Gideon Rachman agrees with Peter Beinart that the “war on terror” should come to an end.
This is not the same as saying that the US and Europe can now stop worrying about terrorism. The west will need a serious counter-terrorism policy for many years to come. But the Bush-inspired drive to make terrorism the centrepiece of US foreign policy was a mistake. The declaration of a “Global War on Terror” distorted American foreign policy and led directly to two wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war on terror has guzzled billions of dollars in wasteful spending and spawned a huge and secretive bureaucracy in Washington. The death of bin Laden gives President Barack Obama the cover he needs to start quietly unwinding some of these mistakes.
Gideon is always interesting and persuasive, and I agree with much of what he says, but again I want to distinguish between “war on terror” as terminology and “war on terror” as substance. My view on terminology is, what’s in a name? War on terror. War on drugs. War on want. War on poverty. Politicians are constantly declaring war on things. It doesn’t commit you to anything. It just sounds urgent and grave. Sometimes, it is right to sound urgent and grave. Sometimes, a politician has no choice but to.