Democrats Must Abandon the War on Terror

I am just going to come right out and say it with the title of this piece, since it is both so obvious and something that liberal hawks, and even many liberals who would not be considered hawks, have such a difficult time understanding. Before I explain my reasons, however, I'd like to do a quick review of liberal hawk thought on "the war on terror."
Bob Graham through Veterans for Peace, May 14, 2003:"They're probably not back to the way they were before September the 11th, but they're a lot closer to that level and capability than they were a year ago," Graham said. "The war on Iraq was a distraction. It took us off the war on terror, which we were on a path to win, but now we've let it slip away from us."

The war on terrorism, launched in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, has degenerated into a manhunt for top al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Graham said. Meanwhile, "we have allowed the basic structure of al-Qaida to continue. . . . We're also finding that al-Qaida has a deep farm team and they're able to replace those who are killed or detained."

Graham said he would have continued to pursue the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and moved into other countries, such as Yemen. He said al-Qaida has a presence in 30 to 40 countries, including the United States, but the extent of that presence is classified.

Graham, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terrorism is not politically motivated and noted that he made similar comments last fall before becoming a candidate.

John Judis, July 11, 2003:Dean's opposition to the war in Iraq may help him in the primary -- and has certainly helped make him a credible candidate -- but it is likely to hurt him against Bush. Even if the United States remains bogged down in Iraq, and even if popular doubts about the invasion and occupation grow, Americans are still likely to credit Bush with trying to wage a vigorous war against terror. And they will consider voting for a Democratic candidate only if they believe he can do likewise.Democratic debate, September 25th, 2003: Q: As president, what would be the least popular, most right thing you would do?

LIEBERMAN: I'm going to prosecute the war against terrorism and win it even if it's unpopular because that's here our future security rests.

Progressive Policy Institute, October 30, 2003: Too many on the left seem incapable of taking America's side in international disputes, reflexively oppose the use of force, and begrudge the resources required to keep our military strong. Viewing multilateralism as an end in itself, they lose sight of goals, such as fighting terrorism or ending gross human rights abuses, which sometimes require us to act -- if need be outside a sometimes ineffectual United Nations. And too many adopt an anti-globalization posture that would not only erode our own prosperity but also consign billions of the world's neediest people to grinding poverty. However troubling the Bush record, the pacifist and protectionist left offers no credible alternative.Wesley Clark, March 17, 2004: And I was one of those who said that the attack on Iraq was a mistake because it was a distraction from the war on terror. Now, we are still waiting to see exactly all the levels of proof that will come out of this attack on Spain. But if we operate on the assumption that this is an offshoot of al Qaeda, then you have to ask yourself, well, what's the lesson here on this? And the lesson seems to me what we have been saying all along. The military is but one part in the campaign on terror.

You cannot win the war on terror with special ops, Delta Force and stealth bombers alone.

Lieberman, June 16, 2004: Thank you to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies for sponsoring this important symposium on the future of Iraq and the war on terrorism. Through gatherings such as this one, the Foundation is helping "lead the war of ideas in the battle between freedom and totalitarianism."

Today I want to discuss the war we are waging against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and around the world, and to argue that it is fundamentally a war of ideas and a war of values, a war of conflicting visions of humans and history, of faith and country. The war on terrorism we are fighting goes to the very heart of America's national purpose and national security. Our core principles of freedom and opportunity are at stake.

Kerry Campaign Press Release, September 24, 2004: Kerry Pledges to Fight a More Effective War on Terror. Backdrop to speech:

Peter Beinart, December 2nd, 2004:

Today, three years after September 11 brought the United States face-to-face with a new totalitarian threat, liberalism has still not "been fundamentally reshaped" by the experience. On the right, a "historical re-education" has indeed occurred--replacing the isolationism of the Gingrich Congress with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might. But American liberalism, as defined by its activist organizations, remains largely what it was in the 1990s--a collection of domestic interests and concerns. On health care, gay rights, and the environment, there is a positive vision, articulated with passion. But there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda--even though totalitarian Islam has killed thousands of Americans and aims to kill millions; and even though, if it gained power, its efforts to force every aspect of life into conformity with a barbaric interpretation of Islam would reign terror upon women, religious minorities, and anyone in the Muslim world with a thirst for modernity or freedom.

When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world. In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world. As a result, the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage. Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late.

Ed Kilgore, December 29th, 2004 Now that we are past the "first-post-9/11" presidential election, and the original decision to invade Iraq is becoming less relevant to the present situation, are Democrats over the worst of their national security handicap? Can they unite around a credible and distinct message and agenda that convinces a majority of Americans they can be trusted to defend the country decisively, but more intelligently than the bellicose and unilateralist GOP?

There are real grounds for optimism here. At the level of policy elites, there's not a lot of disagreement among Democratic foreign policy thinkers about the road forward for America, even if there remain disagreements about the road that led us to Baghdad. Early this year, the DLC's think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, helped put together a manifesto entitled Progressive Internationalism that presented a tough, smart, clear foreign policy strategy for the country that was highly critical of Bush without succumbing to defeatism in the war on terror or ignoring the real differences that will continue to cause problems between the U.S., our traditional allies, and multilateral organizations. A very broad array of Democratic foreign policy gurus signed onto this document. It's probably a good first draft for Democratic unity on international issues going into the next election cycle.

We claim that Bush is not effectively fighting the war on terror. We attempt to redefine the war on terror. Sometimes, we argue that we are not taking the war on terror seriously enough. However, this all misses the main problem we, as Democrats and liberals have with the "war on terror." The problem goes something like this:
  • The War on Terror is a conservative frame. It is a phrase that was invented by Bush speechwriters after 9/11 for the sole purpose of casting the upcoming shift in foreign policy in terms that would evoke the conservative worldview in both the majority of the nation and the majority of electorate.

  • The War on Terror evokes specific conservative ideas that include, but are not limited to, all of the following: the need for continuing escalation of the size and influence of the military industrial complex; a simplistic conceptualization of identity revolving primarily around the notion of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West; a view that threats can only be countered and tamed through the use of force; justification of any United States military action overseas, whether unilateral or pre-emptive.

  • When Democrats and liberals argue that Bush is not properly conducting the war on terror, they end up supporting that frame and all of the ideas it evokes. When Democrats and liberal hawks urge their candidates and fellow party members to take the war on terror more seriously, they end up reinforcing that frame in the mind of the nation and electorate and all of the conservative ideas it carries with it. When Democrats and liberals argue that there is ore to the war on terrorism than military actions they end of enhancing the power of the "war on terror" frame in the mind of the nation and the electorate and all of the conservative ideas the frame itself reinforces.

  • That so many Democrats are not only willing, but also chomping at the bit to go along with the conservative frame of the "war on terror," is the main reason why Bush won in 2004. By repeatedly and unquestioningly reinforcing the "war on terror" frame, we aided conservatives in their goal of pushing the country decidedly into the conservative camp when it came to foreign policy. That we continue to claim that Bush is losing the war on terror, that conservatives do not understand the war on terror, or that we do not take the war on terror seriously only serves to worsen the problem. By using the frame "war on terror," we continue to reinforce the conservative ideas I listed above in the minds of the electorate and then wonder why the country keeps voting for conservatives.
The LA times exit poll showed that Bush voters were more concerned than Kerry voters on only three issues: moral values, terrorism, and taxes. Pre-election Zogby polls showed Kerry winning on nearly every single issue, except terrorism, where he was slaughtered. The problem is not, like many hawks would have us believe, that we are not taking national security and the "war on terrorism" seriously. The problem is not that we failed to successfully separate Iraq from the war on terrorism in the minds of the voters. The problem is not that we failed to produce a compelling counter-argument as to how the war on terror should be conducted. The problem is that we are gleefully going along with the conservative frame "war on terror." This is a battle we can never win, because it evokes inherently conservative ideas. Complicity with this frame will only serve to make the country more conservative, no matter what contortions and forms of hyper-cognition we engage in, and thus reduce our own chances of victory.

I'd like to make this point for the zillionth time: we can never, ever, ever beat or even come close to Republicans on the "war on terror," because the "war on terror" is an inherently conservative frame. Nominating a General will not help. Arguing for the immediate invasion of seven new countries will not help. As long as we are living in an age of two ideological coalitions, there is nothing that we can ever do that will make us appear more capable of fighting the "war on terror" to the national electorate than the conservative coalition currently appears. Our only path to victory over Republicans and conservatives in the "war on terror" is, for the love of God, to stop using the conservative frame "war on terror" and work to end the dominance the frame currently holds over our national appraisal of foreign policy.

