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Q: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor? ( Answered,   6 Comments )
Subject: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: richadbrennan-ga
List Price: $22.00
Posted: 25 Jan 2005 10:22 PST
Expires: 24 Feb 2005 10:22 PST
Question ID: 463089
What, exactly, is the US war on terror? Is it a metaphorical war, like
the war on poverty (LBJ) or the war on drugs (Reagan)? Or does the US
government regard it as a literal war?

When it was first talked about in 2001, I assumed it was a metaphor
for a comprehensive approach to a complex problem (not unlike poverty
or drugs).  Now, I'm not so sure.  I hear it discussed in the media as
an actual war.  I always thought war was a state of being between two
political communities (nations, usually).  But, maybe there is another
definition of which I am unaware.  If it is literally a war, is there
a budget item for it?  Is it run by the DoD? Was war declared?  Is the
media portraying it as literal, while the US government does not view
it in that way?

And, most importantly, if it is an actual war, how does the US define
success, as there is no nation-state to surrender at the end?  If war
is, as Clausewitze said, "a continuation of politics through other
means", what is the political objective that the US intends to
achieve? The one that will signal victory.

Please forgive me if this is all basic, but I have become lost in the
detail of the day-to-day events.  When Bush says "war on terror" I
want to make sure I understand what he means.  Thanks for your help.
Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
Answered By: adiloren-ga on 25 Jan 2005 22:23 PST
Hello, thanks for the interesting question. I hope this addresses the
issues of concern. Please request clarification if need be.


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
been initiated.

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.">>

Additional Links:

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?

Google Search:

"war on terror"
"war on terrorism"
congress "war powers"

Clarification of Answer by adiloren-ga on 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
on terror".

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.
Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
From: capitaineformidable-ga on 25 Jan 2005 11:01 PST
The following link was posted in response to an earlier similar
question, sorry cant remember the thread no. anymore. It deals with
the whole terror question and highlights the apparent mistakes
inresponse by USA to events in the Middle East.

Hope it helps

Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
From: fp-ga on 25 Jan 2005 12:46 PST
The previous question as referred to by capitaineformidable-ga:
Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
From: guzzi-ga on 25 Jan 2005 18:09 PST
With respect richadbrennan, you think too hard :-) But I commend (and
envy) you on your open mind.

?The war on terror? is a buzz phrase, that?s all. A political tool,
guileful and alluring in its connotation, which massages primitive
aspects of the narrowly educated. Not something that Dubya could think
up all by himself. It illustrates obscene social abuse by self serving
politicians. ?Weapons of mass destruction? was of course a similar
term which due to the palpable falsification has been shelved --

Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
From: justaskscott-ga on 25 Jan 2005 19:53 PST
You might want to read "Imperial Hubris," by "Anonymous" (a CIA expert
on Osama bin Laden), for some provocative thoughts about the
metaphorical versus real war.  (If I understand the argument
correctly, the author thinks the war is real and long-term from al
Qaeda's perspective, but that U.S. policymakers haven't accepted the
need to engage in a real war in return.)
Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
From: richadbrennan-ga on 26 Jan 2005 08:32 PST
I appreciate the answers and comments.  I can conclude from the info
presented here  that the the WOT is not a literal war as it meets
neither US constitutional nor international definitions.

However, the US seems to, at times, regard it as real war.  Bush says
he is a "war president".  The DoD refuses to give seperate medals for
Afghanistan and Iraq, claiming they are a single event, the War on
Terror.  A special budget allocation  for FY2006 has just been
announced for the WOT.  In these instances the US is acting as if it
is actually at war.  This war may not be literal, but it isn't a
metaphor, either. I'm still a little confused as to exactly what it

Another point about the media - if the US is not at war, why doesn't
the media challenge the WOT concept when the US treats it as a literal

I will take a look at the Imperial Hubris book.  I heard him on the
radio a few months ago and his point of view sounded interessting. 
Once again, thanks all for your help.

// Richard
Subject: Re: The War on Terror: Literal or Metaphor?
From: richadbrennan-ga on 26 Jan 2005 08:50 PST
One other thing - this issue is not just academic.  This directly
impacts the following questions:

Was the US the agressor (as defined by the UN) in the war in Iraq?
What Geneva convention principles apply to prisoners taken in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world?
What is the legal status of prisoners held at Guantanomo Bay?
Can the executive branch of the US government waive the rights of
accused terrorists?
Does a pre-emptive strike constitute a war?
Under what conditions are a pre-emptive strike justified?  (The UN
already defined these years ago - I think in response to Israel's
invasion of Egypt in 1967, but the US/Iraq conflict does not meet the
critera.  Should the criteria be changed?)
Can the US be held accountable for destruction of life and property in
Iraq, Afghanistan, etc?

In other words, "war" carries with it legal expemptions and
responsibilities, both in US and International law.  Which are applied
to these cases, the war rules or the peace rules?

// Richard

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