The administration’s continued efforts to explain the GWOT continue to confound me (WaPo):
In his speeches, Bush has advanced several arguments, starting with the proposition that the United States is engaged in a long-term ideological struggle between forces of freedom and Islamic radicals who want to destroy freedom. Although U.S. adversaries come from different backgrounds — ranging from radical Sunnis in al-Qaeda to Shiite militants such as Hezbollah — Bush has characterized the opposition as forming a single movement, “a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those that stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology.”
To equate September 11th’s perpetrators — al Qaeda — with Hezbollah is an apples = oranges because they’re both fruits deception. Yes, they’re both radical, and they both use terrorism as a tactic… but they are not both trying to attack the United States.
There are many groups around the world who, like Hezbollah, are “fruits”. They are angry at (and attacking) many countries, for a host of different reasons… not all of them “freedom”. Trying to re-position all the angry extremists into a single frame is confusing, and deceptive.
It’s also amplifying some other problems, and Anne Applebaum’s excellent article in the Telegraph allows a little light into why Bush’s GWOT is not selling well, not just here, but elsewhere:
But perhaps Europe’s failure to enthusiastically join the “war on terrorism” was in some sense preordained. While not entirely incorrect, the notion that President Bush has wasted international post-9/11 sympathy is not entirely accurate either. As I say, at the time of the attacks, influential Europeans, and influential Britons, were already disinclined for their own reasons to sympathise with any American tragedy.
Instead of pointing fingers, the fifth anniversary of 9/11 might be a good time to reverse course. If “war on terrorism” has become an unpopular term, then call it something else. Call it a “war on fanaticism”. Or – as we used to say in the Cold War – call it a “struggle for hearts and minds” in the Islamic communities of Europe and the Middle East. For whatever it’s called, it won’t succeed without both American and European support, without American and European mutual sympathy. And whatever it’s called, if it fails, the consequences will be felt on both sides of the Atlantic.
The underlying theme (to me) is that we — as in the United States — cannot fight everyone’s battles for them… and it’s not just Europe (see Chechnya, Russia, others).
Not only that, but if the GWOT is an ideological battle between the defenders of freedom and Islamic radicals who want to destroy it, as Bush has said, then something is missing from the equation… because the US and freedom are not synonyms.
We are not “freedom”. We are the United States of America, and while our system of government certainly encompasses it, we are not the only ones. And that little semantics distinction is, in large part, the root of the problem. This is the thinking that took us into Iraq — a country that was not a threat to the United States.
We cannot continue to assume the burdens of the world; the threats from those who actually bear malevolence toward us are more than enough to keep us occupied.
Until George Bush stops trying to label everything in the produce department as a fruit –until we can distinguish between threats to us and things we really don’t like — I suspect he’ll continue to see a marked lack of support for his plans.
Whether the source of this thinking is hubris, or a sincere view of our place in the world, there’s a fundamental truth that has been lost somewhere: Freedom, by its very nature, cannot be forced upon anyone. Not even by us.