A ‘war on terror’ by any other name

September 15, 2014 4:02 PM

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Few have given as much thought as President Barack Obama to the pitfalls of waging open-ended war on an abstract noun. On top of its impracticalities — how can you ever declare victory? — fighting a nebulous enemy exacts an insidious toll. Obama built much of his presidential appeal on such a critique — the global war on terror was eroding America’s legal rights at home and its moral capital abroad. The term “GWOT” was purged the moment he took over from George W Bush. In his pledge last week to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil), he has travelled almost full circle. It is precisely because Obama is a reluctant warrior that his legacy will be enduring.

If this is the balance sheet of the US war on terror, why lose sleep? Chiefly because it understates the costs. The biggest of these is the damage an undeclared war is doing to the West’s grasp on reality. Myopic thinking leads to bad decisions. Obama pointedly avoided using the word “war” last week...

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