TCS Daily


GWOT, RIP

By Alan W. Dowd - March 31, 2009 12:00 AM

With little fanfare—in fact, it was kept quiet for many weeks—President Barack Obama discreetly returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the British government soon after his inauguration. During his predecessor's administration, the statue rested in an honored place near the president's desk—a powerful symbol that the nation was at war. Its removal and absence are equally potent symbols.

We can read too much into symbolism and metaphors, to be sure, but Obama is someone who believes in the power of symbols. Indeed, his campaign was as much about branding and marketing as it was about policy. Moreover, he presents himself as a symbol of change, his biography a reflection of America itself: He reminds us that his father was "born and raised in a small village in Kenya," his mother "on the other side of the world, in Kansas." His grandfather "signed up for duty, joined Patton's army, marched across Europe."

In short, Obama knows symbols can say more than words. Thus, the unceremonious removal of Churchill's likeness speaks volumes. It was Obama's wordless way of saying that America's war on terror, at least as the previous administration conceived it, is over.

Some will applaud this development, especially our allies in Europe, most of whom were never comfortable with the "war on terror" phraseology. Likewise, a healthy portion of America didn't care for the Bush administration's martial language, as evidenced by the House Armed Services Committee's decree—soon after Democrats won back Congress—banning the use by committee staff of phrases such as "Global War on Terror" or "The Long War."

In some cases, this was a function of discomfort with war itself. After all, today's Europe, as Robert Kagan has written, largely embraces a postmodern, post-heroic, postwar worldview. And the American Left has viewed war as the "real" enemy at least since the 1960s.

In other instances, resistance to the term Global War on Terror (GWOT) was a function of etymology. We cannot defeat "terrorism," the critics argued, because it is a condition or method. Hence, a war on terrorism is a misnomer at best and would be futile at worst.

Of course, as historian John Lewis Gaddis has suggested, the civilized world has, in the past, defeated, marginalized or consigned to history uncivilized behavior and methods. In other words, a war on terror is no more or less futile than a war on slavery or a war on piracy.

Truth be told, the Bush administration itself struggled with what to call its post-9/11 campaign of campaigns—an indication of the postmodern, diffuse nature of the enemy and of a conflict that began long before 2001. Almost three years after 9/11, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used one of his "snowflake memos" to openly ask, "Are we fighting a Global War on Terror? Or are we witnessing a global civil war within the Muslim religion...Or are we engaged in a global insurgency by a minority of radical Muslims?"

The answer to each question was—and still is—yes. But the new president promised change, and he is making good on his promises:

  • Obama has ordered the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. A presidential taskforce is scrambling to determine what will become of its residents; it has less than year to come up with a plan. Of the estimated 245 detainees at GITMO today, the Pentagon says 110 "should never be released because of the potential danger they pose to U.S. interests," according to a Reuters report. It's worth noting that of the hundreds of detainees that have cycled through GITMO since 2002, 61 have returned to their global jihad, according to the Pentagon. In fact, one former GITMO inmate—a terrorist released in 2007 into a Saudi rehabilitation program—is now second in command of al Qaeda in Yemen. That branch of al Qaeda has been very active of late, launching an attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen last fall. In other words, the risks of closing down GITMO—the prospect of terrorists being set free by foreign governments or U.S. prison populations being radicalized by jihadist inmates—are not insignificant.

  • In Iraq, Obama has gazed into the future and determined that August 21, 2010, will serve not as D-Day or V-I Day, but E-Day—the date "our combat mission in Iraq will end." He plans to remove all US forces from Iraq by 2011. The debate over the necessity of going to war in Iraq—and whether Iraq was a part of the war on terror or a distraction from it—will rage for decades. But even many critics of the Iraq war concede that it became a part of the wider war on terror; hence, many worry about withdrawing according to a political rather than strategic timetable.

  • Finally, Obama promises "principled and sustained engagement" with perhaps the two most active state sponsors of terrorism on earth: Iran and Syria. One can hardly blame him for trying. After all, isolation did not work, as the past eight years remind us. Of course, engagement didn't work, either, as the first Bush administration and Clinton administration can attest vis-à-vis Syria, and as Europe can attest vis-à-vis Iran.

