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Thursday, July 28, 2005

The saviors in the Bush administration

On July 26, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reported in the New York Times that the US is no longer fighting a global "war on terror" (GWOT):
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice.
The new acronym, potentially, is SAVE.

Sounds appropriate for an enterprise President Bush originally (in 2001) compared to a crusade, eh?

I'm kind of interested in the framing of public policy, so this new "catchphrase" seems to be something worth closer examination.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has been using the new phrase since at least July 7, though the Times reports only on something he said last week. On October 10, 2004, and again on October 22, 2004, Rumsfeld used the phrase "global war against extremism." November 8, 2004, Rumsfeld used the phrase "global war against extremists." He also used that phrasing on February 3, 2005.

Much more frequently (2 or 3 dozen times), Rumsfeld (since September 7, 2004), has been discussing the "global struggle against extremism" or (since August 26, 2004), the "global struggle against extremists."

Thus, the US action is no longer "war" -- the US is engaged in a "struggle," which is obviously something very different. Indeed, the adjective "violent" has been added to describe the extremists, potentially making the US response to their actions all the more reasonable to other states -- and perhaps young people considering a career in the armed services.

In September 2001, Rumsfeld warned us all that the US was engaged in a "new kind of war," but now this one is not even a war. Even the long-time competition with the Soviet Union was commonly called a "cold war."

Note also that wars are typically won or lost, but struggles might last indefinitely. Kind of like the struggle between the Yankees and Red Sox. Maybe someone should remind the White House that in baseball, the same pitcher cannot get both the Win and the Save.

In any event, something odd is definitely happening; this new language is truly a remarkable political development. Arguably, the Bush administration is now trying to sound more like their domestic political critics and opponents. Consider this from that NY Times story:
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club on Monday that he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." He said the threat instead should be defined as violent extremists, with the recognition that "terror is the method they use."

Although the military is heavily engaged in the mission now, he said, future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military," he concluded.
General Myers sounds more like General Clark, former Democratic candidate for President.

They deny this, of course, but it sure sounds as if the administration has gone soft:
Lawrence Di Rita, Mr. Rumsfeld's spokesman, said the shift in language "is not a shift in thinking, but a continuation of the immediate post-9/11 approach."

"The president then said we were going to use all the means of national power and influence to defeat this enemy," Mr. Di Rita said. "We must continue to be more expansive than what the public is understandably focused on now: the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq."
It's all quite a contrast to what Karl Rove said just last month:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war," he said in a prepared text released by the White House. "Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

Rove went on to say that conservatives wanted to "unleash the might and power" of the military against the Taliban in Afghanistan, while liberals wanted to submit petitions. He cited a petition he said was backed by that called for "moderation and restraint" in responding to the attacks.
This is going to be an interesting 15 months before the 2006 congressional mid-term elections. Republicans want to be the tough blood and guts guys on national security, in opposition to wimpy Democrats -- but in recognition that the war in Iraq is no longer popular, they also want be for greater reliance on diplomatic, economic and political tools.

They want to be saviors!

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