Language and the War on Terror

I am always intrigued by the way politicians and media talk, the way they language their points. Today, Josh Marshall has a terrific post on how Bush’s vagaries and all-but-empty platitudes reflect the mess that is today’s War on Terror.

He starts by describing Bush’s latest radio address, weighted in the vacuousness that has become Bush’s signature:

I understand what the president’s saying. I recognize a general truth in it. But the generality, vagueness and abstraction is the problem. They are becoming the engines of policy incoherence and the cover for domestic bad-actors who want to get this country into fights few Americans signed up for.


Just as vague and abstract language makes for bad prose, it is also the handmaiden of bad policy and the abettor of buck-passing.

All this talk about civilization, totalitarianism, fascism and terror is just preventing us from looking at what’s happening and recognizing what are own interests are. They also make it possible for some people to convince themselves that it’s not a screw-up that we’ve turned Iraq into a terrorist magnet. After all we’re at war with ‘the terrorists’ and it makes sense that ‘the terrorists’ would attack us anyway, if only in a new venue. And we always knew it would be a long fight, a long twilight struggle, and yada, yada, yada and the rest of it. Same with the mumbo-jumbo about totalitarianism.


But the White House is being run by men and women who’ve already made a lot of really stupid mistakes that are going to cost a lot of American lives, money and credibility. And now they’re trying to hide from accountability in their own idiot abstractions.

Marshall’s been getting increasingly aggressive in his attacks on Bush. He started off in favor of the war and now seems totally disillusioned with our post-war bungling. Like Mark Kleiman. Like me.

It now seems that the one good thing to come out of the war on terror, along with the fall of the Taliban and Saddam, may well be the defeat of Bush in the coming election.

It’s swell that the Taliban and Saddam fell, but, to use Ronald Reagan’s language: Are we better off (in terms of national security) than we were a year ago? Two years ago? Are we safer and more secure when it comes to terrorism?

Terrorism has been moving full-speed ahead, far faster and more lethal than pre-911, as witnessed in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Bali, Jakarta and, just last Tuesday, the UN blast in Iraq, not to mention the suicide bombings in Israel despite the much-ballyhooed “roadmap.”

And our great victory in Iraq more and more resembles a true quagmire. mainly because we decided leadership there had to be on our terms, and because we paid infinitely more attention to the oil pipeline than we did to the people’s lack of water and electricity. How could we be so stupid, alienating just about everyone with our incompetence and lack of fundamental sensitivity?

Sorry for wandering a bit off-topic there.

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