Speaking to reporters last week, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, made a striking admission. The Bush administration, Biden said, defines the threat that the country now faces "too broadly and inaccurately." But the president, continued Biden, is in good company. "I have never been able to define the threat, and my party hasn't been able to define the threat, either."
After four and a half years, the Civil War was over, World War II was over, and the Revolutionary War was winding down. The Cold War lasted four decades, but everyone understood from the beginning that the enemy was a particular ideology, communism. The current war, plainly, is a more muddled affair. In last month's National Security Strategy, the administration declared, "America is at war." But who precisely is the enemy? "Terrorism." And "terrorists." And "terrorist networks." As in: "a terrorist enemy that is defined by religious intolerance." Factions of the Irish Republican Army might qualify.
On a few occasions, albeit inconsistently, President Bush has been more specific. In a speech last October, he said, "Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others militant jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism." Having ventured three religious terms in one sentence, he then hastened to add, "Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam," and its adherents "distort the idea of jihad."