President Obama says, "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us." There's some wisdom there. I never much liked the word "terrorism" because terrorism is a technique, not a worldview. If North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile at us, we would not respond by declaring war on ICBMs, but on North Korea. If al-Qaeda had a standing army, we'd still be at war with al-Qaeda, not standing armies.
But finding more palatable terms for this war will no more end it than defining manure as a sweet-smelling flower will change the odor. After five years of using methods he now condemns, the president now says the global war on terror is in effect over and what must replace it is a planet-wide battle on terrorist networks. That's an interesting distinction. As military analyst Bing West writes, "English translation: The war on Islamic terrorists is not boundless, but it does encircle the globe." No doubt the Americans -- and jihadists -- doing the fighting will not notice much of a change.
A lot remains unknown about what Obama actually intends to do -- or will be able to accomplish regardless of his intentions. He is very fond, at least rhetorically, of treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue. If we aren't attacked for a while, his new approach will seem wise. If we are attacked, it will seem like folly.
And that's basically the point. We know that there are plenty of Islamists eager to murder Westerners, even cut off our heads in broad daylight. No one doubts that they'd use something more lethal than a rusty machete if given the opportunity. And so the success or failure of Obama's grand strategic vision depends entirely on what our enemies do next. That's because they get a vote, and they vote "nay."
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