A few days ago, Nile Gardiner of the Telegraph (U.K.) took Vice President Biden and the Obama Administration to task for abandoning the “War on Terror” metaphor. It’s empty‐headed, fear‐based pap.
President Obama’s decision to abandon the phrase “war on terror” sends the wrong signal to al‐Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists groups. America and her allies are engaged in a long‐term global war against a vicious enemy that seeks the free world’s destruction, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or in the cities of Europe and the United States. This is hardly the time to be engaging in a cynical PR exercise which will only serve to soften America’s image in the eyes of its worst enemies.
The relevant audience is not al Qaeda and terrorists groups. It’s the people near them ideologically and physically. These people are deciding whether or not to join them or support them.
Communicating that the United States is war‐mongering and fearful of al Qaeda makes us look bad to these audiences, and it makes al Qaeda look like a worthy opponent of ours. We could do terrorism no better favor than continuing to claim a “war” on terror featuring al Qaeda.
Gardiner also seems to have no grasp — perhaps no awareness that he should have a grasp — of the actual goals and capabilities of al Qaeda or anyone using the name. Most terrorists don’t “seek the free world’s destruction.” The ones who say they do just … might … be trying to terrorize! What a concept. They have about the same chance of succeeding as I do of earning $1 billion by publishing this post. Terrorists might occassionally succeed with an attack, but exaggerated fears of terrorism will drive us to do much worse to ourselves year over year than the sporadic attack could ever accomplish.
Is dropping “war on terror” a “cynical PR exercise”? No. It’s a hard‐headed, strategically sound PR exercise — again, to bring terrorists’ ideological and physical neighbors toward our side.
Sound counterterrorism strategy thinking was on full display at our recent conference on counterterrorism strategy. Video and audio recordings of every panel are available for download. Perhaps Mr. Gardiner can review the proceedings on his home computer while he launders his shorts.