A War By Any Other Name
A War By Any Other Name
Congress and the President are at odds over war policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The House and Senate attached timelines to the military supplemental bills, which President George W. Bush will veto. At the same time, more than half the American people believe that victory is not possible in Iraq. These battles are nothing compared to the thrown-down brewing over what to call the war that everyone is talking about and no one really likes.
The cringe-inducing word "crusade"-conjuring up images of the noble Christian riding out to smite the Muslim hordes-was dispensed with long ago. In Europe, just a week after September 11, 2001, President Bush warned that "this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile." After many jumbled words of reassurance to Muslims throughout the world, he has largely succeeded in keeping that word from creeping into his speeches.
Then we had the Global War on Terrorism, shortened in typical military style to G-WOT, which also brings to mind the rap outfit G-Unit (where 50 Cent got his start) whose first album was titled "Beg for Mercy."
And then, perhaps in recognition of the difficulties in actually waging war against something as decentralized, amorphous and ill-defined as the collection of tactics often called terrorism, the formulation of "the long war" made its debut. As in: "Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy." President George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 31, 2006.
But, on Tuesday the New York Times reported that U.S. Central Command has retired the phrase "the long war" as a way of describing the war on terrorism. As a spokesman for Central Command explained, "the idea that we are going to be involved in 'Long War' at the current level of operations is not likely and unhelpful."
The change, he continued, is "a product of our ongoing effort to use language that describes the conflict for our Western audience while understanding the cultural implications of how the language is construed in the Middle East."
According to Central Command-which is in charge of the war in Iraq and other aspects of the-military-operations-formerly-known-as-GWOT-additional no-nos include describing the enemies as Islamic (or Islamo) Fascists, jihadists, or part of Salafist Extremist Networks and employing the term "Global War on Terror."
President Bush forges blithely past these semantic subtleties. Standing before teachers, students, members of the Tipp City, Ohio Chamber of Commerce on April 19, he described ongoing military operations in Iraq and elsewhere as "a unique war" and later an "interesting war."
He also seemed to pooh-pooh CENTCOM's sensitivities about language with his own adaptation of Louis Armstrong's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, saying: "I call it a global war against terror. You can call it a global war against extremists, a global war against radicals, a global war against people who want to hurt America; you can call it whatever you want, but it is a global effort."
I'm with Armstrong: Let's call the whole thing off.
It does not look like the General David Petraeus got the memo yet. Speaking at a Pentagon briefing on April 26, the commander of operations in Iraq told reporters Iraq will require "an enormous commitment and commitment over time" from the United States.
That sounds a lot like a long war to me. He went on to say "there is vastly more work to be done across the board... We are just getting started..."
But, just because Central Command has identified the limitations of these terms, does not mean they have come up with something better...
"We continue to look for other options to characterize the scope of current operations."
So, wordsmiths and framing experts: They need you! Get your motors running! You could be responsible for a term that captures the seemingly endless bloody morass of U.S. military operations in a culturally sensitive way.
It will be quite the challenge While some are turning to their thesauruses for synonyms for quagmire and fiasco that don't have such negative connotations, I would rather listen to Senator Harry Reid, who said "I believe ... that this war is lost" on April 19th, maybe at the same time that Bush was tomato/tomÃ„Âto-ing his way through Ohio.
Get that Central Command? It is not the Long War, but the Lost War... And it's a lousy lurid lunacy that it will lumber on until the American people make it stop. Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center.
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