I have argued that in order for liberals to make a compelling "national security" case, we need to do so on our own terms, rather than on conservative terms. Of course, sock puppets like From and Reed make this argument as well, but then go on an use the phrase "war on terror" four times in the next sentence. However, there are cases where liberals and progressives support international intervention and conservatives generally do not, such as preventing genocide and annexation (if you have any doubts as to what conservatives think of using the armed forces to stop genocide, go back and read the roll call on the Senate vote to authorize air strikes in Kosovo). Liberals also have a philosophy for dealing with "rogue nations" known as "containment." Further, liberals and progressives are inherently anti-totalitarian, and thus not only support the vigorous prosecution of war criminals, but also favor the support of democratic groups that work to overthrow totalitarian regimes from within. Still further, liberals have long believed in the power of humanitarian and economic aid to help people's lives and turn them away from paths of violence and authoritarianism, as demonstrated in programs such as the Peace Corps and our current position on tsunami relief.

These are the liberals and progressive views on foreign policy, and these are the ideas we need to evoke in the mind of the electorate. We will never win on these issues either by going along with the current, dominant conservative frame "war on terror," or by engaging in various contortions in an attempt to redefine what the "war on terror" means. We can only win by developing a compelling frame that evokes our ideas in the mind of the electorate, and by having that frame become dominant over the "war on terror." If we instead continue to provide linguistic support to conservative ideology, we will continue to lose as long as foreign policy remains fore grounded within the national ideological debate. As long as we are fighting a "war on terror," conservatives have already won and elections are practically foregone conclusions. We must abandon the "war on terror" immediately. That is something the Kerry's, Beinart's, Dean's, From's and Moore's of the American left all need to learn, and learn fast.

Tags: Democrats (all tags)



The Action Against Danger
O.k., maybe that's not the best new frame...

I've believed since the bombs started raining in Afghanistan that calling our response to 9/11 a Global War on Terror unnecessarily elevated those criminals who would kill innocents to the level of 'Warrior'.

That is, by calling it a war, the terrorists have become warriors.  This is not in the best interest of the United States.  I continue to think of independent, ideologically driven murderers as criminals.  And I believe that a global law enforcement response, aided by military elements, would serve our purposes better than this misguided war against a tactic.

by Screwy Hoolie 2004-12-30 11:10AM | 0 recs
that is an excellent point
and gels with what i said upthread.  i conclude the same thing:  by creating the "war on terror" frame, we've mythicised the men who "fight" it.  across the muslim world, osama bin laden has been made into some kind of god - a man to be admired and looked up to.  and look at al-zaqwari!  we made him into this huge boogeyman in iraq (while he's nasty, i've always argued that he wasn't as powerful as we made him out to be), so much so that bin laden declared him al-quaeda's man in iraq.  and now young muslim men wear osama's face on t-shirts.  how long before young iraqis start sporting al-zaqwari's face on their clothing?  and how many young men have we turned into terrorists by our actions in iraq?  i shudder to think...
by annatopia 2004-12-31 07:27AM | 0 recs
What did we call them when
they were fighting the Soviets for 8 years?
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-31 02:53PM | 0 recs
So what's the frame?
I never liked the David Frum phrase "War on Terror" or "Axis of Evil" or "Homeland Security" but then what is your alternative? I think the major problem with your agrument is that people are stupid and equally confused. If the GOP calls it the "War on Terror" and we call it "Action Against Danger" or whatever, people will wonder what we are talking about.

It is a kind of too late to reframe this. The key to start the framing when the issue first comes out.

I say call it the war against Al Qaeda. The major trouble with the war on terror as it was called was that it allowed countries like Russia to fold their anti-Chechen actions into Bush's cause to rid the world of bin Laden's followers.

Maybe the war against radical Islam or radical extremists in general, like the guys at Waco, TX Ruby Ridge, ID and behind the Okahoma City, OK bombing.

by DaveB 2004-12-30 11:23AM | 0 recs
I think that's the mistake
We can't try to come up with another phrase for War on Terror. We have to abandon it completely. Do not confuse this with run from the term either.

For example, when asked how a candidate would fight "the war on terror" rather than play in the GOP sandbox, reframe. I'm no expert, but maybe something like this:

This is a matter of perspective. It isn't about going to war, it's about keeping America safe. War is one sided, costly in both financial and human terms, and often fails to win hearts and minds needed for ultimate victory. Keeping America safe is a more flexible and open perspective to deal with an threat that might be from another state, a terror organization, or a lone bomber. War projects only America's military might. Keeping America safe projects America's hope and promise, and ultimately her greatness. In the end, projecting America's great promise of liberty and democracy will win more hearts and minds than will the point of a bayonette.

I'm no pro at this, It needs work. But something like "keeping America safe" (not safer) would be a way to counter the War on Terra war drums approach. It's a counter frame that contrasts their ham fisted one-style bomb everything approach vs. a more versital approach.

Like I said, it needs work and I'm not pro. But I hope this will work for an example.

by michael in chicago 2004-12-30 05:07PM | 0 recs
There are two aspects
First we need to redefine the actors, and then we need to redefine the action to counter them. Islamofascism and Islamic Totalitarianism are completely misleading and hysterical.

One accurate description is Muslim Extremists or Islamic Extremists. One description I like that is awkward, but probably more accurate is Bin Ladenism or Islamist Militancy, from an interview of Mike Schuer by The Jamestown Foundation. Unfortunately Schuer also describes our necessary response as a war. I'm not sure if we can change that because any descriptive verb less robust can also be described as a weak response.

Perhaps we can ridicule Bush's war as The War to Provoke Terrorism or The War to Promote Terrorism.

I was going to throw in some quotes from Schuer's interview, but it got too long. I need to turn it into a diary.

by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-30 07:36PM | 0 recs
Re: I think that's the mistake

I really like what you're saying here, not just for the reasons you mention but for other reasons as well. Specifically, because most Americans are isolationists at heart. Interventionism is really something that doesn't sit well with most Americans, especially when they see all the domestic problems that aren't being addressed. People want their streets to be safe, their houses to be safe, their workplaces to be safe, and keeping America safe is the one thing Bush failed to do on September 11. This meme also ties in with reactions to the Katrina tragedy. I don't think anyone in this country felt safer after watching the Bush administration's response to Katrina. Personally, I'm not in favor of either isolationism or interventionism, but when you consider that something like only 5% of Americans even have a passport, I think it tells you how parochial their view is of the world beyond America's shores. A focus on keeping Americans safe at home would gain a lot of traction, IMO.

by grayslady 2006-05-30 05:19AM | 0 recs
Chris, you should be working for the DNC as a professional message-disciplinarian.  Really.  You should have a rolodex with the phone number of every democratic leader, and you should be yelling at From and Reid in person.
by joshyelon 2004-12-30 11:24AM | 0 recs
You're right, but...
...what do you replace the "War on Terror" frame with? Americans understand in their gut that America is, indeed, under siege. We can debate to what degree we're under siege, but the fact remains that a murderous organization seeks to destroy our nation.

We DO need to replace the "War on Terror" frame but for the life of me I have never been able to come up with a better frame--or even one that would even be remotely credible in the eyes of the American public.

Iraq aside, are we really in a "war"? On 9/11 we were attacked--evoking a memory of Pearl Harbor and the frame of "war"--so it certainly feels like a war. The  "War on Terror" label may have been crafted by Luntzian speechwriters, but it sure as heck didn't take a focus group to come up with it, because it really was and still is the most natural frame with which to view the world--then and now. How do you fight against such a natural-feeling frame?

I'd love to hear suggestions for a frame that is both 1) appropriate for progressives and 2) acceptable to the American people.

by Beltway 2004-12-30 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: You're right, but...
War on Islamic fundamentalism.
by sam89 2004-12-30 11:48AM | 0 recs
Why limit yourself?
"War on Fundamentalism." Go for the gold!
by Mathwiz 2004-12-30 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Why limit yourself?
brilliant, this reframes the entire issue as absolutism vs relativism which STRONGLY favors the democrats.  
by inst 2004-12-30 01:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Why limit yourself?
I like: War on (any of the following)

 the right wing radical group al qaeda

 the radical religious group  al qaeda

 the right wing fascist group al qaeda

 the right wing religious fundamentalist group al qaeda

by wes wing 2004-12-30 03:52PM | 0 recs
It's a tough frame to get out of at this point...
...especially with so many prominent Democrats (who understand nothing about Lakoff) jumping into the conservative frame and even polishing it.

