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is it fair to compare terror to cold war?

Published:

Is it fair to compare terror to cold war?

Bush likens the conflict to previous struggles, but analysts say the analogies can go only so far.

| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
As the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, President Bush is reemphasizing his focus on the war on terror as the defining struggle of the age. With historical analogies his constant tool, the president compares Osama bin Laden to the ideological foes the United States faced in the 20th century - Lenin and Hitler, for example - and likens the struggle against Islamic radicalism to the cold war.

Such comparisons can help Americans understand the foe the US is up against, analysts agree, and can help put the challenge ahead into perspective. For example, the cold war was an ideological battle spanning more than four decades, and the fight against terrorism is not likely to reach a decisive denouement anytime soon, experts say.

But such analogies go only so far and can actually hinder understanding if they obscure the differences in the current situation or act to cover up missteps in current policy.

"The cold war is a good template to begin to think about how to deal with the challenge of radical Islam," says Andrew Bacevich, a former Army colonel and now professor of international relations at Boston University. "The problem is that whatever the president is saying now, his administration's policies have not mirrored the policies of the cold war - starting with the fact that US strategy in the cold war was not primarily oriented towards an aggressive use of force."

Mr. Bush himself has said that the war on terror is not just a military battle, but the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are nevertheless seen as the signature acts of the president's war on terror.

At the same time, Bush continues to draw comparisons between this war and 20th-century conflicts. "Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," he said in Washington Tuesday in a speech to the Military Officers Association of America.

Such references are both useful and problematic, some experts say. "It's helpful to have things to point to that people can understand. But it's also true that historical analogies are rarely 100 percent accurate, and that can lead to misunderstandings," says Thomas Henriksen, a historian focusing on US foreign policy at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif. "It's true that this will be a long conflict, and when the president says this is more than a military conflict, that's also true."

But Mr. Henriksen says other factors weaken such analogies: For example, World War II and the cold war were fought against "state actors" - Germany, Japan, and then the Soviet Union - while the foes in the war on terror are stateless, dispersed organizations and the ideology that feeds them.

Another problem with such analogies is that they suggest that the answers to the current challenge can also be found in history. Some experts say that can be a costly mistake.

"Superficially, the comparison [to the cold war] is credible, in that this is an ideological challenge, but it starts breaking down when you compare the enemies we were and are [now] up against," says Geoffrey Kemp, a national-security expert at the Nixon Center in Washington.

In the cold war, the ideological foe the US faced was backed by "serious countries with serious capabilities," says Mr. Kemp, who served in the National Security Council of the Reagan White House. While radical Islam may be fed by a common ideology favoring a global caliphate, "when you get into the details, you find a disparate constellation of differing factions and agendas."

The result, he says, is that the current foe "has to be dealt with in a very different way. The traditional ways are less relevant now."

Where many experts differ most ardently with the Bush administration's strategy is in the use of force - and specifically in the characterization of the Iraq war as the central front in the war on terror.

Bush continues to insist on that point. "Iraq is not a distraction in [the radical Islamists'] war against America," he said Tuesday, but rather "the central battlefield where this war will be decided."

Professor Bacevich disagrees, saying that "if the Bush approach had been applied in the cold war, our response would have been to invade Poland." Adds Kemp, "Where Iraq is the central front is in an intensifying battle between Shiites and Sunnis. It doesn't serve our purposes [in the battle with terrorism] to be caught in the middle of that."

Some experts say battling Islamic radicalism is so different from previous wars - and so little a military fight - that the word "war" should not be used at all. "The message the rhetoric about Iraq sends is that we still think we can win this conflict with military force, and that's simply not the case," says Charles Pena, a national security-expert with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy in Washington. He is so adamant about this point that he titled a new book "Winning the Un-War."

Aside from de-emphasizing the military response, Mr. Pena says the US has to change a "hypocritical" policy toward the Middle East that talks democracy but supports authoritarian regimes. He says, "If we don't reassess our foreign policy and deal with the root causes of what attracts so many Muslims to the radical message, it's a losing battle."

Entry #695

Comments

1.
Comment by Rip Snorter - September 9, 2006, 9:32 am
Interesting article LottoMike.

The trouble with the whole question is in the ambiguity imbedded in what 'war' is and what 'terrorism' is. If terrorism is war, any response has to be covered by all the international rules and laws we've agreed to in the past, along with the requirements in the US Constitution.

