his flaws, realized this. And he did realize that the enemy is dispersed around the umma. This will be a large, multi-front problem for awhile. That does not mean it must be ‘WWIV,’ but it does mean that terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism, is the most important national security threat to the US and the West in general for the next decade. (China could change that if she goes belligerent, but so far she is following the rules pretty well.)
None of that brief analysis is very controversial anymore. And the term ‘GWoT’ captured this pretty well. It is a bit indelicate as a term of art. But still it captured the essence of the current struggle pretty well.
So I am disappointed at the continuing, almost ideological unwillingness of the Obama people to utter this concept. I know they loathe W, and I suppose they think the expression simply alienates the rest of the world. But it did bring clarity about this contest to the US population and rally them to sacrifice and commitment. And it does help strategists build ideas within it as a conceptual frame about the future of US foreign policy. (For a good example, see Thomas Barnett’s Pentagon’s New Map.)
Further, it strikes me as willful blindness: the war on terror is past because we just don’t talk that way anymore. Really? The war on terror is over just because W is out of 0ffice and McCain lost? Obama can’t even close Guantanamo or untangle the torture mess. And the jihadists don’t care at all if Obama is black or lived in a Moslem country. You can’t end the war on terrorism with a linguistic sleight of hand; antiwestern terrorism will not be slowed, just because we don’t say it anymore. This strikes me as a rhetorical arrogance, but then the Obama people seem to lay so much emphasis on his ability as a communicator.
In short, it seemed like a pretty good term to nail down an elusive problem and an even more elusive response. Yes, it is open-ended expression, suggesting war that could go and on with no end in sight. But there is not really much else to put in its place. Condolezza Rice once suggested the ‘campaign against global extremism’ or something awkward like that, but that got nowhere. And after 8 months, Obama and H Clinton still have no kinder, gentler replacement. I still use the expression when I teach, even though the new administration does not, because I’ve got nothing else that works so well.
So come on already. Admit that we are still in this thing, even if the O people want to fight it a different way.