My nomination for an alternative would be something about a "safer America" full of "safer, more secure Americans". It plays into the pivot to economic security issues like jobs, etc. that speak to the security of families. It also evokes fire fighters and police officers rather than the military.

by redsoxkangaroo 2004-12-30 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: It's a tough frame ...
The frame "A Safer America" didn't work too well for Kerry/Edwards, and would be perceived as a reminder of a losing campaign's theme.
by rdu iconoclast 2004-12-30 02:38PM | 0 recs
Maybe it didn't work...
...because they talked about it under a banner that said WoT?

I know that doesn't necessarily meant that it would have worked if they hadn't, just that they played it poorly.

I remember seeing a billboard on the highway from Allentown to Wilkes-Barre during the campaign for Bush saying, "A stronger, more secure America." In fact, I think that's all it said.

The problem for us here is that if the Republicans own war and security and safety doesn't cut it, what's left for us? It's as though we need an aggressive frame of our own that eliminates appeasement accusations but at the same time allows us to evoke our strengths and exploit Republican weaknesses.

I just can't think of an aggressive stance that doesn't do more to affirm the Republican frame than it does to build a Democratic one.

The only thing left as far as I can tell is one that contrasts strongly with the war frame, though that starts wandering into what is, from a communications standpoint, the icky area of a "peace" frame.

by redsoxkangaroo 2004-12-30 08:36PM | 0 recs
I swear I didn't read this
prior to my comment upthread.

However, "safer" doesn't work for me. Keeping America Safe.

Still needs work even as I type it...

by michael in chicago 2004-12-30 05:10PM | 0 recs
Paging George Orwell...
"No child left behind," "War on terror," and "Axis of evil" are all vague terms that somehow come out as comforting. Sounds like they're right out of 1984.
by fedupdem 2004-12-30 11:50AM | 0 recs
What happened to Comprehensive Engagement? Containment is better than invasion but it is not a long term solution. Comprehensive Engagement is a policy that needs another look.
by Bob Brigham 2004-12-30 12:05PM | 0 recs
The crucial issue is trying to understand why...
I think that most Americans are profoundly in the dark as to why the US has been hit by terrorism. This is because of an intentional and very long-lived campaign by the right to hide the history of US interventions and whole-hearted 'exploitation' (thats really the only word that fits) by US corportate interests. (really, the US is not alone in this, this kind of behavior dates back a long time. But its clearly very wrong.)

But now, we claim that the world has supposedly changed, and so it is very hypocritical for - at the same time- the US to pretend that, say our long support for the genocidal Saddam Hussein doesn't have anything to do with today's situation in Iraq, or that our support of the torturer Shah of Iran doesn't have anything to do with  our current relationship with Iran, or that our support for fascist strongmen and mass murderers Park and Rhee doesn't have anything to do with the anti-Americanism in Korea, or that our support of ....

Get the picture?
There are many good deeds that the US has done, and it's important not to belittle them, but its also important to make clear that the history of US military and corporate interventionism and pillage is a very long and very sordid one...

Most of it has been hidden and even the parts that have come to light remain obscure and have never really been public knowledge.

So most Americans make the huge mistake of seeing each and every event out of context...which prevents us from uniting behind the steps we need to take to prevent this kind of thing from happening over and over again in the future.

I was gladdened, for example, to see a great deal of progress in the Clinton years insofar as the US actually acknowledged some of the mistakes we had made during the 70s, 80s and early 90s in Central and South America and elsewhere.. But as soon as George II got in, the door slammed shut and we have been backsliding ever since..

For example, how many Americans really beleive that we should have stayed in Vietnam and foght for another five or six years, when we already knew it was a losing battle? Not very many. But if you read the foreign policy artucles coming out of Washington right now, that seems to be the official line. "Quitting" Vietnam was to them, a mistake.

Its a very vengeful and stupid approach, one that historically, has gotten countries in a lot of trouble..

by ultraworld 2004-12-30 12:13PM | 0 recs
the truth of the cockroach
Let's acknowledge reality, that is when we leave Iraq like this, we'll have to go back in there within six months.

We tore the house down because we said it was infested with cockroaches.  
We didn't find any cockroaches.
While we stand there holding our dicks and scratching our heads, all the real cockroaches from the neighborhood convene on this torn down house.  So, if we leave it, we leave it with a serious infestation problem.  And eventually the cockroaches have free reign on this land and they evolve and have another place to plan on spreading their cockroachness.

Or we could exterminate them now, but all GOP seems to do is plug one hole while creating three more for the bugs to get in.

by Sam Loomis 2004-12-30 12:47PM | 0 recs
So just what do you suggest?
Nuke 'em all and let God sort 'em out? Yeah, that'll really stop anti-U.S. terrorism.

The problem with your way of thinking is that it assumes there's some way for us to separate the "good Iraqis" from the "cockroaches/terrorists/bad Iraqis." There isn't, because "terrorists" aren't a different species. Terrorism is how people fight an overwhelmingly superior force like the U.S. Army.

It's a strange game. The only winning move is: not to play.

by Mathwiz 2004-12-30 01:06PM | 0 recs
How about playing a nice game of chess instead of tic tac toe.

The tic tac toe we are playing now prescribes that once we 'liberate' by machine gun a Fallujah, all the insurgents move to another target like Mosul. Next, well, have to get aggressive there, and so on and so on....

I say that cockroach shit as a way of explaining to people I think we should clean house in Iraq, while maintaining it was a fuckup of historic proportions to go in.

I would recommend we spend more time trying to get other muslim countries to help us.  Also, we need to harshly punish those caught sexually molesting prisoners and let others know it isn't tolerated.  We need to win the PR game.  I truyl believe we can't do anything until we make Joe Iraqi and his family feel like they can participate bettering the country without someone cutting their heads off for it.  And all logic would lead to the fact that you would need to send more troops there.  Uncomfortable but necessary.

But that might just give them more targets.
What would you do?

by Sam Loomis 2004-12-30 02:43PM | 0 recs
Re: well
The problem is that the orders to sexually molest and torture Iraqi prisoners is more than likely coming from the top.

"A few bad apples?" Bullshit. If a bunch of enlisted men are abusing prisoners, then some officers need to be held responsible, either for ordering the abuse or for dereliction of duty.

Lyndie England pled out and got a slap on the wrist.  I wonder what her lawyer found out that got her the deal?

by wayward 2005-01-03 06:04AM | 0 recs
There is no war (except the one we started)
Americans understand in their gut that America is, indeed, under siege.

No we're not. How long has it been since 9/11? How many attacks have we seen since then? Yes, of course it's possible that there have been unsuccessful plans that we've never heard about because they were stopped and kept quiet for security reasons (though it's hard to imagine anything very serious not leaking). But there were bombing plots before 9/11 as well. Were we under siege then?

This is a conservative creation, enthusiastically supported by the media, primarily television. I know this is a terribly trivial comparison, but it's just like what's happened to Halloween. People now accept as if it were fact that old-style trick-or-treating is far too dangerous to allow. But the things they fear are myths.

We can debate to what degree we're under siege, but the fact remains that a murderous organization seeks to destroy our nation.

No they don't. Al Qaeda wants us to change our policies. They don't "hate our freedoms", they want us out of the Middle East. They're murderers, and I don't doubt they'd kill people on a vast scale if they could, but they couldn't possibly "destroy" the USA. Conservatives want to inflate the threat as much as possible because it's useful to them.

Chris is spot-on here. But we don't need a new phrase, because it's not the words, it's the idea that there is a thing or process that needs labeling. There isn't.

I'd say, just do what the conservatives do - talk about what we want to talk about. If someone asks Senator XYZ about the "war on terror", she answers about disabling Al Qaeda and arresting or killing its leaders. Stick to specific things, ignore the hype.

by tatere 2004-12-30 12:24PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
No we're not. How long has it been since 9/11? How many attacks have we seen since then? Yes, of course it's possible that there have been unsuccessful plans that we've never heard about because they were stopped and kept quiet for security reasons (though it's hard to imagine anything very serious not leaking). But there were bombing plots before 9/11 as well. Were we under siege then?

Yes.  Yes we were.

