Saturday, November 10, 2007

War on Terrorism?

The actions we are taking to eliminate terrorism are not a war and defining them as such is inaccurate and does great harm to our efforts to contain it. The following five paragraphs define war as extracted from the Encarta Encyclopedia and Dictionary.

War a period of hostile relations between countries, states, or factions that leads to fighting between armed forces, especially in land, air, or sea battles.

War, in international law, armed conflict between two or more governments or states.

When such conflicts assume global proportions, they are known as world wars. War between different parts or factions of the same nation is called civil war.

A rebellion is not legally considered a war; to entitle the armed forces of the rebels to the rights and privileges of belligerents, the government they serve must be organized so as to be in a position to meet the duties resting on belligerents, that is, they must have the power to maintain law and order within the regions occupied by them and to carry on war on a large scale by land, sea, or air.

International hostilities sometimes continue for long periods of time without being acknowledged as wars. The Korean War was regarded by the U.S. government as a police action. Conflicts or wars in which major powers purposely refrain from employing all their armed strength are often known as limited wars. Short of peace, such limited wars are now recognized as a preferable alternative to the specter of nuclear war. International wars are generally terminated by treaty and civil wars by a peace proclamation. The usages, customs, and treaties of nations have formed a system of laws of War.

Acts of international terrorism do not fit the above definitions of war for the following reasons:

a. They cross international borders.
b. The acts are not armed conflict between nations.
c. Terrorists do not abide by “laws of war” today defined by the Geneva Convention.
d. They are neither a civil war nor a rebellion.
e. They do not respect any international law.
f. They murders civilians indiscriminately seemingly purposefully to cause freight amongst a populace.

Thus, we are not engaged in a war, instead we are engaged in an international action to suppress or eliminate terrorist actions conducted by international thugs who, to obtain their desired goals spread fear to weakening national and international resolve - in today’s parlance, Al Qaida and Muslim terrorists.

Why is this definition important? Why shouldn’t we call it a war? Because by employing the term war both our national leaders and we the people view our action is Iraq as being, and should be, fought by our military supported by other government agencies. We were at war when we defeated Saddam Hussein in Iraq and in entering Afghanistan. Since defeating Saddam we have acted more as an international police force attempting to stabilize both countries. Our military is good at engaging in war. Saddam was defeated with little lose of life on either side. Since then we have tried to use our military along with the military from other nations as an international police force, something for which they are not trained. The results have not been effective. Further we have earned the enmity of other nations.

An article in the Orlando Sentinel, “Best, brightest shrug shoulders about Iraq” discusses the indifference of the young adults toward our actions in Iraq. They know few if anyone who is military. It has no effect on their lives. They also refuse to take any responsibility for Iraq or to take part in the debate. In other words they are indifferent to our fight on terrorism. This attitude might be extended to our entire populace. A common expression is “we support our troops in Iraq”. By implication we say that we support the men and women in our military but not necessarily their deployment in foreign nations.

The police, the FBI etc. are trained to handle civil disturbance. They know how to act when trying to apprehend suspects in a civilian environ. The military, on the other hand is trained to apply overwhelming force to conquer an enemy’s military force. Loss of life and ancillary damage are acceptable, (of course with reasonable constraint). We have supplemented the rules of war, the Geneva Convention, with rules of engagement for our troops in Iraq, these rules tie the hands of the military and can cause confusion and possibly inappropriate action when engaged with suicide bombers, roadside bombs etc amongst crowded city streets.

If we find it necessary to employ forces in foreign countries with the mission of restraining terrorism we need to train those forces to operate in a civilian environment, within Bagdad for example. An environment not suited to the military. As an alternative we could create a separate department of the military trained to engage in the type of action we are engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our military police may be properly trained for this type of action and could be used as the basis for forming such a department.

Today we have two separate organizations engaged in the fight against terrorism, Homeland Security here in the states and the military overseas. Homeland Security is doing an effective job, our military, on the other hand, has not proven effective – not because of the quality of our military men and women but because of the mission that they have been handed. Possibly the two could be combined by recruiting a police force trained to conduct counter terrorism duties in foreign countries under Homeland Security to replace the military’s occupational duties, the military would then be employed as it is trained for in actual war situations.


Ira Glickstein said...

I agree our initial military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were far more traditional military tasks and also far more effective than our subsequent efforts to keep the peace and establish something like democracy there.

Although the definition of the word "war" as you found it in Encarta does not cover our latter efforts, that word does have a well-accepted broader meaning.

