« essay, edit, exit | Main | Feuilleton? »

President Bush Reaffirms Resolve to War on Terror, Iraq and Afghanistan

Your Humble Blogger admits that this space was reserved for a vicious and nasty analysis—well, no, not an analysis, just an attack, really, on Our Only President’s speech marking a year since we invaded Iraq. That won’t be happening here. It was a good speech, taken on its terms, well-written, well-delivered.

I disagree with it, but that’s hardly the point.

Our Only President is being challenged by a man who charges that this administration alienated allies, that it acted unilaterally, that it must share the burdens it has taken up. This speech defangs that idea entirely.

First of all, of course, he spoke in front of a row of flags of the nations, providing a, you know, backdrop of multilaterality. Then, in the speech, he talked about other countries. In 2,343 words, there were more than seventy-five country names. Eight different times during the speech, in various contexts, he made a list of at least three countries, leading up to the list of twenty-two nations who have lost soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. You could not, listening to him, accuse him of ignoring the rest of the world, and acting only on our own narrow national interests.

Unless, of course, you are paying attention. Afghanistan and Iraq are different places, and were invaded under different conditions. One can give the administration credit for building a coalition to invade Afghanistan, without letting them off the hook for arrogance and unilateralism in Iraq. But if you don’t notice that he conflates the two, you may will be convinced that he works well with other nations.

The second point he makes, and makes clearly and powerfully, is that we are at war with terrorists. Not just Americans, either (tying in to the above point): “the civilized world is at war.” The war is not, he says, a figure of speech. There are no neutrals, and there can be no surrender. You are either with him, or you are with the terrorists, and there will never be any peace until he wins. Time to choose sides.

Of course, the world he describes is a nightmare. I can’t accept it. Yes, there are people who have committed and conspired to commit vast crimes, and they should be caught, tried, and (if convicted) punished. Yes, we have not allocated enough resources to fighting terror in the past, and that was an error. But that does not make it a war. I do not see a war with terrorists (whoever they are), and if I did, I could not accept a war without the possibility of surrender, and if I could, the nature of war is that neutrality does and must exist, and should be respected. So I can refuse to choose sides; I reject his premise. If you accept it, though, support for him follows naturally and gladly.

That is, in part, because of his third point. What is needed to win this war? Resolve. Determination. Unity. To be “strong and steady”. What has happened so far is a good thing; we must continue as we have begun, for to falter in any way, to change paths (even to a better one) is a sign of weakness and retreat. Our Only President put away most of his shrugs and smirks, his jocularity, his youth, and his ranch hand manner. He showed steel. He showed exactly the sort of resolve we want in a leader in a good cause. He was our Churchill, our pillar of strength, our rock. He didn’t exult, and he didn’t waver. He didn’t trudge, either; he showed no sign of weariness or strain. Heck, if I believed in this war, if I believed he was on the right track, he showed exactly the demeanor I would have wanted.

So, what did he do, in this speech, whose occasion itself is a scandal and an accusation? He cut the legs out from under the argument of his main contender, he asked us all to choose between his leadership and violent death, and he exemplified the resolve that he called for, and which, if accepted, can only mean his continued leadership. For twenty minutes, he portrayed a world where he leads the world against an evil army of terrorists. And he portrayed it all extremely well.

I may well write in even more detail later. Now, I need some sleep. Feh.

Redintegro Iraq,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Thank you for your extremely clear analysis of this speech and Our Only Administration's policies. I am intrigued by your claim that "the nature of war is that neutrality does and must exist, and should be respected." How do you define neutrality, and what is it about war that necessitates the existence of neutrality?

There are certainly many useful consequences of neutral parties in a war. Those neutral parties may facilitate negotiations, bringing about a quicker end to the war. Individuals may be able to opt out of the war by joining a neutral party. The existence of neutral parties, and the fear that those neutral parties will join your enemy, may make warring parties more careful about how they conduct the war. But these useful consequences are not enough to necessitate the existence of neutrality.

Do neutral parties bear a moral responsibility for choosing their neutrality? How should Switzerland act during World War II? Should they continue to trade with Nazi Germany? Should they close their borders, put their hands over their eyes, and yodel until it's over? Should they work to broker a peace?

A neutral party such as clergy or the ICRC seem qualitatively different from a neutral party such as Switzerland. The ICRC maintains its neutrality for a specific humanitarian purpose which would be defeated by choosing sides. They therefore benefit others by remaining neutral. Switzerland primarily benefits itself.

On the question of surrender, there is a difference between fighting a war against a group of people and a war against a methodology. The importance of surrender is that it allows people to choose to lay down their arms, and therefore provides an escape hatch for the losing side which may lessen the bloodshed. But a methodology does not take up arms, and therefore cannot lay them down. There are people who embrace terrorism, and in fighting a war against terrorism we are fighting those people. But those people can choose to renunciate terrorism, and thereby take advantage of the same escape hatch that surrender provides.