Just because you didn't have bodies lying in your back yard doesn't mean we weren't "under siege".  Al Qaeda hit us several times before 9/11.  Not bombing plots, but actual bombings.  Remember the USS Cole (17 killed)?  The East African embassy bombings (74 killed)?  Khobar Towers (19 killed)?  They were killing Americans, and foreign citizens who were working right alongside Americans, for years.

And the killing continues today.  I actually made a little list of all the al Qaeda attacks that have been launched since 9/11/2001 to try and show  you how bloody the toll has been.  Unfortunately Scoop ate my comment (that's what I get for hitting the back button).  So for now, I'll just direct you to this page in Wikipedia:

Attacks for which al Qaeda is believed by some to be responsible

You might find some illumination there regarding your question about how many attacks we have seen since 9/11.  Hundreds of civilians of all nationalities have died at the hands of al Qaeda since that day.  Just because something doesn't happen in America doesn't mean it's not happening.

We ignored the threat from these SOBs through the 1990s because they restricted their murders to Americans overseas.  We learned what a mistake that was on Sep. 11.  So we should write them off now as "hype" and wait for them to come educate us again?  No, thanks.

by jalefkowit 2004-12-30 02:27PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
The Big Question: Is the war on Iraq doing anything to deter Muslim Extremists from committing acts of terrorism? Simple Answer: No.

The war in Afghanistan broke up Bin Laden's organization and splintered it around the world. It could have been far more successfully executed without the war on Iraq. Bush's War to Provoke Terrorists has done absolutely nothing to prevent a terrorist attack in the U.S.

by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-30 09:00PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
Re Iraq, I've been saying that for two and a half years.  

But the parent wasn't talking about Iraq, it was making the assertion that the threat from al Qaeda and similar groups is "hype" that can safely be ignored.  Which is not the case, no matter what you think of our little Mesopotamian misadventure.

by jalefkowit 2004-12-30 09:42PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
No no, not what I meant. Are groups like Al Qaeda dangerous? Of course they are. Do we want to hunt them down and destroy them? Yes.

But are they truly an existential threat to the United States - the way that the USSR's nuclear arsenal was during the Cold War? No.

The hype is that conservatives want people to live in fear of a vast shadowy force. They want that Cold War level of fear, because it gives them huge latitude under the cloak of national security, without having the equivalent danger to worry about.

Our response should be a clear focus on the specific problems. Find and kill Al Qaeda. Go after their financing. Do what we can to help establish peace between Israel and Palestine. I'd say something about working on better relationships with Muslim and Arab peoples, but post-Iraq, I can't think of anything credible. But it probably wouldn't hurt to try.

It's Bush who is ignoring the threat - worse, compounding it enormously in Iraq.

You're right, of course, about the attacks elsewhere in the world after 9/11. I was thinking about attacks here in the US, in the sense of the country - the actual territory - being "under siege" (to me, Britain in WWII was under siege; we're not), but I didn't say so. Apologies for that.

by tatere 2004-12-30 11:10PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
Your three examples give Al Qaeda credit for 110 American deaths over a ten year period. All of the terrorist attacks at Wikipedia combined don't add up to a bigger threat than either the Bloods or the Crips. I don't have the figures handy for gang violence nationwide, but it far exceeds even the world wide deaths from Al Qaeda, with the exception of 9/11.  

Nobody is suggesting we should ignore Al Qaeda or terrorism; just put the problem in its proper perspective.

by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-31 06:43AM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
Your shortsightedness is awesome.

You honestly believe there is no material difference between domestic gang violence, and organized attacks on the levers we use to carry out the policies of the United States overseas?  That the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the body count?

Our entire economy (starting with the value of the currency) is premised on the idea -- which the whole world goes along with, for now -- that the United States is the world's leading power.

If Americans abroad are subject to indiscriminate attack; if our soldiers and diplomats can be killed at will, without consequence; if being an ally of the U.S. means sowing terror in your cities and throwing your army away in pointless wars, the world will stop agreeing to let us play the lead.  And that will have consequences far beyond the immediate casualty figures -- consequences for our quality of life for generations.

al Qaeda is using 4th generation warfare to try and provoke "on the cheap" the same type of crisis that overtook Britain after the first and second world war drained her of will and wallet to maintain her position as the world's leading nation.  It took the British 40 years of economic stagnation before they recovered from that; and even today, who knows how prosperous they might be had they not been dragged into those wars (and how relatively less prosperous we might be, should we still be the 2nd-rank nation we were in, say, 1910).

So far they have been remarkably successful.  They have already provoked us into running up such a large debt that nations are talking seriously about abandoning the dollar as the world's reserve currency.  They have done this, as you note, by "only" killing less than ten thousand people around the world.  Now imagine what would happen if they cooked off a dirty bomb in a major seaport -- say, the Port of New Orleans, or Singapore -- and brought the global shipping system to a halt for a month.  Or if they managed to topple the Saudi monarchy and turn that country into a "failed state", as the indications are they are trying to do.  Imagine what that would do to our economy -- especially after assuring the world that we had been "preventing" such a disaster for two years by blowing up cities in Iraq.  Neither attack would add much to your body count, but both could have major impacts on our quality of life.

Like idiots, Bush and company have played along, applying 2nd generation warfare strategies even as they manifestly prove not to address the real issue.  But their idiocy does not mean that the threat is not real and the consequences would not be large, should they succeed.

by jalefkowit 2004-12-31 11:20AM | 0 recs
Hear Hear!
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-31 02:56PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no war (except the one we started)
I wasn't saying it was only about the body count. I'm just putting Al Qaeda into perspective. Bush's response to 9/11 is a bigger problem than Al Qaeda. The threat is real, but the response must be tailored to the real threat, not exagerrated to meet a mythical threat.
by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-31 07:51PM | 0 recs
Same problem as THE WAR ON DRUGS
or the WAR ON POVERTY. It's idiotic, but the MSM loves a good war and a snappy phrase. Some of these battles are impossible to win until somebody like Soros buys a Sinclair Broadcasting media outlet. Anything that will boil a complex problem down to a snappy phrase is adopted by the MSM, no matter how misleading or inaccurate it is.

Anybody who questions the death penalty or THE WAR ON DRUGS is labled soft on crime. Anybody who questions THE WAR ON TERRORISM is soft on terrorism and hates America. And the band plays on ...

by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-30 12:38PM | 0 recs
F--- a label.
When we crow endlessly about how awful it is to be 'labeled', it makes it easier for them TO label us.


by Sam Loomis 2004-12-30 12:50PM | 0 recs
Try this:

  • The War on Drugs is a conservative frame. It is a phrase that was invented by Nixon speechwriters for the sole purpose of casting the upcoming shift in criminal justice policy in terms that would evoke the conservative worldview in both the majority of the nation and the majority of electorate.

  • The War on Drugs evokes specific conservative ideas that include, but are not limited to, all of the following: the need for continuing escalation of the size and influence of the prison-industrial complex; a simplistic conceptualization of identity revolving primarily around the notion of a clash between immoral drug users and moral Americans; a view that social problems can only be countered and tamed through the use of force; justification of any action by law enforcement, even if unconstitutional.

  • When Democrats and liberals argue that "tough-on-crime" conservatives are not properly conducting the War on Drugs, they end up supporting that frame and all of the ideas it evokes. When Democrats and liberal hawks urge their candidates and fellow party members to take the War on Drugs more seriously, they end up reinforcing that frame in the mind of the nation and electorate and all of the conservative ideas it carries with it. When Democrats and liberals argue that there is more to the War on Drugs than law enforcement, they end of enhancing the power of the "War on Drugs" frame in the mind of the nation and the electorate and all of the conservative ideas the frame itself reinforces.

  • That so many Democrats are not only willing, but also chomping at the bit to go along with the conservative frame of the "War on Drugs," is the main reason "tough-on-crime" conservative keep winning elections. By repeatedly and unquestioningly reinforcing the "War on Drugs" frame, we aided conservatives in their goal of pushing the country decidedly into the conservative camp when it came to criminal justice policy. That we continue to claim that conservatives are losing the War on Drugs, that conservatives do not understand the War on Drugs, or that we do not take the War on Drugs seriously only serves to worsen the problem. By using the frame "War on Drugs," we continue to reinforce the conservative ideas I listed above in the minds of the electorate and then wonder why the country keeps voting for conservatives.

I just took Chris's argument and changed "terror" to "drugs," along with other obvious changes.