For example, do a Google on "War on poverty" and you will get some 30 Million hits! "War on drugs" yields over 42 Million hits!

If you Google "war on ..." you get three-quarters of a BILLION hits including "War on terror" but also the claim by some traditional religious folks that liberals are conducting a "War on Christians" and by liberals claiming a conservative "War on science" and "War on freedom" and "War on journalism" and so on and on and on.

In those contexts, "war" implies an all out effort to stamp out some undesirable situation or condition.

Of course, we have not been that successful at eliminating drugs or poverty ... or terror. Perhaps we need another word?

We certainly need to recognize that the major threat to our form of government and standard of living has shifted from front-line battles with established nations to a struggle against less well-defined enemies who have proven much more difficult to target and defeat.

We need to adapt our tactics and train our military to fight these kinds of "wars" more effectively.

We also need to figure out how to counter those nations that are more or less covertly supporting the terrorists. Economic measures have proven to be particularly ineffective, especially when most other countries, including our supposed allies, will not go along.


Howard Pattee said...

There are two threats that are not being clearly distinguished. There are individuals like bin Laden who for years has stated his goal clearly and often that he will kill Americans until they withdraw military forces from Islamic countries and military support from Israel. There are also many Islamic fundamentalist groups whose aim is to convert their own secular governments to theocracies (Sharia). The Taliban is one example. These are different groups with different goals.
Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party found Iraq was threatened by both, and fought against both. Also in both cases Middle East experts as well as military experts (e.g., Scowcroft and Powell) warned that military force would be counterproductive.
So, against all this good advice, against all reason, and using false information, Bush started a war with Iraq; and after almost five years of military action that has destabilized Iraq, destroyed its infrastructure, and got Ahmadinejad elected in Iran, supporters of the war still pursue military action that kills more civilians than terrorists. It appears to me that this policy is the worst one imaginable, and it must have required an excess of incompetence.

JohnS said...

I cannot rebut the two comments as I actually agree with both when we discuss terrorism, though with some modification. My opposition was the term war. As Ira pointed out we use the word indiscriminately. As Ira said, we have a war on poverty, a war on drugs etc. None have engaged the public nor Washington. During WWII our entire country was engaged. We had two cooperative enemies, Germany and Japan. We clearly understood what was needed and sacrificed both at home and abroad to achieve those goals, the people readily accepted rationing and the danger of losing loved ones for a worthwhile cause. We are not really involved in any of these so called wars, the war on poverty, the war on drugs nor the war on terrorism. What are you or I or our neighbors sacrificing? The word war is simply a buzz word meant to engage us but has failed.
I hate to sound like an isolationist, however, in the case of terrorism I am inclined to believe that our most practical and economic course is to use the monies we are spending in Iraq and elsewhere in the fight against terrorism here within the US to strengthen our control of our borders and our ports and to protect our infrastructure. I could agree with surgical strikes by our military to punish those nations who would cause us bodily or economic harm as Israel did in Syria recently but I have difficulty understanding the use of our military men and women overseas. JohnS

Howard Pattee said...

JohnS says he doesn't want to sound like an isolationist. Here is one expert agrees with all his points. Andrew J. Bacevich (The New American Militarism: How Americans Are seduced By War, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005) is a coherent analysis of how America has come to its present situation in the world. Bacevich, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds a Ph.D. in history from Princeton. He is retired military officer and admits to an outlook of moderate conservatism.
Here are his five recommendations:
1. Rather than squandering American power, husband it. As Iraq has shown, U.S. military strength is finite. The nation's economic reserves and diplomatic clout also are limited. They badly need replenishment.

2. Align ends with means. Although Bush's penchant for Wilsonian rhetoric may warm the cockles of neoconservative hearts, it raises expectations that cannot be met. Promise only the achievable.

3. Let Islam be Islam. The United States possesses neither the capacity nor the wisdom required to liberate the world's 1.4 billion Muslims, who just might entertain their own ideas about what genuine freedom entails. Islam will eventually accommodate itself to the modern world, but Muslims will have to work out the terms.

4. Reinvent containment. The process of negotiating that accommodation will produce unwelcome fallout: anger, alienation, scapegoating and violence. In collaboration with its allies, the United States must insulate itself against Islamic radicalism. The imperative is not to wage global war, whether real or metaphorical, but to erect effective defenses, as the West did during the Cold War.

5 Exemplify the ideals we profess. Rather than telling others how to live, Americans should devote themselves to repairing their own institutions. Our enfeebled democracy just might offer the place to start.

