Monday, August 29, 2005

A different war

The mystery continues: what is it? What do we do about whatever it is that we should do something about?

Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in The New Yorker:
Yes, it's a different type of war. But a lot depends on what the meaning of "it" is. In the nineteen-forties and, Korea notwithstanding, the nineteen-fifties, "it" -- "the war" -- was the Second World War. By the end of the nineteen-sixties, "the war" meant Vietnam. But what does "the war" mean now? Sometimes it means what the Administration styles the Global War on Terror, a metaphor that has occasionally discomfited some of its own officials. (This summer, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld floated "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" -- a more accurate term, and less flattering to terrorists, which was immediately shot down by the President.) Sometimes it means the war in Iraq, which is or is not part of the larger struggle, depending on how (and when) one looks at it....

Last week, even as Bush was taking a break from his vacation to denounce "immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East" as a step that "would only embolden the terrorists," the Financial Times was reporting details of the Pentagon's plans "to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next twelve months." The chilling truth is that no one really knows what to do. No one knows whether the consequences of withdrawal, quick or slow, would be worse or better -- for Iraq and for the "war on terror" of which, willy-nilly, it has become a part -- than the consequences of "staying the course." It is a matter of judgment, and the judgment that will count, more chilling still, is that of George W. Bush.

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