Incidentally, "war on poverty" isn't quite the same thing - that phrase isn't intended to demonize an entire class of people as the "enemy," thereby justifying anything we do to them, no matter how extreme. But "war on drugs" and "war on terror" are nearly EXACT parallels.

Democrats have been going along with the "war on drugs" ever since Nixon coined the term, and conservatives have been gaining power ever since, Watergate notwithstanding. Coincidence?

by Mathwiz 2004-12-30 01:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Bingo.
Good distinction on the War on Poverty and War on Drugs/Terrorism Mathwiz. However, the "War" part of the War on Poverty is not an accurate description of the problem and it does not lead to a presriptive solution. The only activity the word war should be attached to is ... war.
by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-30 07:04PM | 0 recs
nail, meet head
"But "war on drugs" and "war on terror" are nearly EXACT parallels."

this is precisely what i've been saying since bush first spoke the phrase "war on terror" in public!!!

this is infuriating to me.  and i'm giving you a 3 because you've said it all perfectly.  the only thing i would add is that if we continue to play along with the republican framing of this issue, then we're going to end up in a neverending cycle of violence.  and we're going to flush billions and billions of dollars (which could be much better spent elsewhere) and lives (which i'd prefer not to lose) down the toilet.

look at the "war on drugs".  are we ever gonna "win it"?  have we discouraged the behavior the so-called war was supposed to prevent, or have we instead simply encouraged the illicit drug network to go underground and expand?  have we decreased the demand for illicit drugs, or have our actions mythicized the use of drugs?  has the "war" decreased the support structure that pumps drugs into the country?

i think you could ask the same questions in this so-called "war on terror".  are we ever gonna "win it"?  have we discouraged the behavior, or have we instead simply encouraged the "terrorists" to go underground and expand their network?  have we decreased the amount of terrorists, or have we mythicised them?  has the "war" decreased their  support structure?

see where i'm going with this?  we've been trapped in the "war on drugs" for decades, and now we're doing the same thing with this "war on terror".

by annatopia 2004-12-31 07:22AM | 0 recs
war on wars
even war on terrorists is many times a better phrase than war on terror.  war on terror is a battle against an emotion, and the phrase itself elicits the emotion.  i was really pissed when i saw big banners around kerry saying war on terror.  

there are other ways to fight this war, and it really is a cultural one.  why arent the islamic schools getting attention?  We can spend 8 million an hour in Iraq killing mostly civilians and calling them insurgents but we cant fund something that will have huge long term impact on islamic fundamentalism???  Cant we fund education through secular schools in islamic countries or promote foreign college education in contries like pakistan, saudi arabia, and iraq??

what is going to happen to the war on terror frame when we realize we can not sustain our engagement in iraq?  

by inst 2004-12-30 12:53PM | 0 recs
De-Terrorizing America and the World
How about:  Democrats believe in de-terrorizing America and the world.  We believe in returning to protection, peace, and prosperity.

This is something I wrote in comments to one of Jeffrey Feldman's "Frameshop" diaries on dKos, for what it's worth:

Three thousand Americans were dead by noon on 9/11.  

One thousand three hundred fifty more, and rising, are dead today, and over ten thousand more Americans are maimed and wounded today.  Why?  The terrorists haven't been able to come here since 9/11, so why are we sending Americans there to be killed and maimed?

By now we all know Iraq was a false alarm.  Fair enough.  But does your Fire Department stay in a building after a false alarm, pretending there's really a fire?  Iraq is far worse, because that place is bleeding and brutalizing our military at a time we need these brave souls on standby against real threats.

And where is our morality?  What would Jesus say about the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who survived Saddam Hussein, only to be killed by George Bush?  Didn't those people have a right to life?

We ask our soldiers to do the very worst things people ever do, to kill and destroy on a massive scale, and out of love for our country, they do.  Isn't it the very least they can ask of us, that we as a nation send them into such misery only in the purest of self-defense, just as we ourselves live, raising our own arms only in defense?

We Democrats believe in de-terrorizing America and the world.  We believe in returning to the peace and prosperity that preceded 9/11, and making it better than ever.  And we believe we can do it, by understanding that, sure, terrorists are clever, as they showed on 9/11... but when America thinks with its mind and not its fists, it can keep the terrorists from even getting out of bed.

by Irfo 2004-12-30 12:57PM | 0 recs
Democrats need to challenge everything.
The Democrats need to understand that their supporters expect them to fight for their values.
There is no value in concensus politics.
The Republicans successfully set the agenda in Bill Clinton's second term.
We need to attack:

  • The Gonzales nomination
  • The so-called "war on terror" laws
  • All previously rejected nominations
  • Privitization of Social Security

In fact, right now, we should be asking who authorized the torture at Guantanamo.
Was it Bush, Rumsfeld?

Democrats must set the agenda to keep the Republicans on the back foot.

Remember, a 200,000 vote swing in Ohio would have made Kerry president and the Republicans would now be screaming "no mandate".


by IrishWhiskey 2004-12-30 01:15PM | 0 recs
I disagree
This one issue where I think we can steal the frame fromt he GOP.  We can't completely change the frame because unfortunately, there frame is probably the simpelst and best that can be created.  But we can steal it from them.

Imagine if we had run ads when the Republicans were stalling on Intel Reform that said the following:
White Text on Black Background:
"The House Republicans are blocking real intelligence reform over bureacratic turf wars."
"House Republican leaders are blocking a vote on real intelligence reform because they won't rely on Democratic votes to pass the bill."
New Screen:
"Democrats aren't going to vote for a watered down intelligence reform bill"
"Democrats aren't going to play politics with the Intelligence Reform Bill"
New Screen:
Background: The Twin Towers on Fire
Text: "Because the Stakes are too High."
"Call Speaker Haster at [ph number] and tell him to stop playing politics with our security."

The free media would have been huge. It would have the effect of the famous Daisy ad.  And we would have stolen their frame without betraying our party's stance on the intelligence view.  There's a big difference between trying to share a frame centrism (bad, doesn't work) and stealing it.

by Lavoisier1794 2004-12-30 01:21PM | 0 recs
Re: I disagree
I've put up a more thorough set of my thoughts up over in a dkos diary.
by Lavoisier1794 2004-12-30 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: I disagree
There's no reason we can't do both. The war on Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. At a minimum we need to isolate and distinguish the war on Iraq from the war on Al Qaeda. The Afghan war put some serious hurt on Bin Laden, the war on Iraq did not. The War to Provoke Terrorists has not improved our national security one iota. We are wasting $6 billion per month to kill Iraqis who have absolutely nothing to do, no connection with in any way with terrorism. Nada, zip, zilch connection.

Since we began the War to Provoke terrorists, Al Zaquiri and Al Qaeda have made significant strides in Iraq that Hussein never would have permitted.

by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-31 06:54AM | 0 recs
do we have our own frame?
I agree with Chris, but simply abandoning the conservative frame of WOT will not suffice, by itself.  Over at the Dailykos, Jeffrey Feldman lead an excellent discussion on a related topic that touched on the WOT. (

 What do we call the struggle against religious extremism and will any influential Democrats listen?

by KDMfromPhila 2004-12-30 01:40PM | 0 recs
Nation Building is the idea
I have a couple of diaries where I presented a robust liberal alternative to war. In The Pentagon's New Map I also link to a longer "type and paste" diary I did on Barnett's book and one on Gen. Zinni's biography "Battle Ready". I am currently reading Francis Fukuyama's new book State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century to beef it up some more.
by Gary Boatwright 2004-12-30 09:08PM | 0 recs
Chris, Thank you so much for writing this
Jesus, you have no idea the elation of finally seeing the the blogosphere coming down from the election habit of positioning finally being willing call things for what they are.  Thank you so much.  Its about time someone with some real cloat in the party stepped up and pointed out the absurd routes the War on Terror mentality leads us down.  Its a Republican neo-fascist construct useful for nothing other than consolidating their hold on power and literally is counterproductive in everything else.  Thank you.

The Dems have to completely part ways with these sort absurd tenets of neo-Conservatism if they are ever going to win the National Security debate.

by descrates 2004-12-30 02:19PM | 0 recs
How about a nurturant frame for the Tsunami crisis
I am struck by the relative lack of discussion on MyDD about the incredible crisis in SouthEast Asia.

The crisis represennts an opportunity for us to talk about being a good citizen of the world who has a responsibility to our neighbors to help with some real aid.

Democrats have been non-existent on challenging the President with the meager sum he has proposed.

