War or Adaptation

I’ve discussed the issue of the War on Terror, specifically its name and whether is is helpful or counterproductive. Curzon also noted that it could become a nebulous war without end.

So readers: Can the Global War on Terror really even be called a war or is it simply America’s adapting to a new reality?

Does labeling it a war increase the “profit” of terrorism, as the War on Drugs has done to drug prices?

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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7 Responses to War or Adaptation

  1. Curzon says:

    No. Terminology aside, they’re different — one is a war on the production, transit, sale, purchase, possession, and use of an underground product that is prohibited by law, the other is trying to isolate and eliminate fringe criminal groups with goals that are esoteric and abstract instead of based in pure profit. The only real shared aspects they have are in the response, reaction, and behavior of the government when asked to meet a challenge that has no real goal and unclear metrics with no real way of measuring success.

  2. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    Besides what Curzon said, “drugs” are tangible. In theory you can eradicate them. “Terrorism” is a tactic used by non-state actors to sow terror and thereby try to effect some kind of political change – so I have always felt that if they mean “War on TerrorISM”, it’s a bit like declaring something like a “War on Espionage”, or a “War on Confidence Tricks”. If that weren’t silly enough in itself, they instead chose the “War on Terror” which is a war on a state of being: why not start a “War on Fear” (after all, does not Phobos accompany Deimos in Ares’ retinue?), a “War on Want”, a “War on Lust”…

    Now of course choosing such “open” wording is a deliberate choice. The whole idea was to keep folks guessing, rather than declaring a more focused “War on the outlaw terrorist band led/inspired by OBL and their spinoff groups” or something like that. Rather the goal on the linguistic front anyway has been, thus far, to keep things as large and nebulous as possible – hense concepts like GWOT, “the Long War” and what have you. The reasoning would seem to be to effect wide-ranging, geopolitical change. If that is the goal then we certainly can see a logic in the current outcomes. The losses (in terms of economy, pinning down of military forces in one region, damaged or lost worldwide goodwill) may or may not outstrip the geopolitical gains that have been leveraged by these choices.

    So I would answer the first question Curzon posed this way: the War on Terror is not a war, but a policy direction chosen by a particular US administration. It will be America’s reality as long as America wills it so.

  3. Chirol says:

    But I wonder if it really is a policy direction. When one considers the many shifting “plates” in the world, technology for example, then it seems to me that all we are doing is realizing we’ve been missing something and are now rectifying that situation.

  4. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    That may well be, but there could be other ways of responding to the new challenges, that, for people habituated to open, democratic discourse (after all, we think our societies are so cool because they are democratic, right?) might provoke a response like: “I don’t like it, but it’s honest, and I guess it’s the better of two evils” or something like that.

    In other words we could say “with all these transnational groups popping up and doing nasty things perhaps we need to find a way to expand our police powers in the world, if you (the people) want to continue living a lifestyle like the one you are living now” or, “if you are willing to give up a little the lead in relative wealth you have over the rest of the world, then we will find ways of withdrawing from our far-flung engagements. Other peoples will like us better but we may end up poorer on the whole”.

    Those examples are not meant to be binary choices (I know things are more complicated!), but rather a vague, off-the-cuff attempt to sketch what a real democratic dialogue in an era of geopolitical “plate tectonics” might sound like.

    Anyway, that seems more honest to me than: “you can live your current lifestyle and even grow it, get tax cuts and consume more, as long as you support our Long War” notion that people seem to be being sold at this moment. In other words, in a democratic society, you should ideally call things what they are (even if it’s not pretty), let different factions highlight the pros and cons, and let people decide.

    Going back to your second question: no, calling (what I maintain is) the current policy direction “the War on Terror” does not give a terrorist attack more “bang for the buck” since it is basically meaningless. Nobody can meaningfully claim “Aha! We blew up such-and-such, some more of you are terrified, therefore Terror is beating you in the war!” anymore that Casanova could tell a hypothetical Venetian Doge waging a War on Lust that he had scored some points after a “conquest”. Unless they were buddies. You get the point. I am being facetious of course, but even if you mean “Terror” as in the tactic of terrorism it still doesn’t work. Again, I think that this was a very deliberate choice, since the policy framers knew from the start that even if they cakewalked through Afghabistan and Iraq, for example, that someone, somewhere, would blow something up. I think the second question you posed was anticipated and answered (probably correctly) in the negative.

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  6. kende says:

    There are three components to what a well considered, well termed war on something other than a state of being/feeling (terror) or tactic (terrorism) would look like:

    1. We are in a global competition on an existential scale between broadly market liberal/enlightenment values and a violently regressive ideology of Islamist Supremacy.

    As with the cold war ideological struggle against Soviet Communism, there are many secondary parasitical players in this competition taking advantage of the fault lines that emerge. We must put our honest promotion of our best ideals, our true efforts, and our self-reflection on equal footing with our conventional war efforts.

    2. We are in a direct military and economic confrontation with numerous, persistent, borderless, and well-organized asymmetric war fighters (or global insurgents) inspired by Islamic Supremacist ideology who would be little more than a loose pirate nation if not for the scale jumping degree of force projection made possible to them by cheap modern technology made by the same modern market liberal forces they are seeking to destroy. We must root them out at every step, wherever we find them. The Chicago way is the only way to deal with a challenge like the one we face here.

    3. We are in a series of proxy, and occasionally hot, small wars against the mid-tier rogue nations that sponsor, equip, train, and otherwise encourage the actions of these
    ideologically motivated stateless military brigades. We must alternate between making life very hard for them and enticing them with significant investment if they choose to
    renounce their hostilities so they can transition towards full intergration in the core group of nations forming our global economic system. Good cop, bad cop brinkmanship and an Assured Destruction level of anti-proliferation.

    This all takes place against the perfectly normal jostling between great and would be great powers positioning themselves to best advantage (as each sees it) over global resources and popular narratives. It’s a Hobbesian core-seam-gap scrum, in which radical, parasitical, and scale jumping networks can evolve to a much greater threat level than their common mis-designation as rogue or criminal elements would suggest.

    I don’t know what the right term for all of this is. The general phrase for this sort of global war ought to resemble “A war against the military forces of Islamic Supremacism and it’s sponsors.” Our methods in fighting this war ought to involve even servings of military, economic, and diplomatic punitive actions alongside ideological and social investment in the repair and countering of it’s source roots. The methods most often suggested by Kaplan would go a long way towards preventing and reducing future conflicts of this sort by investing at that root level through a small, early footprint. The Patraeus coin approach simply gives detail to how that civil affairs heavy model takes over in the immediate aftermath of any hot war. But the brinkmanship and hunt them down where they sleep approaches for dealing with rogue states and stateless networks respectively are an absolute must to manage the conflicts of any given present, and respond effectively to the war level actions against us of any given recent past.

    To paraphrase two greatly relevant sayings:

    Speak well, speak often, and carry a massive stick.

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, because I am the baddest and kindest motherfucker in all the land.

  7. kende says:

    In short, yes, it’s “War”. No, it isn’t against “Terror”, or “Terrorism”.