One phrase can divide an entire country, one phrase can circumvent 800 years of law, one phrase can justify the horrific, condone the illegal, and bankrupt a nation, both financially and morally. One phrase can kill.
Of the thousands of nefarious actions to emerge from the Bush administration, it is astounding to realize that at the root of the abuse of power, at the very embryo of the fires of destruction – was a deceptively simple enabler, a basic four word slogan that opened all doors before it and paved the way for the misery and misconduct that followed: The War on Terror.
This vague, and yet all encompassing phrase, was first used by President Bush on Sept. 20, 2001, in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, and from that moment forward it became root force behind the staggering orgy of lawbreaking that followed.
The War on Terror, an endlessly versatile tool, succeeded as no other political campaign has before, in throwing a blanket of legitimacy and justification over all questionable Bush administration policies, military activities, intelligence gathering, detention practices and sequestering of information.
By emphasizing the imperative need to wage an all-out war against a nebulous, and yet fearsome threat, this shamelessly propagandist slogan instantly placed the United States on a permanent, and yet conveniently hazy, war footing.
In the name of “protecting America,” those in positions of power were suddenly given a sweeping carte blanche to commit grave and destructive violations against our Constitution with impunity.
A staggering range of government actions, previously considered illegal, became not only permissible in The War on Terror, but imperative. The unrestrained ability to wage pre-emptive war, to torture, to endlessly confine "enemy combatants,” to sequester evidence of wrong doing, all were now vital in protecting our national security.
The simple phrase War on Terror cleverly masked an ideology that allowed the Bush administration to alter the very definition of war. As a fight against a tactic, rather than a defined enemy, a War on Terror could continue endlessly, be waged anywhere, and need not articulate specific goals, strategies, limits, parameters or even enemies.
A perfect storm of unrestrained power and hubris.
The vital question is: Will The War on Terror framework become the permanent defensive footing for our nation going forward?
Will George W. Bush’s legacy turn out to be an everlasting adoption of a phrase that endlessly justifies an ongoing drain on our nation’s purse strings for weapons, occupations, and invasions, for unending expenditure outside of our nation, rather than within it?
President-Elect Obama , Vice President-Elect Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, our new Secretary of State, already seem to have adopted George Bush’s rhetoric, referring to Afghanistan as "The Central Front in the War on Terror.”
Which among them has the courage to state the truth to the American People. That there is no War on Terror because terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology or institution. That George Bush has given the American people the false impression that we are fighting a unified enemy rather than separate groups with different motivations. That terrorism must be fought as a police action against specific criminals not a war action against invisible enemies.
As we drag our nation, gasping, to the end of the most reckless and destructive administration in our history, shouldn’t the phrase The War on Terror, this twisted brain child of the Bush Presidency suffer the
same death at the hands of Barack Obama as Bush’s failed policies?
On Jan. 31, 2008, Barack Obama said:
“I don't want to just end the [Iraq] war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place. That's the kind of leadership that I think we need from the next president of the United States. That's what
I intend to provide.”
The time for President Obama to start providing that leadership is now. If the new administration truly intends to ”end the mindset what got us into this war in the first place,” a total rejection Bush’s shameful and misleading War on Terror mantra is required.
The phrase War on Terror, or War on Terrorism should be eliminated from our national dialogue, our official speeches, our government policy, our documents, and our bills.
The United States is too great a nation to continue cleave to a disastrous president’s manipulative and immoral terminology.
George W. Bush’s words, and the damage they have inflicted upon the people of the United States and the world, should be buried along with his failed presidency.
The power of words, and the damage they can do is legendary.
The power of change and the wrongs it can right is history.
This essay originally appeared in AfterDowningStreet.org.