Shifting the money that is geared for the war in Iraq towards helping survivors would send an incredible message to the rest of the world(including the Muslim country of Indonesia) that we truly are a generous country.

Instead our neighbors see us as cheap and miserly and will only do anything if it serves our selfish purposes.

Democrats need to start talking about our responsibility in the world community.  Shifting money from Iraq would be a start.

by raddude 2004-12-30 02:21PM | 0 recs
Tsunami crisis
That isn't really the sort of thing I have a tendency to write about. I tend not to comment on the issue of the day. Instead, I focus more on theory and other broad analysis. It is not that I don't pay attention, its just that I do not feel as though I have much to add to what is always a stream of quick, generally knee-jerk reaction to immediate events.
by Chris Bowers 2004-12-30 06:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Tsunami crisis

You missed my point of what I was trying to say.

Replace the War on Terror frame with a Nurturant Frame related to the Tsunami crisis.

The Nurturant Frame would look something like this:

"We have a responsibility to our neighbors in sister countries to help them during their tough times.  We can't turn our back on our friends who have been with us through tough times like 9/11.
When a disaster hits one of our family members, we have to shift our priorities to making sure that they are okay.  We can't turn our backs on those who need our help the most."

What I am saying is that there is an opportunity here to shift the debate away from the importance of Iraq in the eyes of the American people.  Shifting the money that was supposed to be spent on Iraq would be one of the best ways for us to start withdrawing and help out those in need (as well as increase good will towards the US).

by raddude 2004-12-30 11:22PM | 0 recs
The party of death
You can't win by starting with their "War on X" phrases and trying to
co-opt them.

But you can start a new theme.  Point out that the Republicans pushed
for a bloody war, that they are in bed with tobacco interests that
have killed thousands of times more people than the terrorists, that
they torpedo health care legislation that would save the lives of
children, promote the gun lobby, etc. etc.

Just call them the "party of death" at every opportunity, and have
evidence such as the above to support the claim if challenged.

It will stick--they will scream bloody murder.

by JMcDonald 2004-12-30 02:28PM | 0 recs
How about this
Like Paul Begala tried to tell Mary Beth Campaignkill this summer:


For me, I kinda like "The Party of Death".

Another good unused one is Dean's
"You can't trust Republicans with your money anymore"

by Sam Loomis 2004-12-30 02:49PM | 0 recs
There's a problem here
The American public likes the War on Terror, for understandable reasons.  Until Bin Laden is captured or killed, anybody who doesn't scream "War on Terror" five million times is basically screaming "I don't care about Bin Laden, and I want terrorist to attack the United States".  What we need to do is say that Iraq hurts the War on Terror, drains resources that could be used to fight it, and encourages more terrorists.

The Republicans get massive bonus points on any issue involving firearms (crime, gun laws, war against terrorism/communism/Iraq/whatever, national security)-because they are the daddy party and we are the mommy party.  The ONLY way to win here is to neutralize this frame.  Clinton did it to crime-now, crime control is no longer a Republican issue.  One good way to this is, in fact, to nominate a general.

Ignoring the "War on Terror" makes us the liberal wiener pinko commies.  That's not good.

by Geotpf 2004-12-30 03:49PM | 0 recs
Re: There's a problem here
Chris is not saying that Democrats should ignore security issues.  He is saying that they should never use the phrase "War on Terror."

And he's right.  Democrats fell completely into this trap because of the total lack of message discipline in the party.  I can't even describe how incensed I get when I see Democratic leaders on the Sunday talk shows using conservative "shorthand" phrases to describe issues.

The point is this: NEVER EVER USE THE PHRASE "WAR ON TERROR."  It allows the administration to confuse Iraq, al Qaeda, and Afghanistan, to the point where most Americans cannot separate them.

by kenfair 2004-12-31 02:58AM | 0 recs
War on Terror
the worse part is that when the country is at war it looks toward supporting it's commander in chief
this is why the election ended up being so close Bush could steal it.

In Kerry's defense toward the end of campaign
he didn't refer to the "war on terror" but talked about "killing the terrorists" (look back at debates and you can see him say this multiple times) this was an attempt at reframing however since there is no coordination of message in democratic party instead of it working , it made Kerry sound awkward.

by smartone 2004-12-30 04:04PM | 0 recs
War On Terror=Gasoline On Fire
I said it in a Frameshop Diary over at DKos. I may as well say it here.  

It's not really exact. It's more evocative. More exact would be "A Fire on Flames."

But that only captures the structural illogic.

"Gasoline on Fire" captures the functional illogic.

by Paul Rosenberg 2004-12-30 04:55PM | 0 recs
It Can't Be A War
Al Qaeda isn't a sovereign nation so we can't be in a state of war with it.  What they are is a just a large very dangerous criminal gang.  Maybe we can start talking about terrorist groups in those terms.  Surely urban Democratic politicians have more experience in eliminating gang violence than do Republicans.    
by Robert Rosen 2004-12-30 05:32PM | 0 recs
Framing The Fight Against Terrorism
Here's my excerpt from my blog on this subject:

Democrats from the beginning should have argued "The Fight Against Terrorism" within the "Criminal Justice" frame. The U.S. deals with domestic terrorists, abortion bombers and the Timothy McVeighs, within this frame. Why the difference with Osama and friends? Terrorism, whether domestic or international, is an expression of idealogy through the illegitimate use of deadly force to instill fear and panic in the civilian population. Terrorism, as an continuous threat to society, rightly belongs within the confines of criminal justice. Osama is a criminal, nothing more.

The distressing aspect of this situation is that the Democrats have not only failed to frame this to their advantage, but they have also even failed to use the "War in Terrorism" frame to any benefit. They should have used it to address anti-abortion and white supremacy violence and make Bush uncomfortable in the process.

by TheBite 2004-12-30 06:59PM | 0 recs
If you dont like the republicans
because in fifty years America will be a fundamentalist/fascist hell, then you must despise the islamic people who are that hell right now. I'm tired of people trying to fit the square-peg of their ideology into the round-hole of reality.
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-30 08:33PM | 0 recs
"Winning the Peace"
It's an established frame that evokes clever long term strategy and eventual results. Somewhere upthread someone used the phrase "ultimate victory", and we could use that here.

The argument would run, "Well, Bob, we're not going to stay at war forever. I mean, it's not a long term solution to any problem...not Iraq, not Iran, not North Korea...we have to learn to win the peace. In 1975, during the Ford administration, we saw people clinging to military helicopters as we pulled out of Saigon, and that looked like a defeat. But during the Clinton Administration, we normalized diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and all you have to do is go there now to see the investment and business that's going on, and you can see that we've won the peace. We need to figure out how to do that in Iraq. And like we saw in Vietnam, we don't need do have American soldiers being shot there to do it."

by redsoxkangaroo 2004-12-30 08:51PM | 0 recs
Bush's Perpetual War
Bush and company have defined the "War on Terror" so vaguely that it is virtually synonomous with "Perpetual War", something right out of Orwell.  I see this as a tremendous vulnerability.

Has anyone stood up to Bush and asked him, "When is the 'War on Terror' going to be over? How will we know when we've won?" Obviously, these questions have no answer. The WOT is defined such that it will go on forever.

We need to make the case to the American people that Bush's War on Terror is NOT Afghanistan, which had overwhelming popular support. Bush's War on Terror is the Iraq quagmire and his inevitable attempts to "spread freedom" in Syria and Iran in the years to come.

Given the choice between Perpetual War and an alternative, what will the American people choose?

by Super G 2004-12-31 04:49AM | 0 recs
Until we know the outcome of the war in Iraq,
which won't be at all clear until at least after the elections, its very difficult to make any reasonable pronouncements about foreign policy post 9/11.

If by some stroke of the miraculous the war in Iraq does turn in our favor, which is to say  coalition forces with increasing assistance from Iraqi security forces are able to gain an upper hand on the Sunni insurgency, and the Shiite-dominated constitutional assembly is able to appease the demands of the Kurds, it will (sadly) be very difficult for Democrats to effectively oppose the neocon cum liberal hawk agenda for the Arab world. Under this scenario, the next largescale attack on American soil could well be used as a pretext for a draft, and there would likely be further interventions in Syria, and perhaps Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

However, from the look of things, Iraq could just as easily spiral towards further chaos and sectarian civil war, with America impotent to stop or even contain it. If the elections prove to be the Iraqi "Tet" (which is to say the event that makes it clear to the American people that the war can't be won) both Democrats and Republican will likely be forced to rethink their respective foreign policies, and it won't I suspect be long before isolationism (at least with respect to the Muslim world) will be back on the table.

