Monday, October 11, 2004

More on the war on terror: Can it be won? Listening to the President, the answer is not so certain.

We have a clear vision on how to win the war on terror and bring peace to the world.
-- George W. Bush, July 30th 2004.

I don’t think you can win [the war on terror]. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.
-- George W. Bush, Aug. 29th, 2004.

See here for documentation of the quotes.

The quotes are nothing new: many liberals have gleefully linked to them in the course of the last couple of months. What interests me is why George W. Bush is so confused here.

Consider the following sentence:

The war on terror is a war and not a law-enforcement action.
What does it mean?

Its a sentence. Its made up of words. It certainly follows the laws of English grammar. But when we string these words together in this way, do we end up with any concrete meaning?

After all, not every string of words that follows the laws of english grammar automatically has a meaning. And if this string of words has meaning, it has eluded me over the past few years.

Certainly "war" and "law enforcement operation" mean something different. If you look these words up in the dictionary, you will see that their definitions are not identical. And one could try to make sense of the statement by saying that the "war on terror" shares more features with the definition of "war" rather than the definition of "law enforcement operation."

But this is clearly not what the people who say it mean. After all, people who make the above statement often like to attack Kerry for his "law-enforcement approach to terrorism." What, exactly, does that mean? What is the "law-enforcement approach to terrorism?" And how does it stand in opposition to the "war" approach to terrorism?

My point is that these are meaningless concepts. Both Kerry and Bush supported invading Afghanistan. Bush thinks invading Iraq was a good idea, and Kerry thinks it was a mistake, not because invading countries is wrong but because Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda and no WMDs. If there is a difference between the "war" and the "law-enforcement approach" to terrorism, its very difficult to see when any real policy comes up.

Can anyone thinks of a policy where these approaches would have different recommendations?

This is why Bush is so confused: because he is tossing around terms that have no meaning.

Take the "war on terror." Is it a war?

Its not a war that can be won, in the sense that there will always be terrorists.

As a corollary, its not a war that will ever end.

Its not a war in the sense of us facing an army; rather, we face terrorists cells that try to blend in with civilians.

Its not a war in the sense of it requiring a large commitment of troops (this administrations invasion of Iraq nonwithstanding - its been demonstrated by now that Iraq's connections to terror weren't anything to write home about).

In what sense is it a war? It certainly involves blowing stuff up.

So is it a war? It depends on your definition of war.

And when Bush takes these words - "war" and "law-enforcement" - and tries to use them in a metaphorical sense to convey some of their aspects and not others and ends up stringing together quite meaningless sentences at the end - and tries to attack Kerry by claiming he is on the wrong metaphorical side - well, its no wonder he gets confused.


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