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After GWOT, What?

By Matthew Yglesias

"After GWOT, What?"

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Al says, “The problem always has been: what do you replace GWOT with? Rumsfeld tried to change it to GSAVE, which is probably a better phrase. I think Matthew mocked him for it.”

I disagree. The difficulty with finding an apt replacemen for GWOT highlights the inaptness of the term. The reason nobody can come up with a good name for the thing “GWOT” is supposed to denote is that it doesn’t denote anything. Instead, insofar is it isn’t merely a piece of goofy rhetoric (and I think John Edwards went a bit too far in suggesting this is all it is) it’s a conceptual confusion — an effort to lump together a bunch of loosely-related issues that 9/11 all happened to highlight and turn them into a single “thing” even though there’s nothing there.

To take an example, a lot of critiques of “GWOT” begin by noting that “terrorism is a tactic, and you don’t go to war with a tactic.” Which is true. At the same time, while on the one hand 9/11 highlighted a specific problem with a specific enemy, it also did highlight America’s vulnerability to the generic tactic of terrorism. Something like “we should harden cockpit doors” isn’t part of a “war on Islamic fundamentalism” (or whatever more precise term you might like) it’s a counterterrorism measure just like the longstanding practice of using metal detectors is.

So there’s a specific al-Qaeda issue (we’re not going to invest tons of effort into crushing ETA). Then there’s a general terrorism issue (we do want to reduce our generic vulnerability from any group that may arise in the future). Then there are the geopolitics of the Middle East. Then there’s the issue of nuclear proliferation. These questions are relate, but there’s not a single thing that should have a single name. There’s fighting al-Qaeda, there’s counterterrorism, there’s the Middle East, there’s non-proliferation — those are all good words. “War on Terror” should just be demoted to the status of somewhat silly name for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

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Penn Again ›

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