It has been obvious for quite a while that calling the effort to contain violent extremists a "global war on terror" does nothing to help the cause, and hurts in many ways. It unifies opponents who might otherwise have little in common. It gives them what they want, in elevating them to parity with the world's great powers. To the extent the U.S. or U.K. public pays attention to it, it further helps the terrorist cause, by making people, well, terrorized. To the extent the public comes to ignore it, it cheapens the whole concept of war.
This is essentially what I argued last fall in the article "Declaring Victory," in the Atlantic. It is similar to the policy British authorities applied last summer, when they foiled an apparent plot to blow up several airliners crossing the Atlantic. While President Bush took the occasion to remind the public that America was "at war with Islamic fascists," Tony Blair's government -- which, after all, had broken the plot -- downplayed the episode and congratulated the public on resuming normal life as quickly as possible. (Ie, on not being terrorized by attempted terrorism.)
Now the British cabinet's secretary for International Development, Hilary Benn (fully name Hilary James Wedgwood Benn, son of long-time politico Tony Benn, nee Anthony Wedgwood Benn), has released a speech text saying that the British government won't use the "war on terror" phrase any more. According to wire reports of the speech:
"We do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone, and because this isn't us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives," Benn said.
"It is the vast majority of the people in the world -- of all nationalities and faiths -- against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger."
Well done -- and this from a Blair administration that had been fully as enthusiastic about the Iraq war as the Bush team was, and 100 times as eloquent in explaining it. Imagine living under a government capable of adjusting to changed realities.
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