Congressional leaders are getting the hint. As The Hill has reported, Rep. Barney Frank wants to cut a staggering 25 percent from the Pentagon's budget. The "savings" will come from disengagement in Iraq and elimination of or cutbacks to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, submarine programs, nuclear forces and missile defense. To grasp the enormity of this, just consider how Frank and his ideological brethren would have reacted to a proposal by, say, Rumsfeld to increase the defense budget by 25 percent.

To be sure, one can still find faint traces of the war on terror in isolated corners of the Obama administration: Missile strikes by American unmanned aerial vehicles against Taliban and al Qaeda targets in the ungoverned reaches of Pakistan have grown in intensity under the Obama administration, to the point that this aspect of what was once the GWOT has been dubbed the "drone war." Likewise, there is continuity with the Bush administration's plans for an "Afghan surge." In addition, CIA Director Leon Panetta recently conceded, "There's no question this is a war." His boss and the White House, on the other hand, take pains not to use that word.

So we can quibble about what to call the thing we're in the midst of—a global war on terror, "a long, twilight struggle," a civil war within Islam, a global guerilla war, a reckoning, a worldwide police action, the long war, the away game (as American troops call it)—but one thing is beyond debate: The enemy believes he is at war with us. As al Qaeda's leadership has vowed, their goal—and that of their kindred movements—is to wage war against the secular countries of the Islamic world and to establish sharia law across vast stretches of the planet. The United States and a handful of other countries stand in their way, and the consequences are on display in Manhattan and Madrid, Bali and Beslan, Iraq and Israel, Waziristan and Washington, London and Lebanon.

If the enemy's words don't convince us that we are at war, his actions should.


Alan W. Dowd is a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute.

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18 Comments

Churchill insult
Apparently Obama also insulted the UK PM Brown in a few other ways as well when he was in the US recently. Not that this unelected leader doesn't deserve such insult, but it's for sure all other honchos in the EU will have noticed it. I don't think they'll be as embarassingly slobbering in their love affair for him as they were previously.

He'll sell out our allies soon, too
He's already sold out the Poles and Czechs, who stuck their necks out to build the radar system for the BMD despite some real harassment from the Russians.

He'll sell out Israel.

He'll sell out Taiwan.

This isn't about a damn statue, folks.

The left will only sell out useful allies
The left loves allies who maintain no real military capability and are useless to the defense of our vital interests. In contrast, the left hates allies who maintain rubust military capabilities.

The left even loves that portion of our own military that serves a comic opera function, such as appearing heavily bemedalled at the huge NATO headquarters in Europe.

It's not just that Obama's father was from Kenya
All blacks, Asians, Muslims, etc. justifiably have a bit of a right to be ambivalent about Churchill; although Obama should have more historical perspective than most people given his education.

Churchill was a product of his times and his class, very Kiplingesque to the end of his life, in his attitudes about the empire. The White Man's burden and all that. The fact that in many of the colonies chaos and strife followed close on independence, as Churchill expected - 'the wogs are not ready' is probably a fair appraisal of his attitude as the empire broke up - has to add to the ambivalence about him.

This issue came peripherally to my mind yesterday when I read on Commentary that Queen Elizabeth presented the Obamas with a framed picture of herself and her husband, "as she does with all official visitors." That very act, which would be narcicissistic in the extreme for anyone else, harkens back to the days when tribal chiefs were considered to be desperate for a photo of the monarch to hang on the walls of their thatched huts. Elizabeth herself is a product, only slightly more modern than Churchill, of those days of the Raj

as american
Yeah, and remember why they said he changed his name from 'Barry', as he was known before, to barak; Barry sounded too American.
He probably also has a chip on his shoulder since he's a half-caste.

So why DID Obama return the bust?
It would be impossible to read the thoughts that went through his head. But sufficient to say, Winston Churchill was far from being an apt inspiration to any resident of the White House. Plainly put, the man was a bloodthirsty bas tard.

There was that matter of his gassing and machine gunning the Kurds in WW One, to gain control of Kirkuk's oil fields. But they were just little brown guys. It may be that BHO was more exercised over the sinking of the Lusitania.