Howard Pattee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard Pattee said...

Sorry. Here is the full url:

joel said...

Howard said:

There are two threats that are not being clearly distinguished. There are individuals like bin Laden who for years has stated his goal clearly and often that he will kill Americans until they withdraw military forces from Islamic countries and military support from Israel. There are also many Islamic fundamentalist groups whose aim is to convert their own secular governments to theocracies (Sharia). The Taliban is one example. These are different groups with different goals.

Joel responds:

There is very little to distinguish these two threa. One has only to look at Osama's statements to see the truth of that, even though the most recent has been massaged by an American collaborater to appear more political than religious. Here's an exerpt from that recent video. The entire transcript can be found at

"There is a message for you in the Mujahedeen: the entire world is in pursuit of them, yet their hearts, by the grace of Allah, are satisfied and tranquil. The true religion also puts peoples' lives in order with its laws; protects their needs and interests; refines their morals; protects them from evils; and guarantees for them entrance into Paradise in the hereafter through their obedience to Allah and sincere worship of Him Alone.
"And it will also achieve your desire to stop the war as a consequence, because as soon as the warmongering owners of the major corporations realise that you have lost confidence in your democratic system and begun to search for an alternative, and that this alternative is Islam, they will run after you to please you and achieve what you want to steer you away from Islam. So your true compliance with Islam will deprive them of the opportunity to defraud the peoples and take their money under numberous pretexts, like arms deals and so on.

CNN has presented some discussion of the inteeresting effort to make Ossama appear more like Che Gueverra. ( Here's an exerpt. With respect -Joel

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it's a kind of strange tape, Randi, compared to most of his other output.

For a start, it was stripped of most of the religious content. Usually, bin Laden lards his tapes up with a lot of references to the Koran, to the Hadith, the saying of the Prophet Mohammed, and these kinds of things.

This was more much of a politicized -- it read like a kind of neo-Chomskyite critique of the American body politic, talking about how corporations dominate the politics of the United States, stuff that bin Laden hasn't really talked about before. He even mentioned at one point the Kyoto treaty.

So, it was kind of a sort of leftist critique of the United States and its politics, some -- not an area that he's usually engaged in and -- and, in that sense, unusual.

KAYE: And, Michael, in the tape, bin Laden also makes mention. He says Americans should convert to Islam if they want the war in Iraq to end. You see a threat in that message to convert. How so?

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER CHIEF OF CIA BIN LADEN UNIT: Well, the Prophet Mohammed was very clear in his direction to Muslims, before they attack, to offer a truce, to warn the enemy very carefully, and to offer them a chance to convert to Islam. If they did that, there would be no more need to fight.

You know, bin Laden as media critic, this also is somewhat new. In the past, you know -- and I think Mike would agree here, that, you know, it's usually a -- a very straightforward foreign policy critique of the United States dressed up in religious terms.

This kind of -- this recent speech is a little -- qualitatively, a little different. The -- the Associated Press is reporting that perhaps the American Adam Gadahn had a role in -- making this speech, and that -- that seems quite a plausible idea to me.

Howard Pattee said...

Joel sees little difference between the threats of bin Laden and the Taliban. Perhaps the Taliban was a bad choice because of its on and off connections to bin Laden. What I wanted to distinguish for strategic reasons are the immediate local US physical threats of terrorists like bin Laden and the long range global ideological threats of Islamism as practiced, for example, by the Saudis, about which we are doing nothing.
From Wikipedia: “Saudi Arabia was in a position to spend tens of billions of dollars throughout the Muslim world promoting Islam, and in particular Wahhabism, which was sometimes referred to as "petro-Islam" Its largess funded an estimated "90% of the expenses of the entire faith," throughout the Muslim world, to young and old, from children's maddrassas to high level scholarship. Books, scholarships, fellowships, mosques (for example, more than 1500 mosques were built from Saudi public funds over the last 50 years) were paid for. It rewarded journalists and academics who followed it; built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and very influential Islamic university.”

EttaLynn said...

I agree with JohnS - the use of the word 'war' has been overused, so much so that it's true meaning has been diluted. Ira mentioned the 'war on poverty' and the 'war on drugs' as examples of this broader definition of war. These are good 'wars' to fight, but add them in with the 'war on terrorism', 'war on Christians', and the myriad other wars the media and politicians declare and it's no wonder people today - especially young people - are indifferent when it comes to Iraq. We're innundated with wars, which are exhausting to fight!