In February, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld delivered a speech entitled “The Long War.” In it, he invoked the Cold War while at the same time laying out broad strategies to fight what could be a decades-long terrorist threat across the globe. How will these sorts of war-branding efforts affect how the conflict is ultimately remembered? Brooke puts the question to Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last Sunday, Arab Television broadcast new audio, purportedly of Osama bin Laden, issuing what one counterterrorism expert called a "state of the Jihad address," in which he called on his supporters to prepare for a quote, "long war against the crusader plunderers in western Sudan." But lately, he's not the only one who talks about digging in.
CORRESPONDENT: When we talk about "The Long War," we are talking about-
CORRESPONDENT: This is going to be a long war, and I think we need to look at it as a long war.
ON-AIR REPORTER: One of the principles that we follow in the long war -
REPORTERS, ON AIR: How do we learn, if we're going to fight a long war, and we are, if we're faced with�to look at the war as a long war and understand -
MAN: Not any more. It's now calling it "The Long War."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last February, coinciding with the release of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld delivered a speech titled "The Long War" in which he conjured up imagery of the Cold War, while laying out broad strategies to fight what could be a decades-long terrorist threat across the globe. Gideon Rose is the managing editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine. He says that the administration's attempt to brand this war mid-conflict won't ensure that it'll be remembered that way.
GIDEON ROSE: Nobody woke up in the 14th century in England and said, �Gee, I'm going off to fight this part of the Hundred Years War.�
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
GIDEON ROSE: I think part of the problem here is � you've pegged it just right - they're thinking of this as a brand, whereas properly understanding the conflict that you're involved in is the key towards developing a sensible and viable strategy for waging the conflict.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: First, and most enduringly, it seems, this conflict was called the Global War on Terror, or, as experts call it, G-WOT. That seems to have been the stickiest moniker, but why has the administration backed away from it?
GIDEON ROSE: Well, one of the chief problems here is that the administration was trying to conflate three separate issues, which is the struggle against al Qaeda and other kinds of radical Islamist terrorism, on the one hand, country-specific security issues, such as that posed by Saddam Hussein or Iran's attempt to gain nuclear weapons and so forth, on the other hand, and then finally, political development in the Middle East, more generally. The administration tried to make an argument that all these things were related, and the administration has had trouble both selling what it was doing at all and lumping all its various efforts together in one simple, easy-to-understand package.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But if that was the problem with the Global War on Terror, they didn't really take great strides to solve it with its next phrase, which was a little more cumbersome, called the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, or G-SAVE. It seems all the problems were inherent in that phrase as well.
GIDEON ROSE: Yeah, that one seemed to be an attempt to get beyond this question of why some terrorists but not other terrorists were the target. You were not going to go to war against the Tamil Tigers. You were not going to take the IRA all that seriously. The substantive issue were violent extremists who were using terrorism as a tactic, so let's talk about violent extremism as the problem rather than terrorism. It was an attempt to move in the right direction substantively but it was indeed both cumbersome � and G-SAVE really didn't lend itself to anything interesting or catchy in the first place.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, Gideon, now we have "The Long War." What's the idea here? Is it supposed to resonate like "The Good War," which is the phrase attached to World War II, or "The Cold War," or both?
GIDEON ROSE: Well, I think the phrase "The Cold War" wasn't a brand so much as a description. It was a reference to a long-term geopolitical conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union that was kept cold by nuclear weapons and didn't actually result in a military battle, like the subsets, like Korea and Vietnam. But it was a useful concept because it never let you forget that fundamentally the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a long-term war of positions for control, not just of geographic territory, but also the loyalties and minds of people in their own spheres and the world at large. And so the chief virtues of "The Long War" concept are, first, that it stresses that don't worry about the short-term problems because this is a very long struggle which we're in the early stages of, so it seems to put in perspective, by its very terminology, the problems we've encountered so far. And second of all, it carefully eliminates the question of long war against what. And so it kind of sidesteps the whole question of who the chief target is and how other peripheral conflicts are related to the chief target by not talking about them whatsoever.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, "The Long War" is using the word "war" at least in part metaphorically, since this struggle is supposed to be waged as much through diplomacy as arms. But how about the word "long"? I mean, that doesn't seem one likely to resonate with a public that, at least according to the polls, isn't much interested in keeping troops in Iraq for very long.
GIDEON ROSE: Well, I think that "Long War" isn't going to make it a catchy, saleable thing. What they're really hoping is it gets them out of the dilemma of having lost the war. If you say "long war," then it hasn't been lost, because by definition we're only in the early stages of it. Its very ambiguity and its implication that you shouldn't get hung up on current problems is its chief virtue for them. If you actually were to give it more detail, it would be legitimate. There is going to be a very long struggle against radical Islamist terrorism. The problem is the administration has gotten stuck because they want to package and sell all their various efforts together and they want to do so when they're not going particularly well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So it's your assessment, then, that this just isn't going to work.
GIDEON ROSE: I guess what I'd say is the following. The Bush administration has engaged in far worse crimes against language than "The Long War." Calling preventive war a "policy of preemption" was a very, very bad thing, 'cause they perverted the use of language and deliberately obscured the radical nature of what they're were trying to achieve. Calling this "The Long War" is both vague and somewhat accurate. It doesn't involve the kind of political machinations and deliberate verbal trickery with an intent to deceive that the �concept of preemption,� as the administration defined it, did. And so I would go easy on the people who came up with "The Long War" and think of them as overburdened flacks trying hard to package a bad product, rather than deliberately evil spinmeisters trying to pull a fast one on the rest of us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Gideon, thank you very much.
GIDEON ROSE: Thank you very much, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Gideon Rose is managing editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]