An enemy has to be specifically identified.
Congress has to define who the enemy is, what that enemy has done to cause the US to go to war. Congress has to define what that specific enemy has to do, specifically, to cause the US to cease warring.
If surrender is required the conditions of that surrender need to be outlined so the enemy and the US will be able to know when the war's over.
If the required surrender is unconditional, Congress needs to define it as such and the prez needs to be informed, along with the defined enemy, so everyone involved knows what's at stake, who needs to surrender, who they need to surrender to, and what the consequences of surrender, both to the US, and to the enemy, are.   
If terrorism is war the treatment of prisoners, the treatment of non-combattant populations, everything related are clearly defined by tradition and international accords to which the US has agreed. US troops need to be advised to the rules of engagement and who, precisely it's okay to shoot, and who they damned well best not shoot.

Almost none of this applies to the current situation, either in reality, or in the behavior of the US.

But if terrorism is merely a criminal act, there's no such animal as an enemy population. There are only individual criminals. Any individual who dies as a result of attempts to bring individual criminals to justice is analogous to, say, you or your kids getting runned over by a cop car while it's high-speed chasing some criminal through city streets.
If it's a criminal act, the criminals have rights to trials, rights to the same treatment the Constitution requires the cops and justice system to treat you or me.

Which also ain't a reflection of the way it's being treated, terrorism, by the US.

Major problem. Trying to fly it by the seat of his pants, there's no right way for the prez to behave, nor for the generals, nor for the troops. This is a problem for public scrutiny and discourse. A problem for Congress. It's the only way it can be resolved legally, which is not going to happen because the Congress only knows how to lie down and play dead on hard issues, and the prez is addicted to trying to be a king, flying by the seat of his pants.

J


2.
Comment by Rip Snorter - September 9, 2006, 9:50 am
Sorry LottoMike. I got so absorbed thinking about the briar-patch I used your blog to try to untangle my thoughts from the thorns.
My apologies.
J
3.
konaneComment by konane - September 9, 2006, 11:04 am
No confusion in my book. Radical Islam, al Qaida and others sprang from the Moslem Brotherhood which is directly descended from Hitler's Nazis. They simply have beards, blow themselves up, and have retained a mandate to kill anyone who is not one of them .... which means us.

That's a declaration of war from their nation of Radical-Islam .... as Islam itself shows absolutely no distinction between religion and state. They are as one.

That's why we are in so many nations fighting it.

"The Muslim Brotherhood,
The Nazis and Al-Qa'ida"
From a speech by John Loftus (former US Justice Department prosecutor)

http://nexusmagazine.com/articles/Fascist%20Roots%20of%20Al-Qaeda.html
4.
Comment by Rip Snorter - September 9, 2006, 11:56 am
Konane:

So, are they criminals, to be afforded the Constitutional rights of criminals and delt with as a criminal justice problem? If so, precisely who are the criminals? Radical Islam entirely?

Or are we at war, confined to the rules of war we've agreed to abide by? If so, with whom are we at war? Who is the enemy? What are the conditions of surrender, by whom, and to whom? What are the rules of engagement our troops are required to abide by? How do we know when the war's won, or lost? How are they to know how to go about ending it?

Kill them all and let God sort it out?

J
5.
csfbComment by csfb - September 9, 2006, 2:12 pm
Ahhh. The wisdom of man, foolishness to God. God who? Whose God?
6.
Comment by Rip Snorter - September 9, 2006, 3:57 pm
csfb:

Whose God?

Short-term, the God with the heaviest artillery and the most foolish leaders, the most flighty, shallow-valued, arrogant population.

Long-Term? The God with the longest memories and the most smouldering, seething anger.

The short-term God's gift is in the victory parade. The long-term God's gifts show themselves in funeral marches for a long time to come.

The poor old Jews are still paying for killing Jesus. I doubt Islamic memories are shorter than Christian ones proved to be.

Jack

7.
csfbComment by csfb - September 9, 2006, 6:21 pm
Oh my, Jack. It will take me a long, long time to understand what you are saying.

Meanwhile, can we just get along?
8.
TenajComment by Tenaj - September 9, 2006, 10:09 pm
I'm glad to see political content in blogs that state a different opinion on what's been normally presented and hailed supreme from George W. supporters. Even though I don't believe in Ron L. Hubbard's Scientology, I'm not so ignorant to dismiss every thing a writer would say from the Christian Science Monitor.

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