Here's why:

While it is true that America's bias towards
Israel is an enduring source of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, and that the war in Iraq has further exacerbated anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, the chief source of anti-American rage in the Arab and wider Muslim world is Washignton's continued enabling and protection of corrupt and repressive Arab and Muslim regimes (just check the polls - they say this over and over again.)

What this means is that if you take the threat of merry bands of Islamo fascists destroying our respective places of work even remotely seriously, you have to first recognize that our relationships with the bad regimes of the Muslim world are problem #1. To the extent that the liberal hawks recognize this fact (and they do) they have a point, but a multi-decade, multi-trillion dollar crusade to transform the political, economic, and cultural landscape is not the only possible response to the problem, and (as I said) the potential failure of the war in Iraq may well put an end to "Wilsonian idealism" in the so-called war on terror.

The other possible response is to simply remove the causus belli of Islamist terrorism against America, which is to say our enabling and protection of repressive Arab and Muslim regimes. In real terms, this means meeting the 20% of our energy needs that are currently met by gulf oil by other means, removing our military presence from the Arab world, and distancing ourselves politically from repressive Arab and Muslim regimes. In fact, if a good porton of the world's oil reserves weren't located in gulf states, you can be sure that after 9/11 we would have done exactly this (even if it was only after we had restored our pride by deposing the Taliban.)

Isolationism (whether the liberal or conservative variety) was never going to fly in the 04 election, but as John Kerry found out neither was liberal internationalism as a response to the threat of Islamist terrorism. In fact, whether the Iraq war ultimately succeeds or fails, liberal internationalism is likely to become less viable as a response to the threat of radical Islamism in coming years.

by robinthehood 2004-12-30 08:58PM | 0 recs
We need a global mechanism...
to protect human rights..

Not 'preemptive strikes'
Not 'shoot first and let God sort em out'
(don't they both defeat the purpose?)

Not the 'see no evil' approach of the UN either...

The current approach is making us more enemies than it eliminates... IMO.

The US needs to accept that we can't dominate the world. (In my opinion, they want to do this because we end up with more money - higher profits - if we do it that way.. IMO it all boils down to that.)

We have to make our money the old fashioned way..

Hell, we can't even deal with our own problems first...

by ultraworld 2004-12-30 09:00PM | 0 recs
War on Al Quaeda
Even "War on Al Quaeda" would be better.   While I agree with some of the earlier comments that any "war" frame favors conservatives, focusing on Al Quaeda would be an improvement since it would draw a sharp distinction on with Iraq.  Imagine an interview:

corp media media reporter: ....surely you support the war on terror?
democratic member of congress: You mean the War on Al Quaeda, the murderers who attacked us on 9/11?
reporter: no, the president's war on terror, in Iraq
dem: oh, you mean Bush's $200 billion military action that's cost us over 1,000 brave American soldiers against a regime that had nothing to do with 9/11?
reporter: I'm talking about fighting terrorism in Iraq
dem: while I think our soldiers in combat should have body armor and armored vehicles which the Bush administration has failed to provide, my main concern in the War Against Al Quaeda is capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden.

Of course, we have precious few Democrats in Congress who have enough of spine to do this...

by pyewacket1 2004-12-30 09:13PM | 0 recs
A terrible idea
My comments are here.
by Ed Fitzgerald 2004-12-30 10:08PM | 0 recs
Re: A terrible idea
You're mostly right.  

I agree with others' that the phrase needs changing.  But I wholeheartedly agree with you that abandoning the fight against violent fundie extremists (or whatever we all agree to all them) is a terrible idea.

by bellarose 2004-12-31 04:15AM | 0 recs
Having read your article
I would find myself in agreement. Yet here is where the challenge lies. Most Americans voted for Bush, and most of those who voted for Kerry probably didn't agree with his campaign positions. For Chris Bowers to move the Party to the left does two very crucial things.

  1. It allows them to be true to themselves.
  2. It creates room in the middle for a third party who can a) beat the Republicans/Fascists and b) do a good job.

You emphasize that the margin of victory for Bush wasn't historic. OK. But he was the worst president since and possibly including Lyndon Johnson! He should have been annihilated! And John Kerry was and is a great man. The fact that Bush won is attributable to the mistrust of middle America for the Democrats and the left generally. Its a cultural divide. Its not something that can be "framed" away.
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-31 03:19PM | 0 recs
the essential judo
The horrible thing about macho-phallic war framings is how easy they are to convey. War on Terror is very elemental and direct. What will actually work to contain the combonation of terrorism, fundamentalism, poverty, inequality, and globalism is much more nuanced.

Perhaps starting with the traditions of the Bible and the Quran would be helpful. In the Christian tradition we have a powerful legacy of peacemaking: love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, and the Good Samaratan are foundations to work from in fashioning a narrative that includes eliminating the causes of violence, not returning mindless violence for violence, and aiding and educating those you wish to make peace with.

What the catch prases would be I don't know, perhaps we can never be as simplistic and elemental as our competitors, but we can appeal to the best in Americans, not the worst.

by mbryan 2004-12-30 10:36PM | 0 recs
That assumes
that the majority of "Christians" are not just bloodthirsty nihilists in disguise. Human beings aren't that far removed from the jungle.
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-31 02:59PM | 0 recs
supply demand
I often find supply and demand as a good way to communicate this to people.

Republicans react to terrorism by trying to reduce the supply of terrorists.  But their policies actually increase the demand for terrorism.  

Same is true for abortion.  And drugs.  And criminals.

It's better to focus on the demand side.  We just need to make it less likely that we will be attacked by terrorists, by reducing the demand for terrorism against America.

If they say that sounds like appeasement, let them.  It's high time that we dealt with that argument head-on.

by tunesmith 2004-12-31 12:52AM | 0 recs
Good post Chris!
I totally agree! I mentioned something similar in a comment here (last paragraph) on Chris' earlier story "Using the Language of Our Oppressors".

The fact that the whole nation swallowed the "War On Terror" idea has got to be biggest factor in Bush's was re-election. We need a new frame, definitely without the word "War", that doesn't reinforce the neocon assertion that America was already at war before they took the battle to Iraq.

My blog Things I Don't Have Time For

by daveholden 2004-12-31 03:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Good post Chris!
Democrats helped sell Bush's "War on Terror."  They handed him the issue just after 9/11 and he's been beating them over the head with it ever since.

The Bushies haven't made us safer -- yet they won on this issue.  

So why didn't Kerry challenge Bush when he falsely claimed his admin had wiped out 75% of Al Queda's leadership?  Why didn't they use Elizabeth Brumiller effectively when she offered to help?  Why didn't they scream about the OBL PDB??  Why didn't they call out Democrat turned Republican Zell Miller for being a complete and utter whackjob and use him against them?  

Why do they keep acting like such wussies!!!!  That's why they keep losing!!!  

by bellarose 2004-12-31 04:29AM | 0 recs
Kerry crushed Bush in all 3 debates
But the "people" are locked into an apocalyptic death spiral. Don't blame Kerry, he did his best.
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-31 03:00PM | 0 recs
Not even worth rebutting Chris.
by ringmaster 2004-12-31 04:54AM | 0 recs
with one exception.

We must "overwhelm" the "war on terror" with our own frame such that the old idea is revealed as worthless and cynical.

Unfortunately for Democratic politics, the Neo-Con notion that violence and pre-emptive strikes (Bush at OBL) are a short solution to violence and pre-emptive strikes (OBL at Bush) has thus far held.  There have not been attacks in the US.

But the "war on terror" idea has also created a culture of fear, an a social environment threatening to the Constitution.  And it has made this country weak on many levels.  

Weakness, I believe, is the place to start.  Democrats should be articulating solutions to American weakness.

September 11 demonstrated our weaknesses.  And in response to those weaknesses, the Bush administration has chosen to weaken the dollar, weaken social programs, weaken our relationships to allies, weaken our domestic sense of security.

We will outflank the "war on terror" if we take seriously the task of articulating Progressive ideas about strength.  

Thanks for the post.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2004-12-31 05:40AM | 0 recs
Well. what did we expect?
Pre-election Zogby polls showed Kerry winning on nearly every single issue, except terrorism, where he was slaughtered.

