Friday, August 05, 2005

Struggling With A New Diction

It is now the "global struggle against violent extremism". And so as not to confuse Americans, it still means war in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. How this will apply across the board to other countries and movements is yet to be seen of course, but my question is why now? In July of this year President Bush stated, "The FBI has deployed its personnel across the world, in Iraq and Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror," to the FBI Academy. It has been the disingenuous War on Terror for so long that there must have been some groundswell internally to change the label.

Maybe it is the looming withdrawl of thousands of American soldiers in 2006. You cannot rightly have a war launched at terror without keeping the military posted precisely where you say terrorism resides, correct? Actually, withdrawing would pose a momumental threat to the language of the past three years: "We're fighting them there so we don't fight them here," "Iraq is the frontline of terrorism," et cetera. Hence, if it is termed a struggle then the military isn't the only group on the hook to resist violent extremism.

Likewise there could be some backlash to what can rightly be called terrorism when an ally's populace begins to use the tactic. To be certain, Israel will have its hands full when it begins pulling out of portions of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on August 15th, but this event may portend much worse things to come. A brilliant insight was provided by Juan Cole:

"Note also that this act of terrorism was impelled by the Israeli government merely moving a few thousand citizens out of non-Isreali territory back into Israel proper. Imagine if a foreign power forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Israelis into refugee camps. Wouldn't that provoke significant terrorism on the part of the displaced? (Voila, you have the Palestinian radical groups)."

The greater point is that "violent extremism" knows precious little in the way of boundaries, borders, or people. When one group, however large or small, feels threatened and powerless to right some real or imagined wrong, then they will find a way to resist. Terror is one tactic. Non-violent protest is another. I would encourage anyone intersted in protesting a perceived wrong to use the latter, and never the former. Yet tensions run high and death and mayhem are the result. It truly is tragic.

So a global war on terror was not going to do the trick. I think it was quite obvious just months after the Iraq invasion that the United States military was not going to "win" against a foe that did not wear a uniform. Give the military a real military target and one can be assured that the target will not remain standing in 24 hours time. The Army took Baghdad in a matter of weeks. Yet the military isn't a police force, nor a humanitarian force, or for that matter a branch of the State Department trained and versed in Middle East culture and language. These men and women still are in a very real bind there in Iraq and even Afghanistan so something must give.

Turn off the war, and bring on the struggle. Yes it doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but it does seem a bit more applicable to what Americans will be facing in the coming months and years. If it gets the soldiers home sooner, then I'm all for it.

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