The vagueness of the "war on terror" is easily
the greatest known-but-hardly-reported scandal of the Bush administration. Words
like "terror," "terrorism," and "terrorist" have no singular definitions,
and Team Bush has added to the confusion with uses that conflict with official
U.S. policy. For instance, the
State Department's definition of "terrorism" excludes acts committed by governments,
yet U.S. President
George W. Bush and Vice
President Dick Cheney have both talked about "terrorist states."
This is hardly a smart way to fight a war if the goal is victory. A defined
enemy is necessary, even if that definition changes as events and information
warrant. If you don't know whom you are fighting, how can you possibly know
when you have beaten them? However, if the goal is an all-purpose excuse for
various wars, the vagueness of "war on terror" makes perfect sense. As a warblogger
might say, "It's
not a bug, it's a feature!"
Thor Halvorssen's recent Weekly Standard piece on "[Venezuelan President]
Chavez's ongoing support of terrorism" illustrates this point well. Whereas
even the majority of the most dedicated supporters of the "war on terror" likely
view al-Qaeda as the most dangerous terrorist group, Halvorssen tells us that
this honor goes to the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and that the Colombian government's
victory over this group is "unlikely" as long as Chavez
supports them. FARC, Halvorssen tells us, has even killed Americans who were
in Colombia, which apparently makes them a "threat" to the U.S.
Halvorssen's argument might have the smallest bit of merit if the events in
Colombia were not significantly different from what he describes. FARC is a
group involved in a long-running
civil war in Colombia, and it dates
back to 1964. The
group's history is rooted in both the politics of Colombia and the Marxist guerilla
movements of the 20th century, so it is hardly the creation of Chavez. The
government of Colombia has a long history of human
rights abuses, which didn't stop the U.S. from exporting hundreds
of millions of dollars' worth of weapons to the Colombian government between
1989 and 1999. Since
2000, the U.S. has spent over $3 billion on "Plan Colombia," a program intended,
in the name of battling narcotics, to help the Colombian government fight, among
other things, FARC.
One needn't be a supporter of FARC to see that the U.S. government has taken
sides against the rebels. Naturally, FARC does not look kindly on the U.S.,
yet there is no information indicating that FARC seeks to attack U.S. civilians.
Quite simply, there is no reason to think they are a "terrorist" threat to the
But logic and evidence are rarely taken into consideration by supporters of
the "war on terror" when they write in places like The Weekly Standard.
Largely because of such writers, the idea that Saddam Hussein's now-deposed
government was a "threat" to the U.S. is a given in most popular discussions,
even though the facts indicate otherwise. Halvorssen apparently wants to make
a similar "threat" out of Chavez's government, as he ends the piece with a call
for the State Department to get tough.
This is undoubtedly connected to the hawks' desire
for the State Department to become more interventionist under new chief Condoleezza
Rice than it was under Colin Powell. What would broader intervention in Colombia
and Venezuela entail? As stated above, the U.S. already aids
the government of Colombia. The U.S. has also kept its eye on Chavez's government
in Venezuela. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center
for Economic and Policy Research laid out clearly in a Dec.
8, 2004 piece, the Bush administration had foreknowledge of a 2002 coup
attempt against Chavez and gave rhetorical support to the architects of the
coup, which eventually failed. (How overthrowing the democratically
elected Chavez fits in with Bush's
supposed love of democracy is unclear. Perhaps it falls under the Musharraf
In a Dec.
29, 2004 ZNet article, Sohan Sharma and Surinder Kumar put forward the idea
that the U.S. is using Colombia as a proxy for overthrowing the government of
its neighbor to the east. The advantage to this approach is that the U.S. could
claim to be "hands off" while both rearranging Venezuela's economy and
political culture and avoiding the heavy military and political costs of an
outright invasion. Ironically, the Bush administration could claim that U.S.
military overextension in Afghanistan and Iraq is the reason it can do nothing
about the situation in Venezuela.
Of course, this type of behavior didn't begin with the Bush administration's
"war on terror," but this concept of war does provide an easy all-purpose justification
for conflicts that would otherwise need individual justifications. (The real
motivations – economic, ideological, and political – are not spoken in public,
of course.) Venezuela can be a "terrorist state" because practically anything
can be "terrorist" when there is no definition of the word other than what the
Bush administration offers at the moment.
Those opposed to the broad nature of the "war on terror" would be wise to spend
less time debating the merits of particular actions and more time refuting the
overall concept. It is war without end.