History mentions to us that as the Lusitania (carrying a shipment of military ordnance destined for Britain, thus making it a legitimate military target, as the Germans were aware) was entering an area known to be patrolled by fifteen German U-boats, it was our dear Winston who called off its destroyer escort. The inevitable then happened, and when the munitions in the hold blew up, a horrifying number of American lives were lost.

This act provided precisely that outrage that pushed a reluctant US public into supporting our ultimate entry into WW One.

In BHO's place, I think I would have returned the bust also.

both are militarists
It is ironic because both are militarists. We notice that Obama also approves of foreign military adventures because he is creasing overseas troop levels.
If he wasn't he could have the troops out in the same amount of days it took to get them there.
Indeed, even re gitmo, he just said they close the detention center there, not the whole base.
What about there 700 or so other foreign bases?

In fact they are
I'm a little surprised to see you make this comment. I agree with everything you're saying.

Obama has made it clear he wants to close Gitmo.. because popular sentiment goes against having it open. But he still plans to incarcerate the prisoners elsewhere. So it's just a symbolic change. Of course he does suggest we try the prisoners in real courts.

And he's increasing troop levels. Plus, he's increasing funding of the armed forces and arms systems purchases. So both the Pentagon and the contracting world are really pleased with him.

But most significantly, the first thing he did, only days into office, was to step up bombing villages in Pakistan's tribal territories. And nothing else he could possibly do would guarantee that the GWOT be escalated and perpetuated, throughout his term and beyond.

surprised?
Why surprised? I'm consistently anti-militarist.
But re gitmo, I've never heard that he wants to close it down, but just the detention center. I just heard him say that a couple of days ago in eu.

Also, it's the military and other such goons in costume that hold up the rapacious government. Old guys like Robert Byrd, and stru Thurman, and Edward Kennedy, Barney Frank, can't make us do anything because they are mostly decrepid old foggies with no strengh. The only thing they can do is steal money from us to pay for the goons in costume to force us to their will.

I love the way to relay on unproven theory as fact
1. There is still no evidence to show the Lusitania was carrying any weapons or explosives. It is pure speculation based on the account of survivors which mentions a second explosion. There are several possibilities from a second torpedo to explosives in the cargo to the boilers going up just to name a few possibilities.

2. The Churchill connection was tennuous as best and has also never been anything more than pure speculation. He wasn't Prime Minister at the time and was at the end of his tenure as the head of the Admiralty. Like all good conspiracies, there is just enough circumstantial evidence to convict him in the minds of those inclined to believe in such fairytales. He may very well have been involved just as you say, but there is simply no proof of such orders or such involvement. If he was involved he covered his tracks very well indeed!

Finally, it was Churchill's unwavering leadership during WWII that Bush admired and was the reason he displayed the bust as he did. Agree or disagree with Churchill's legacy in the U.K. and the world, sending the bust back so uncermoniously is a slap in the face for America's closest ally; bad form old boy!

A classic provocation
There are in fact mountains of evidence from every kind of source indicating that the Lusitania was in fact carrying munitions. I don't want to spend a lot of time researching this comment, so I'll just go from memory.

Cunard built the liner on contract with the British Admiralty. It was designed for quick conversion to wartime use and had huge holds below decks, unusual for a passenger liner.

A manifest lists the type and tonnage of the weapons being shipped. We have that manifest.

ALL survivors mention a small explosion followed by a very much larger one. The hull in that area, away from the engine room, was blown outward.

A survivor from the engine room was able to escape. He says the engine room was undamaged.

Shortly before the event, the German government placed an ad to be run in a large number of US newspapers, warning that the Lusitania was to be considered a military target, and advising that passengers not board the vessel. This ad was then pulled prior to publication, except for a single paper that ran it. I have seen the ad.

No matter how much proof can be unearthed, there will always be some who demand more. If the gun is still smoking, it could have been from anything. Someone will concoct the theory that the smoke is actually from a small fire way off in the background.. and that it only appears to be coming from the gun. They will even provide a carefully reasoned mathematical "proof".

Churchill was in fact a bloodthirsty b---d who cared nothing for human life, so long as the interests of empire were served. His entire career goes to that interpretation. But the plot would not have been his alone. There were others, in the United States, who had reasons of their own to bring the nation into the war.

