Hello, thanks for the interesting question. I hope this addresses the
issues of concern. Please request clarification if need be.
AN ABSTRACT "WAR"
The "war on terror" is not a literal war as congress has not formally
declared war. In order for it to be considered an actual war congress
would have to do so.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that there is no
particular country or set of countries that the United States would
declare war on in such a case. The Bush administration has isolated a
few countries as harboring terrorists and has warned others that they
are "either with us, or with the terrorists", but no formal war has
I think your example of "the war on drugs" is pretty similar. In the
"drug war" the United States attempted to impact drug use and
distribution both domestically and internationally. They targeted drug
cartels in Columbia, Peru and Bolivia, among others, and threatened
those who facilitated the drug trade, such as Mexico and Panama.
Similarly, the "war on terror" seeks to seek out terrorist cells both
at home and abroad. Similar to the "war on drugs", the U.S. (and to
some degree the United Nations) seeks to pressure nations abroad that
facilitate or sponser terrorism.
Thus, it is an abstract declaration of war, rather than a formal one.
Aside from the requirement within the U.S. that Congress declare a
formal war, the recognition of what constitutes a "war" must pass
international scrutiny. As such, a war must be fought "between two
internationally defined states according to international laws."
However, some civil wars may be an exception to this condition.
This also begs the question, what constitutes "terror" or "terrorism"?
Many have noted that the term is ambigious.
<<Noam Chomsky has brought to light that the "terrorism" this war
claims to combat does not obey the official defenitions of terrorism,
such as the one outlined in the US Code: "[An] Act of terrorism means
any activity that [a] involves a violent act or an act dangerous to
human life that is a violation of the laws of the United States or any
State, or that would be a criminal violation if commited within the
jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; and [b] appears to
be intended [i] to intimidate or coerse a civilian population, [ii] to
influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coersion, or
[iii] to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or
kidnapping." (United States Code Congressional and Administrative
News, 98th Congress, Second Session, 1984, Oct. 19, Vol. 2; par 3077,
98 STAT. 2707. Indeed, by following this definition, many of the
actions undertaken in the name of "the war on terror" could be seen as
terrorism themselves. Instead, Chomsky concludes, this war combats
only "terrorism by others aimed at ourselves and our allies".>>
<<The phrase "war on terrorism" was used frequently by U.S. President
Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. In his 1986 speech to the U.N. General
Assembly, Reagan said:
"...the United States believes that the understandings reached by the
seven industrial democracies at the Tokyo summit last May made a good
start toward international accord in the war on terrorism.">>
Whitehouse FAQ about War on terrorism
DefendAmerica - US Defense Dept. War on Terror
UN action against terrorism
Authorization For Use of Military Force Against September 11
terrorists (AUMF) US Public Law 107-40, Sept. 18, 2001, 115 Stat. 224
BBC NEWS | In Depth | War on Terror
FindLaw War on terrorism coverage
Wikipedia "War on terrorism" article
Are We Fighting a Real War on Terror at All?
"war on terror"
"war on terrorism"
congress "war powers"
Clarification of Answer by
25 Jan 2005 22:35 PST
Sorry, I just realized that I didn't address a couple more subtle
questions that you posed specifically. Here is some more info:
Regarding the objectives of the war, here is how it has been defined:
<<The United States has based its counter-terrorist strategy on several steps:
* Denial of safe havens in which terrorists can train and equip members.
* Restriction of funding of terrorist organizations.
* Degradation of terrorist networks by capturing or killing intermediate leaders.
* Detention of suspected and known terrorists. See the section below
for further details
* Getting information, through various techniques, allegedly including
torture, from captured terrorists of other members of their
organization, training sites, methods, and funding.
* Expanding and improving efficiency of intelligence capabilities and
foreign and domestic policing.>
As for the ultimate goal of the "war on terror" as addressed by the
Bush administration is the following:
<<Daniel Pipes, recently appointed by Bush as director of the
prestigious American Institute of Peace, dared declare that ?The
ultimate goal of the war on terror is to modernize Islam?. With this
end in view he has been seeking funding for a new organization named
Islamic Progress Institute, with the object of reforming Islam ?into a
democratic moderate and pro-American religion.? He further made it
clear that ?Islam in America must be American Islam?. >>
As for the media coverage, it seems that they treat it as an abstract
war, but at times use the terminology of actual war to heighten the
impact of their coverage. Therefore, they often refer to individual
nations, such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. as involved in the "war
Some view the media as a seperate arm of the government and argue that
the media covers the abstract war against terrorism as an actual war
to legitimize the Bush administrations foreign policy efforts.
<<his process is becoming an integral part of the established modus
operandi of powerful, entrenched organizations on every level of the
government. Aided with a corporate-owned media, the government is able
to maintain social control without detracting from their public image
and the perceived legitimacy of its methods of government. These
policies are evolving into an institutionalized social domination
compatible with imperial policies perpetuated abroad.>>
I hope that further clarifies my response.