U.K. Foreign Minister: Phrase “War on Terror” Was Wrong

As George Bush leaves office there is a growing realization, even among many who at one time agreed with him that virtually every idea to come out of the Bush administration was wrong. David Miliband, the U.K. foreign secretary, has come to the realization that the concept of the “war on terror” was a mistake:

Seven years on from 9/11 it is clear that we need to take a fundamental look at our efforts to prevent extremism and its terrible offspring, terrorist violence. Since 9/11, the notion of a “war on terror” has defined the terrain. The phrase had some merit: it captured the gravity of the threats, the need for solidarity, and the need to respond urgently – where necessary, with force. But ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken. The issue is not whether we need to attack the use of terror at its roots, with all the tools available. We must. The question is how.

The idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate. Lashkar-e-Taiba has roots in Pakistan and says its cause is Kashmir. Hezbollah says it stands for resistance to occupation of the Golan Heights. The Shia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have myriad demands. They are as diverse as the 1970s European movements of the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, and Eta. All used terrorism and sometimes they supported each other, but their causes were not unified and their cooperation was opportunistic. So it is today.

The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. Terrorist groups need to be tackled at root, interdicting flows of weapons and finance, exposing the shallowness of their claims, channelling their followers into democratic politics.

The “war on terror” also implied that the correct response was primarily military. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife…

We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama’s commitment to close it.

The call for a “war on terror” was a call to arms, an attempt to build solidarity for a fight against a single shared enemy. But the foundation for solidarity between peoples and nations should be based not on who we are against, but on the idea of who we are and the values we share. Terrorists succeed when they render countries fearful and vindictive; when they sow division and animosity; when they force countries to respond with violence and repression. The best response is to refuse to be cowed.

Realization that “the best response is to refuse to be cowed” would have made a tremendous difference. Republicans try to give the impression that they are the party which is stronger on national security. In reality, their response and policies were not only cowardly, but were terribly mistaken, greatly undermining our national security and harming our position in the world.

In attacking the United States, the goals were to make us “fearful and vindictive.” The Bush administration played right into their hands. Rather than take advantage of what could have been a period of bipartisan cooperation in responding, the Bush administration decided instead to seek political advantage, not caring tat their decision to “sow division and animosity” was exactly what bin Laden hoped for.

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  1. 1
    Andrew Yu-Jen Wang says:

    Dennis Kucinich should be mentioned as someone who stood up to speak truth to power. Kucinich is the valiant Congressman who tried harder than any other person in Congress to bring George W. Bush down with impeachment.

    Thomas Tamm should be mentioned as someone who stood up to speak truth to power. Tamm is a star for ratting out Bush and exposing Bush’s illegal NSA spying program.

    Al-Zaidi, who threw shoes at Bush, should be mentioned as someone who stood up to speak truth to power. Al-Zaidi’s bravery will be forever cherished.

    Dr. Justin A. Frank, a renowned psychiatrist, should be mentioned as someone who stood up to speak truth to power. Dr. Frank gives the American people the best psychiatric evaluation of Bush that can possibly be attained intelligently and honestly. Dr. Frank tells the American people about Bush’s mental illnesses—without which Americans could not fully understand why Bush does the crazy things he does.

    Lawrence Velvel, Dean of The Massachusetts School of Law, should be mentioned as someone who stood up to speak truth to power. Velvel has fervently advocated prosecution against Bush for war crimes. Velvel also diligently tells the American people a whole lot about Bush’s mental illnesses.

    There are people of Britain who should be mentioned as people who stood up to speak truth to power: they ratted out Bush (Downing Street memo), exposing that Bush was going to attack Iraq no matter what and fabricate whatever information to get it done.

    I am profoundly thankful for the people whom I mentioned above.

    The American people salute the characters I mentioned above for their courage and integrity in challenging the existence of the worst president in U.S. history—George W. Bush.

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

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