Well, and the answer to both your questions (and thanks for them), in my mind, is that war can't be fought against methodologies, any more than you can fight a war against drugs or poverty. In those cases, it is a figure of speech (whatever Our Only President says), not a war.
War, properly conducted, is against a government or an alliance of governments, or against a group of people claiming to be a rightful government or to be the rightful representatives of a nation or a people.
If there is no structure against whom you are fighting, then there obviously can't be a surrender, for who would offer it and how could it be accepted? Individuals can always surrender, whether the warring government has or not. Individual surrender, even in large quantities, such as happened in Iraq, doesn't end a war, doesn't have the persuasive quality that governmental surrender does. Perhaps more importantly, if there is no-one who can surrender, is there anyone who can treat?
If there is no declaration of war then there are no neutrals, since we are at war with everyone and no-one, with a methodology, which isn't even possible to define properly, so we can't tell who is or isn't engaging in it. In an actual war, between governments, everybody who isn't at war is neutral, and the warring governments should respect that.
In the specific case of Switzerland, yes, I disagree with their choice, but I would be appalled should the US have decided to invade them without declaring war (which is always a choice if the neutrality appears false). What about Ireland? Should Ireland's neutrality have been respected? What about Laos and Cambodia in the Vietnam conflict (which was, of course, more of a war than this)? If governments don't respect neutrality, then war spreads. I don't accept the viability of that world.
Digression: Another difference I have with the administration is that I think that 'terrorist' describes 'someone who has engaged (or is planning) in terrorism'; it's not an ontological status, it's based on the person's actions. The administration, I think, believes that a 'terrorist' in inherently different from a non-terrorist, not because he (or she) has done particular things, but because of his (or her) beliefs. Similarly, I think a 'criminal' is a person who has committed (or is planning) crimes; Martha Stewart is a criminal, as is Woody Harrelson, and Henry David Thoreau. It's like being a Bachelor of Arts; it describes what you've done, but tells me nothing of what you are like. End Digression.
In the end, both points, as I say, are connected to the main problem, which is that we are in an endless war with nothing and everything. If there is no-one who can surrender, and if there is no-one who can negotiate (for there are no neutrals), the only way to end the war is with ultimate destruction, or, perhaps, our own surrender, after we are fatigued, bankrupt, and lost.
Which won't leave us in a particularly good position to do anything about terrorism.

R.I.,
-V.


Terrorism as our government uses the term is much like obscenity: we can't define it, but we know it when we see it. That is indeed a crippling flaw in struggling against it, regardless of how we choose to engage in that struggle (war, policing, UN resolutions, international treaties, economic isolation, or rhetorical condemnation).

If you leave aside the overuse of the term "war", however, I think there is a larger good in supporting the Geneva Convention and expanding it to reduce occurrences of terrorism, torture, land mine deployment, and other evil acts. If we reframe the dialogue a bit, it is possible to say that you are either a signatory to the Geneva Convention or you are not. There is no neutral position available, and the only way for a country which is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention to change its position is by signing the Geneva Convention. A negotiated settlement (i.e., surrender) which falls short of signing the Geneva Convention is not an option if your goal is to have every country sign the Geneva Convention. And I think that may be how many people view the "war on terrorism", and why the absolutist rhetoric works.

War is clearly the wrong term, but as you note it is far from the first time that we have seen the word grossly misused. At some point we may have to accept that it has acquired a secondary meaning far removed from its original sense.


War is clearly the wrong term, but as you note it is far from the first time that we have seen the word grossly misused. At some point we may have to accept that it has acquired a secondary meaning far removed from its original sense.

Quite so (says a sometime linguistic descriptivist) -- leading to all sorts of trouble when the secondary meaning is applied in phrases that derive from the original:

  • Prisoner of war
  • Act of war
  • War crimes
  • Enemy combatant
  • Rules of engagement
  • Murder (as in, "killing someone in war is not")

Er, "enemy combatant" was meant to be "non-combatant"


You make a very good point, Dan, about how such phrases would have to be interpreted. During the war on hunger, was skipping dinner an act of war? Would a non-combatant be someone who is fasting for religious reasons, or a non-food item?


Actually, Dan, both Enemy Combatant and Enemy Non-Combatant have been terms at issue in the War-Like-Thing on Terror.

And don't forget Rules of War ... I tend to think that people make better choices if they have rules to either follow or break, and are very familiar with those rules.

R.I.,
-V.


Michael: funny. :)

V: Yes, that was what I was trying to get at (and good catch with Rules of War). "War on Poverty" is an easy-to-manage overloading of the word "war" because there is a clear division of context. Military action that is not war0 but is part of a "war1 on X" causes immediate context conflicts. Or to put it another way, I'll add one more item to my list:

  • Weapon

Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.