There was a LOT of money riding on the outcome. So I would look to the money in this instance. And I would use independent sources to piece the tale together.

As you suggest, the fingerprints have mostly been carefully wiped clean.

Me? I would have sent the bust back. Churchill was an odious person, one I would not want looking over my shoulder as I was trying to think through the problems of the world.

No Subject
"Plainly put, the man was a bloodthirsty *******."

What a monumental slander.

Anyone who has bothered to learn history knows that Winston Churchill was the lion who from force of will and brilliant, brilliant oratory, held Western civilization together during the darkest days of World War II. His battles against appeasement, his organization of the Alliance, his inspiring speeches during the Battle of Britain, made him the heart and soul of the successful battle against National Socialism.

He was also one of the key promoters and organizers of the United Nations after the war, and expressed feverently his hope that this organization would prevent future wars like the world had just gone through.

But Roy and his fellow leftists hate and despise Winston Churchill for the same reasons their cousins in National Socialism did - he was for human freedom and against human slavery.

No doubt Roy will applaud wildly when his hero Obama puts up a bust of Stanley Baldwin in place of Winston Churchill. Not Neville Chamberlain, who unlike Roy and his fellow travelers, DID learn from history (his own), and from his seat in Parliament after being replaced as Prime Minister, supported completely Winston Churchill and the defense of the West against National Socialism.

Roy, you are truly despicable.

Winston Churchill
There's no doubt at all the WC was a very talented guy.
But that doesn't detract from the fact that this aristocrat was a life-long supporter of British imperialism. He didn't just start out as some hero defending the UK from *****, but started out as a soldier and fought very early in his life way back to about to 1895 or so, to defend and expand an empire based of force.
Even during the nazi time, the UK could have chosen to be neutral like Sweden and Switzerland and others in Europe, but it chose to fight because England likes fighting, based on its history of doing it all the time.
So guys like WC, and Patton, and ghengis khan, and Alexander the Great, and Napoleon are heros only to people who like militarism and imperialism.

Realpolitik
"But Roy and his fellow leftists hate and despise Winston Churchill for the same reasons their cousins in National Socialism did - he was for human freedom and against human slavery."

A stirring response. But no, the reason we should all despise Winston Churchill is that his policy on captive peoples in places he wanted to subjugate was identical to the one employed by Hitler.

He bombed villages, used poison gas and machine gunned peasants en masse, in areas known to have oil deposits or strategic value. "Anyone who has bothered to learn history" would know that.

Similarly he gratuitously resorted to violence against German civilians, in campaigns with no tactical significance. The paradigmatic example would be the bombing of Dresden, after the Third Reich was already all but lost. And in fact throughout WW Two, civilian populations were considered a target. This, I believe, is the very definition of the word "terrorist".

I can find no trace of any concern for the Jews of Europe during the period when Winston was in charge. And in fact if you look at the entirety of WW Two from the point of view of Europe's noncombatant population, what we had was three wolves-- Hitler, Stalin and Churchill-- fighting over the body of the continent. The two victors, with Hitler vanquished, got to divide it up.. NATO vs the Soviet Bloc.

Had Churchill really wanted to avoid the coming war he could have done so back in 1940. The Finns, on skis, were able to thwart a greatly superior Soviet force (in numbers), and captured over a million hungry, poorly clothed prisoners. These men told Churchill's British adjutants that if they could be armed and fed, they would go back into Russia and defeat the Communists, setting up a government favorable to the West.

The offer was declined without comment. What followed is history.

Or, we could discuss the manner in which Britain handed back two million ex-Soviet Army prisoners to Stalin at the close of the war. To their certain deaths, as presumed collaborators.

To you I may be "truly despicable". But I do have my facts straight. Brother Winston was responsible for many, many needless deaths, owing to his unseemly zeal for war and destruction in the service of conquest.

realpolitik and WC
That's right, and WC certainly was no advocate for freedom as that guy above said.

WC was about the last of the big lions of the UK in terms of their record of imperialism. There was no good reason for England to go to war in any of those instances during the life of churchill; none were defensive, but all aggresive.

Had he been around and used his considerable skills when the romans invaded, then in 1066 when the normans also did; then I would have applauded him.

Surprising, how you and I...
...can occasionally agree on something.

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