A terrific post from John Dean (although I confess to being a tad miffed that somehow has already been using Thucydides account'--'and words changed their ordinary meanings'--in connection with the present mess; this was supposed to set the framework for a book I'm thinking of constructing out of some of my essays that I want to title Present Values. Oh well. I can still use it. Thucydides isn't exactly new.
Link: FindLaw's Writ - Dean: Why Are We Suddenly At War With "Islamic Fascists"? A Neologism that Signals a Change in Strategy As Elections Near. (read the whole thing, only excerpts here)
The latest orchestrated war-speak from Bush Administration officials, as they ramp up their oratory for the mid-term election, has recast Islamic militants and terrorists as "Islamic fascists." Thus, as we approach the five-year mark since terrorists attacked Americans on our own soil, the Administration is redefining the enemy - once again.
Just as the enemy the Bush Administration is fighting has changed often, so too have the reasons for going to war in Iraq -- from phantom weapons of mass destruction, to implanting democracy that will flower in the Middle East, to the conflation of the war on terror with the occupation of Iraq, and now, to the need to keep fighting in Iraq so that terrorists won't follow American troops home.
The Administration, meanwhile, has been equally confused when it comes to identifying the enemy. Once it was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. But as bin Laden remained at large, it became embarrassing to identify him as the enemy. Then it was simply "terrorists," but, as Newsweek explains, that label did not work because the White House wanted "a single clean phrase that could both define the foe and reassure Americans who were confused by a conflict that had grown much bigger than Osama bin Laden." For a while the Administration tried "Islamism," but that struck many as a war on another religion. They rejected "jihadism," because the term does not always mean bloodshed.
Bill Maher, who always cuts to the core, believes that one of the reasons the news media buy the Bush Administration's stories about Iraq and the Middle East is that "because like everybody else, even the U.S. military, the [media] don't know whom we're fighting" - but only that "we're fighting bad people."
Calling the enemy "Islamic fascists" provides no help.
Katha Pollitt in explaining why the term is only going to create more enemies for America in the Islamic world, traced its use back to 1990, "when the writer and historian Malise Ruthven used 'Islamo-fascism' in the London Independent to describe the authoritarian governments of the Muslim world." She notes that, after 9/11, the term was picked up by neocons and pro-war pundits "to describe a broad swath of Muslim bad guys from Osama to the mullahs of Iran."
The term appears "analytic," Pollitt explains, "but really it's an emotional one, intended to get us to think less and fear more. It presents the bewildering politics of the Muslim world as a simple matter of Us versus Them." That, of course, is why it is being employed, although Pollitt does not think it "will win back the socially liberal 'security moms' who voted for Bush in 2004 but have recently been moving toward the Democrats." Nonetheless, "the word is already getting a big reaction in the Muslim world." Muslims of all persuasions are offended by it, including our friends and allies.
Pat Buchanan, who addresses the term from the opposite end of the political spectrum, notes that "there is no consensus as to what 'fascism' even means," and observes that Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institution asserts that "fascism ... has no intellectual basis; its founders did not even pretend to have any."
Buchanan says that using this term "represents the same lazy, shallow thinking that got us into Iraq, where Americans were persuaded that by dumping over Saddam, we were avenging 9/11." Buchanan believes that unless the Bush folks actually want a war of civilizations, he should drop this term, because it is deeply offensive to peaceful Muslims.
In short, adoption of this latest description of the enemy represents more fuzzy thinking; it is another effort to employ fear for political purposes; and it is an action inherent with potential unintended consequences. This, of course, has been the norm for Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy. Word games, from "bring 'em on," to "shock and awe," to "mission accomplished" have been employed to effect a continuing distortion of reality.
The Consequences of Using Word Games In War
Blumenthal -- who draws deeply from history to make his points, when writing about Bush's name games -- quotes Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War: "The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man."
Thucydides, considered the first coldly objective historian, was referring to the conduct of the Athenians. The words, though, have a distinctly modern ring.
In short, there is nothing new in Bush's term-twisting. But it should also be noted that the Athenians lost the war, just as have other war leaders who distorted language to fool their people, from Napoleon to Hitler and Stalin. Our own leaders who have distorted the truth have failed as well -- as the fates of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon made perfectly clear. And public candor serves both leaders and nations well, as Winston Churchill and Harry Truman proved.
It is, however, too soon to know if the Bush Administration can again play the American voters for fools, and deceive just enough of them to squeak out another victory at the polls. That answer will have to await the results of November 7's voting.