The Generals and the “War on Terror”
Saddle up because this is a long one. I got into an email exchange with a friend who was wondering about all the generals
who have made statements on the “war on terror.” It was something right down my alley of interests, so I started looking. Later, I put feelers
out all over the country to get more quotes from generals and senior military
men, but this is a start. I'll give you the conclusion at the top. The generals
aren't crazy about the “war on terror” as a battle cry. Most have
such disrespect that they change the phrase altogether, which has made a big
deal in how the conversation on the “war on terror” has progressed.
You'll see, here goes.
From “death tax” to the “war on terror,” Republicans love their
slogans. But what do they mean? Bush has had an inordinate amount of trouble
lately selling his “war on terror,” but somewhere along the line he
got some help, which made a huge difference, though W. likely didn't even notice.
Smarter minds and political thinkers simply changed the phrase; some others doing so as if they were embarrassed by talking about a war on an emotion. “War on terrorism”
replaced Bush's “war on terror.” But the “war on terror” was
how Karl kept his boy in office and he wasn't going to stop talking about it until
he was done. Politicians love the phrase. Republicans think they can still take
it to the bank. But Democrats now lead on every issue on the table, including
national security. It's a long time until 2008, but one thing is for certain.
The “war on terror” has worn out its welcome, even though some of
us never bought it in the first place. But after yesterday's news it was driven
home. You really can't claim you're fighting the “war on terror” when
the two cities hit by terrorists on 9/11 just got their homeland security funds
slashed, now can you?
Bush is actually soft on fighting our enemies, because he's put this country
in such a dependent economic state that we can't afford to fund our own homeland
security. At some point, Americans are going to have to figure out what is more
important to them, Iraq or America; Republican slogans or putting people in
office who can actually govern.
But getting back to the “war on terror” vs. the “war on terrorism,”
which some people still don't buy as a call to arms. I thought two links were
very instructive on the whole matter, just to get us started. “War
on Terror” is now being redirected to “War
on Terrorism”. That's what has happened to the whole argument. It's
morphed into something more user friendly. Again, I doubt if Bush even noticed.
However, that hasn't stopped the generals from weighing in on the term.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National
Press Club on Monday that he had “objected to the use of the
term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think
of people in uniform as being the solution.”
He said the threat instead should be defined as violent extremism, with the
recognition that “terror is the method they use.”
It wasn't the only time Myers weighed in, also saying he wasn't too crazy about
the “war on terrorism.”
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers told the National Defense University's graduating
class he is a bit leery about calling the ongoing struggle the “war on
“Most people assume that if it is war, then the military is the lead
agency,” Myers told the 507 graduates of the NDU's Industrial College
of the Armed Forces and the National War College. He said the image most people
carry of a war is that the military instrument of power “is the dominant
instrument of power, and there is a clearly defined military victory or defeat.”
In the war on terror, this is not true, Myers said. “We have
an important role to play, but the military alone cannot win or lose this,”
he explained. “When Iraq becomes a stable and thriving democracy, the
struggle against violent extremists will not be over. If we capture Osama
bin Laden tomorrow, it won't be over. It's going to take all instruments
of our U.S. national power and those of our allies to succeed.”
General Myers isn't the only military man who thinks the “war on terror”
leaves the military in an untenable and unwinnable position, though Peter Pace
actually supports the “war on terrorism,” even if it is impossible
The war on terror will continue long after Iraq and Afghanistan are stable,
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told military
officials from around the world Friday.
Speaking at the Global Terrorism and International Cooperation Symposium,
Pace called for patience and collaboration, repeating U.S. assertions that
it will be a long campaign.
“Iraq and Afghanistan will over time become stable,'' he said in a keynote
address. “But the war on terror will continue long after Iraq and
Afghanistan have had success in standing up their own governments.''
“We are talking about years and years to come of vigilance,'' said Pace,
“Today's tactical victory does not guarantee tomorrow's strategic success.''
General: War on Terror Will Last for Years (cached
That it is a never ending war is the political beauty of it. It's also the
point and the reason Republicans love the term.
General Wesley Clark agrees with Pace, up to a point, because Clark has no respect for Bush and what Rummy have wrought, especially for our soldiers.
But the early successes seem to have reinforced the conviction of some within
the U.S. government that the continuing war against terrorism is best waged
outside the structures of international institutions–that American leadership
must be “unfettered.” This is a fundamental misjudgment. The
longer this war goes on–and by all accounts, it will go on for years–the
more our success will depend on the willing cooperation and active participation
of our allies to root out terrorist cells in Europe and Asia, to cut off funding
and support of terrorists and to deal with Saddam Hussein and other threats.
We are far more likely to gain the support we need by working through international
institutions than outside of them. We've got a problem here: Because the Bush
administration has thus far refused to engage our allies through NATO, we
are fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind our back.
of One – In the war on terrorism, alliances are not an obstacle to victory.
