Political Lexicography

A great short piece by noted terrorism expert Paul Pillar.

One of the most misleading and distracting formulations that has been applied to the countering of terrorism is the notion that this effort is a “war.” The notion was in full bloom with the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” Terrorism being a tactic, this concept, as Zbigniew Brzezinski once observed, makes as much sense as a “war on blitzkrieg.” The “war” idea also ignores several other realities: that military force is only one of several tools that can be used for counterterrorist purposes (law enforcement resources and the criminal justice system being a couple of the others); that counterterrorism does not entail a struggle against a single identifiable foe, as a real war does; and that counterterrorism does not have identifiable beginnings and endings, as real wars do.

Applying the “war” notion to counterterrorism has several negative consequences. It overly militarizes counterterrorism itself, encouraging excessive reliance on the military instrument. It invites the tendentious association of counterterrorism with unrelated military adventures or misadventures, as happened with the Bush administration’s Iraq War. It further invites the open-ended use of extraordinary and even extra-legal methods, as occurred with the Bush administration’s practices on detention and interception of communications. It elevates terrorists from the status of criminals to that of warriors.
And so yet another important function of government, like many others, has been turned into either an ideological gesture or a campaign talking point.

The National Interest 


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