Moving the Linguistic Goal Posts in the So-Called "War" Against Terror
A little past the first anniversary of Bush's un-provoked, unnecessary, largely unilateral invasion and unplanned occupation of Iraq (UULUIUOI), I wrote, Is there anyone in the universe who agrees with my interpretation of George W. Bush's speech of 20 September 2001?
Remember that speech? I picked out as pivotal the point when Bush said,
Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.And my reaction (in part) was:
There's the phrase, "every terrorist group of global reach". To me it meant focus. We were not going after everyone with a particular vengeance or backyard spat in every corner of the world. We were not declaring war against the IRA in Northern Ireland, We were not going into Russia to fight the Chechens. We were not going into Turkey to fight the Kurds' PKK. We weren't air-dropping into rural Columbia to fight the FARC, flying into Spain to suppress the Basque ETA, or convoying to Sri Lanka to pacify the Black Tigers of Tamil. We weren't about to pave Kashmir. We weren't going to misconstrue our mission of anti-terrorism with intervention in bloody civil wars in Sub-Sahara Africa in Angola, Burundi, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria-Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania-Zanzibar, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.Well, I'm immensely gratified to have found someone who 'gets it'! It's Robert Parry, a pundit-journalist who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. This week Parry takes it further in his Global War on Radicals. (I am condensing):
Nor, therefore, was this a war against the various terrorist groups in Palestine (Hamas and Hezbollah); only against "terrorist groups of global reach".
In other words, Bush’s early goal of defeating “terrorist groups of global reach” was narrow enough to be achievable.In other words, by invoking the rights of preemptive and preventive war, Bush's UULUIUOI's has hijacked our American Republic out of its traditions and legacy as a force for freedom and peace in the world.
The war, in effect, targeted al-Qaeda and similar organizations that not only embraced terrorism as a tactic but had the capability to reach across international boundaries to inflict civilian casualties, like the 9/11 attacks. Bush also added to his hit list governments, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, that harbored these terrorist groups.
However, after the quick U.S. victory over the Taliban in winter 2001-02, Bush shifted the war’s focus in two important ways:
First, the war against “terrorist groups of global reach” transformed into the “global war on terrorism,” an important distinction.
Suddenly, U.S. Special Forces were not responsible for just defeating al-Qaeda and a few other groups with global ambitions but were instead waging a global war against a variety of terrorist groups that presented threats mostly to local authorities. Some were “home-grown terrorists” with no links to al-Qaeda or other international organizations.
Second, Bush decided to settle some old scores with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was despised by Bush’s neoconservative advisers who dreamt of remaking the Middle East into a land of passive Arabs who would take direction from Washington and accept peace terms from Tel Aviv. So Arabs wouldn't think this was all about them, Bush coined the phrase "axis of evil" that lumped together Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Since 2003, after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Hussein and an Iraqi insurgency emerged to fight the occupying army, the U.S. news media has lent a hand in blurring the American public’s distinctions between the Iraq War and the “war on terror.”
Iraqi insurgent attacks on U.S. soldiers, especially the deadly roadside bombs, often were described as “terrorist” incidents by the American news media, though the attacks didn’t fit the classic definition of “terrorism.”
Just recently, as I was listening to my car radio, a CNN newscast came on to report that an American soldier had been killed in Iraq by a “terrorist sniper.” By definition, however, the shooting of a soldier occupying a foreign country – though horrible on a human level – is not an act of “terrorism,” since no civilians are involved.
Yet, in the sloppy vernacular of the U.S. press corps, the word “terrorism” came to mean any violent act that officials in Washington didn’t like, a kind of geopolitical curse word.
In other words, the war against “terrorist groups of global reach,” which became the “global war on terrorism,” now has morphed into what might be called the “global war on radicals and extremists,” a dramatic escalation of the war’s ambitions with nary a comment from the U.S. news media.
So, under Bush’s new war framework, the enemy doesn’t necessarily have to commit or plot acts of international terrorism or even local acts of terrorism. It only matters that Bush judges the person to be a “radical” or an “extremist.”
While the word “terrorism” is open to abuse – under the old adage “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – the definition of “radical” or “extremist” is even looser. It all depends on your point of view.
Bush’s decision to set wider parameters for this global war also represents a grave threat to the American Republic because Bush has asserted that he, as Commander in Chief, must hold “plenary” – or unlimited – powers as long as the conflict continues.
By stretching the definition of the “war on terror” into something so elastic that it has no discernable shape and no determinable end, Bush and his successors will get to set aside the Constitution indefinitely, essentially creating an American autocratic system for the foreseeable future.
So, this “new kind of war” – as Bush’s supporters call it – will require not only the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers but will deform the U.S. government beyond recognition, ultimately making it an international pariah state disgraced by having forsaken its own ideals of justice and tolerance.
In the end, Bush’s vision of the future also means the United States must turn its back on the Founding Fathers, who were considered “radicals” and “extremists” in their own age because they rejected the “divine right of kings” and insisted that all people are created equal and are endowed with “unalienable rights.”
Now we have become a rogue nation, armed, dangerous and looking for trouble.