"Candidate X is good on terror" has become a socially acceptable shorthand for 'will kill Moslems, without let or hindrance, in whatever numbers it takes to make me feel better'. So long as this profound racist and xenophobic drive. Until this changes, there is no way to win on the issue, or reframe the issue.

Bush had actual bodies, whole hecatombs of them, to point to and say 'I did that for you!.

What did Kerry have?

Kerry's only realistic chance was to announce on TV that he and Edwards were going to take a Ryder truck full of ammonium nitrate and go looking for a mosque or Islamic center, and the press was welcome to go along for the show.

This madness is going to have to burn itself out of the body politic, and it's going to kill lots more people, mostly brown, but some white, and some of them American, on its way out.

by Davis X Machina 2004-12-31 06:54AM | 0 recs
Someone who understands that the "people" aren't good.
by Paul Goodman 2004-12-31 03:03PM | 0 recs
That's crap....
People are just uninformed.

They are fed myth and trueisms at every turn because it's easier to sell than dealing with a 'complex' world.

There is no 'why' about flying airplanes into buildings. They 'hate' us and 'what we stand for'.

Oh and I am an optimist that "Reality based" people will in the end win the day.

by Arrow 2005-01-01 07:19PM | 0 recs
Agree -- and propose reframing
Chris -

You are absolutely right.  

Those who would reframe as a "war" on anything else are missing the point: "war" on anything reinforces the "conservative" frame based on authoritarian, disciplinarian, unilateral behaviours.  "War" invokes exceptionalism, which is why Americans have accepted loss of rights and torture of captured people in various violations of our Constitution.

I disagree that it is too late to reframe the topic.  While it would have been better to do so at the beginning, fundamentally one of the reasons the conservatives framed it the way they did is to create an effectively permanent war situation, since such a "war" is not winnable, which keeps us in their frame permanently.  But because we it won't go away, we have to begin the long, hard work of reframing now to have a shot at undermining its false pretences before the next election.

At the highest level, Kerry's theme was "Stronger at Home, Respected Abroad" to get at part of the this issue (reframe to "Respected Abroad"), and as someone else reminded us, Kerry himself generally avoided the "war" word.  Furthermore, consistent with Lakoff's recommendation to point out that the Iraq war has WEAKENED America, he emphasized "wrong war, wrong time" and the fact that the $200B could have been spent in America on things like securing our ports and loose nukes around the world.  So Kerry, more than most of the Democrats and progressives, understood the framing problem and was constructing alternatives.

But reframing in the few months of the presidential campaign can be tough when there was no democratic and progressive concerted effort to change the frame.  We have to do that now for the next election cycles.

The big challenge, as someone else also pointed out, is what is our re-framing device?

I think that one of the progressive community failures in this area is that most groups say national security is job one, but then list it as the fourth or fifth thing in six or seven topic areas.  It has to come FIRST because without it, you can't move to the rest.  Whether we agree or not among ourselves as to the level of threat, the American perception is that it is high and therefore we have to address it first and forcefully or we can't move on.

I have positioned that the three Pillars of What We Do as in the Progressive Framework are:
  - Safeguarding America
  - Assuring Freedom of Opportunity
  - Keeping America's Democratic Promise

 The story of Safeguarding America is that
  - ALL Americans are UNITED in our conviction to track down the terrorists where they are,
  - but we Democrats are ALSO going to attack the roots of terrorism around the world.

We will use all the power of our military, but also lead the rest of the world to new alliances as well.

One of the key ways we attack the roots of terrorism is by Leading A Just and Vibrant Global Economy to create a New Millenium Global Framework.

The story of New Millenium Global Framework is that great changes have been happening in the global economy and will continue to change.  This has been disruptive to American's lives and prosperity as well as to others around the world.  Only America can provide the world leadership to re-invent a more just and vibrant global economy and we have a plan to do it.

We also have to distinguish ourselves from the Republican frame and approach as well as present our own frame.  So we need to show that the Republican story is to be the bully: dominate, punish, pushing aside allies that don't tag along.  We have to characterize what they are doing wrong.

 The key elements of our position, however, are: 
    *  Resolve the inequities that give rise to terrorism
  - economic (globalization, uneven distribution within and between countries)
  - political (mid-east, undemocratic governments)
  - cultural (changes due to globalization, poverty, threats to identity
    * New rules to adapt to the fact of globalization: Fair Trade, not just Free Trade
    * Respond to the big changes: global cheap fiber-optics, growing prosperous China, limited energy supplies)
    * Help all Americans succeed in the global economy
    * Address America's chronic trade imbalance
    * Problematic countries: rogue, failed, poor, undemocratic states
    * Nation-building system for post-war recoveries
    * UN reform
    * New alliances for a new millenium around this issues
    * Secure loose nukes and other WMD fuel

This leadership restores our respect around the world.

"The paradox is that terrorism arises to a significant degree from the world's inability to solve the problems generated by current policies governing globalization.  Yet the "war on terrorism" over-shadows any serious attempt at getting at the inequities that give rise to terrorism.  This has produced a very strange state of affairs, one that increasingly is characterized by a gathering of the darkness rather than any meaningful illumination of our global challenges."
Final Report, The Commission On Globalisation
by Will Neuhauser 2004-12-31 08:08AM | 0 recs
how about
We simply call for a "Coherent American foreign policy" that can address the "dangers and challenges" facing "all Americans" in the 21stC.

Point being that to defeat terrorism, to save American jobs, and to promote American values, we need a coherent, thought-out policy == and not a "politicized spin as a tactic of crisis management." .

And we need the "best and most patriotic Americans" working for us, not a "purge of the state dept and CIA by right-wing hard-liners."

by desmoulins 2004-12-31 09:21AM | 0 recs
The Re-Frame is simple
Democrats should never talk about fighting terrorism, they should talk about PROTECTING AMERICA!

If you break it down into the two most basic ideological models, Strict Father or Nurturant Parent you will see that this is what the issue is all about. If Democrats continue to criticize Bush in the same manner but instead claim that the President is not effectively Protecting America, they will have much more electoral success--well I geuss there's no where to go but up at this point anyway...

The same criticisms apply to this frame;
-not protecting the borders well enough
-not inspecting the cargo
-enraging and inflaming the arab and muslim communities leads to further terrorism

A previous poster compared the war on terror to a game of tic tac toe, this is exactly what someone like Biden or Clark should be talking about for 'By fighting a war on terror the president is engaging America in a deadly game of tic tac toe, a brutal and costly exchange that is virtually unwinnable--the president even said so himself! what he really needs to focus on is protecting America and unfortunately that does not seem to be one of his priorities at present'

by spacemuseum 2004-12-31 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: The Re-Frame is simple
When Bush asked Kerry "how he was going to pay for all of that" (inspecting cargo, securing borders, etc.) during the debates, Kerry and the Democrats should have beaten Bush silly on it, yet they let it slide.
by wayward 2005-01-03 06:46AM | 0 recs
End the right wing myth machine
There is a popular myth that the right wing has created that says that Republicans are tough and Democrats are weak. Republicans are Churchills, Democrats are Chaimberlains.

This allows them to make any sort of wild charge against Democrats and have people believe it. It also allows them to mismanage the military without any accountablility. For example, after the Cold War, Kerry voted to cut the defense budget at Sec. Def. Cheney's recommendation. The vote hurt Kerry at the polls, despite the fact that it was Cheney's idea.

The most common false idea on the right is that we could have won Vietnam if not for those darn hippies and liberals betraying us. This is why the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" ad was so effective. It was merely a trigger on a right wing propaganda campaign that had been going on for years. Kerry and the Democrats could not figure out how to counter it.  (GOP: You're weak. Kerry: Am not!)

(This is particularly frightening in that it shows strong parallells to the idea in the 1920's that Germany could have won WWI if they had not been betrayed by Jews and Communists.)

The truth is that Democrats are quite good at defending this country. JFK and Truman were quite serious about defending this coutry. Nixon and Ford did little to contain communism other than support right-wing dictators. Nixon lost about as many men getting out of Vietnam as LBJ lost getting in. Carter was not soft on communism at all. The most successful policies Reagan had in the Cold War were continuation of Carter's policies. Also, while Carter would not negotiate with terrorists, Reagan did.

People may disagree with whether or not we were right to go into Kosovo, but IIRC, not a single American was killed in doing so.

Democrats lost on National Security because they played on GOP turf the entire time.  They needed to reframe the debate with an alternative strategy of their own to keep America safe.

by wayward 2005-01-03 06:41AM | 0 recs


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