Sunday, July 16, 2006

"War on Terror" up for grabs

New York Times reporter Scott Shane ("Fighting Locally, Fighting Globally") shows that the phrase "War on Terror" has served as a convenient rationale to justify violent aggression by anyone against imminent threats because its meaning is totally up for grabs:
“Other countries dress their actions up as ‘the war on terror,’ and we have a hard time condemning it,” said Paul R. Pillar, a retired Central Intelligence Agency analyst who served as national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.
President Bush has of strategic necessity had to shift away from such a broad characterization of the enemy, Shane notes. Professor Stanley Fish ("Condemnation Without Absolutes") was prescient in pointing out, just over a month after September 11, 2001, that international terrorism is not our, or anybody's, enemy, and as long as we hold on to this conception, we deprive ourselves of the ability to determine the identity and whereabouts of our real enemies. A phrase such as The Global War on Terror (GWOT), explains Fish, "prevents us from making distinctions that would allow us to get a better picture of where we are and what we might do. If you think of yourself as the target of terrorism with a capital T, your opponent is everywhere and nowhere. But if you think of yourself as the target of a terrorist who comes from somewhere, even if he operates internationally, you can at least try to anticipate his future assaults."

As I wrote about a year ago ("Know Your Enemy"): "Metaphors and rhetoric matter because if we continue to speak about the war on terror in ambivalent terms, our language will continue to provide our enemy with secrecy, anonymity, and the ability to change identity at will."

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