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Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Quotation marks and the "war on terrorism"
Andrew Sullivan writes:
QUOTATION MARK WATCH: Have you begun to notice how some commentators (mainly on the left but also on the paleo-right) have begun to put the term "war on terrorism" in quote marks? I wonder what part of the phrase they don't buy. That we are fighting terrorism?While I doubt Sullivan has been reading me, I do put the "war on terror" and the "war on terrorism" in quotes so I figure I should explain to my dozen or so regular readers why I do it in case it wasn't obvious.
President George W. Bush has used the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as the justification for many things that are not directly about fighting terrorism against the U.S., including war with Iraq. I'm fond of quoting an October 7 speech in Cincinnati, Ohio where the President said:
Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this problem [or Iraq having weapons of mass destruction], why do we need to confront it now? And there's a reason. We've experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact, they would be eager, to use biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.In other words, the United States should go to war with Iraq because something bad happned to the U.S. over a year ago. This is sheer idiocy. Why don't Uncle Sam use those famed terrorist attacks as a reason to go to war with Israel and United Kingdom? Both have nukes and sure they are allies of the U.S. at the moment "but," in the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, "who knows what tomorrow will bring?"
The answer is that there is no evidence that either Israel or the United Kingdom was involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or have intentions of harming the U.S. It would be illogical to after them for doing nothing because something bad happened to the U.S. just as it is illogical to go to war with Iraq because of the events of September 11, 2001. Now it is a whole different story if someone wants to argue that the U.S. should go to war with Iraq because Iraq is a threat or some other reason that does no involve saying the U.S. has the right to do whatever the hell it wants to anybody, anywhere because nearly 3,000 people died in America a little less than 15 months ago. I don't agree with those arguments but they don't necessarily have the flaw of using an unconnected event to justify war.
Getting back to the matter of using quotes, since I do not believe that the "war on terrorism" is primarily about fighting terrorism, I find it problematic to use that term as if it has any meaning beyond a political slogan that Bush can use to to describe just about any action, external or internal, that he wants. In other words, the "war on terrorism" is anything that Bush wants it be. It is his agenda. I don't like it but I do recognized it is being waged.
For the record, I don't expect Sullivan to understand what I am getting at since he has been at least as quick as Bush to use the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to justify a broad agenda. Last year, on the afternoon of September 11 in a post entitled "EVIL," Sullivan wrote, "The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable." While most Americans were in shock, Sullivan like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was plotting empire.