They're the key to it. — by Wes Clark
That's really the goal. Republicans continue to thump the “war on terror,”
because they believe national security is still the Democratic Party's weakness.
However, a tragic thing happened in the middle of their pr campaign. George
W. Bush's national security policies were revealed to be an unmitigated disaster
for America. They haven't exactly helped the Iraqis either.
Of course, you've got the defenders, but even people like former General Tommy
Franks don't even use the “war
on terror” term when defending those in charge of managing it.
The military man responsible for “shock
and awe” isn't very impress with the “war on terror” either.
The issue in my mind is that the war on terror is being waged against
the symptoms, not the causes.
In essence, we are going out after the terrorists trying to kill them or
arrest them one at a time, when, in fact, we have to go after the basic causes
and the roots of terrorism. So we're fighting a very difficult battle.
I think the first thing that we have to recognise is that terror
is a tactic and a tool.
It is not a political philosophy.
Former General Anthony Zinni, a major critic of Bush and the administration
has offered his opinion many, many times. Sometimes his critique borders on
snark fitting of the best progressive blogs.
My last point was that our other commitments have to be met. We have embarked
on a global war on terrorism, GWOT as they call it in the Pentagon.
If we are going to be involved in a global war on terrorism, we'd better understand
that it goes beyond the tactical. The tactical means you go into the field,
you go after the terrorists with your military, your law enforcement agencies
cooperate to take down cells, your financial institutions work to peel away
the resources needed, but you are treating the symptoms. Terrorism is a manifestation
of something greater. There is extremism out there that is manifesting itself
in the violent way of terrorism.
Here's a long summation of three star General
Wallace Gregson, currently commander of Marine forces in the Pacific.
Global War on Terror: “Wrong Concept”
” This war has a popular label and a political label, but it’s
not accurate,” said Gregson. “Terrorism is a means of power projection,
it’s a weapon, it’s a tool of war. Think of it as our enemy’s
stealth bomber. This is no more a war on terrorism than World War II was a
war on submarines. It’s not just semantics . . . Words have meaning.
And these words are leading us down to the wrong concept.”
Gregson added, “What we’re fighting is an insurgency defined
as a popular movement that seeks to change the status quo through violence,
subversion, propaganda, terrorism or other military action. But it’s
different from other national insurgencies that we’ve known in the past.
This one is networked thanks to the wonders of technology. It’s primarily
ideologically driven, fundamentalist and extremist.”
“It’s a collection or a confederation of movements empowered
by regional and global fundamentalist extremist insurgents,” Gregson
said. “You can borrow an old phrase and say they think globally and
[...] “The center of gravity, the decisive terrain in this war is the
vast majority of people who are not directly involved but whose support, willing
or coerced, is necessary to insurgent operations around the world,”
he said. “Hearts and minds are more important than capturing and killing
“The main thrust of my remarks was that we know we’re stuck with
the name, it’s going to be the global war on terrorism. . . . But even
though we’ve got that name out there, we’ve got to at least in
the security community and then further on through the greater world . . .
explain what we’re about here and get it into something that is properly
categorized and puts us on the side of the angels in various areas.”
We have a chance to start winning this war here and walk it back into the
Middle East, but we can’t just continue to admire the problem,”
Gregson said. “We have to start doing something and we have to start
walking the propaganda back in the other direction and get ourselves
on the right side of this issue.”
Providing doctors, engineers, dentists, veterinarians and other aid to enhance
the lives of people living in very troubled parts of the world is “often
far more important than projecting some type of force,” Gregson said.
But the kill shot
came from former General Odom.
Voices of reason, even when they’ve come from within the country’s
military establishment, have been shunted aside. In late November 2002, a
retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, told C-SPAN viewers: “Terrorism
is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about
as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re
going to win that war. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism.
And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies.
Acts of parliament have closed a few.”
The beauty of General Odom is that he didn't stop, hasn't stopped and will
never stop making the point.
He said the danger is that this puts the U.S. in a position of supporting
causes that may not be in its best interests, such as Russia's fight against
separatists in Chechnya, whom the Russians have labeled “terrorists.”
The notion of a global terror war also marginalizes and discriminates
against Muslims, he continued, and raises the specter of hypocrisy, because
he said the U.S. itself uses terror as a tactic.
Republicans have used the “war on terror” for all it's worth. It's
been a terrific political slogan for the president, without which he wouldn't
still be in office. But Bush hasn't done much in the way of actually ending
“terror,” because you can't stop emotions from percolating up. All
you can do is channel them and make peace with them.
As for terrorism, like the generals have said, it's a war for all time. A war
that will not end in our lifetime. We now have to decide how we're going to
live amidst the threat. Republicans want America to change, which has been slowly
happening since they got in power.
I liked America the way it was, before Bush and the Republican led Congress
started their war of terror on us all. The generals seem to agree.