Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Word "War": What's it Good For? Plenty, Actually.

Officially, Russia and Japan are currently at war. Officially, the United States has not fought a war since WWII. Since these two scenarios are clearly incompatible with reality, the general public has every right to disregard the official definition of what constitutes a "war" and impose their own meaning. This is problematic, though, because the word continues to carry heavy connotations. It is a powerful word that, beyond expressing ideology, actually helps to shape ideology.

We've just observed the fourth anniversary of what is widely referred to as the "Iraq War." Coming up on May 1, we will observe the fourth anniversary of President Bush's announcement that major combat operations had ended. This moment has become infamous, of course, and Bush's "Mission Accomplished" statement is one he would certainly like to take back. Yet, in a sense, he was right about one thing that day. For all intents and purposes, the war was over.

No matter one's feelings about whether the U.S. and allied invasion of Iraq was justified, few would argue that it constituted an act of war. A sovereign nation was invaded by other nations and a leader and his government were deposed. However, when sovereignty is returned to the inhabitants of a nation, and the original invaders remain to serve a policing function at the behest of the internationally recognized government, can it properly be considered a state of war? Nobody speaks of an ongoing Kosovo War, though NATO forces remain in Kosovo.

So why is it still referred to as the Iraq War? On one had it is (overly) simple to use the term "war" to encompass any military activity. However, I think there is a deeper, more surprising reason. Both sides stand to benefit from the use of the term.

For the Bush administration, a key part of its response to 9/11 has been to convince the public that we are in the midst of an ongoing, somewhat nebulous, "War on Terror." By virtue of being in a state of war, certain actions that are not permissible in a state of peace become permissible. By hooking the "Iraq War" to the "War on Terror," the association is made that Iraq is a critical front in a larger war. If Bush started taking issue with the use of the word "war" in Iraq, it could backfire. After all, a police action would be more likely to have a firm timetable, while a war has to be fought until it is won.

Paradoxically, though, opponents of further military intervention in Iraq can use the word "war" to exploit a popular distaste for the concept. Nobody wants wars, after all, though widespread objection to a "peacekeeping mission" might not be so cut and dried. Plus, any righteous indignation about the original invasion can be mapped onto the current paradigm, even though the military's current objectives are completely different from what they were in 2003.

I'm not sure what the best policy is for Iraq from here on out, but I do know that I don't want the connotations of a single word to play a role in deciding the policy. I also know that whenever Iraq gets it own mess straightened out, it really needs to sign a peace treaty with Israel. After all, they've been at war since 1949.


Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Isn't it called a war because it's basically the only front in the fraudulent War on Terror?

4:05 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

You should read The Vinyl Cafe books by Stuart McLean.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

apparently, azor has an excellent contact inside the Democratic party..

9:21 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Hey anonymous, I'm having trouble clicking on the link (and you've got a heck of a tease there).

Could you try posting the link again, or maybe even cutting and pasting the article?

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No more GWOT, House committee decrees

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Apr 4, 2007 16:11:56 EDT

The House Armed Services Committee is banishing the global war on terror from the 2008 defense budget.

This is not because the war has been won, lost or even called off, but because the committee’s Democratic leadership doesn’t like the phrase.

A memo for the committee staff, circulated March 27, says the 2008 bill and its accompanying explanatory report that will set defense policy should be specific about military operations and “avoid using colloquialisms.”

The “global war on terror,” a phrase first used by President Bush shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., should not be used, according to the memo. Also banned is the phrase the “long war,” which military officials began using last year as a way of acknowledging that military operations against terrorist states and organizations would not be wrapped up in a few years.

Committee staff members are told in the memo to use specific references to specific operations instead of the Bush administration’s catch phrases. The memo, written by Staff Director Erin Conaton, provides examples of acceptable phrases, such as “the war in Iraq,” the “war in Afghanistan, “operations in the Horn of Africa” or “ongoing military operations throughout the world.”

“There was no political intent in doing this,” said a Democratic aide who asked not to be identified. “We were just trying to avoid catch phrases.”

Josh Holly, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the committee’s former chairman and now its senior Republican, said Republicans “were not consulted” about the change.

Committee aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said dropping or reducing references to the global war on terror could have many purposes, including an effort to be more precise about military operations, but also has a political element involving a disagreement over whether the war in Iraq is part of the effort to combat terrorism or is actually a distraction from fighting terrorists.

House Democratic leaders who have been pushing for an Iraq withdrawal timetable have talked about the need to get combat troops out of Iraq so they can be deployed against terrorists in other parts of the world, while Republicans have said that Iraq is part of the front line in the war on terror. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the armed services committee chairman, has been among those who have complained that having the military tied up with Iraq operations has reduced its capacity to respond to more pressing problems, like tracking down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“This is a philosophical and political question,” said a Republican aide. “Republicans generally believe that by fighting the war on terror in Iraq, we are preventing terrorists from spreading elsewhere and are keeping them engaged so they are not attacking us at home.”

However, U.S. intelligence officials have been telling Congress that most of the violence in Iraq is the result of sectarian strife and not directly linked to terrorists, although some foreign insurgents with ties to terrorist groups have been helping to fuel the fighting.

“You have to wonder if this means that we have to rename the GWOT,” said a Republican aide, referring to the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medals established in 2003 for service members involved, directly and indirectly, in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.

“If you are a reader of the Harry Potter books, you might describe this as the war that must not be named,” said another Republican aide. That is a reference to the fact that the villain in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort, is often referred to as “he who must not be named” because of fears of his dark wizardry.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

As long as there are people fighting and being harmed...there is war. God bless our troops.. but what the heck are we figting for?

1:10 AM  

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