Does Counter-Terrorism Really Sound That Much Better Than War?

Sat Sep 27, 2014 02:58:59AM

Night launch of F-18s from USS GHW Bush to conduct strike missions against Islamic State.By: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Commun
At what point do you label a military operation a war? Without getting into the pros and cons, the rights and wrongs of bombing Syria, I still wonder at what point the American people, Congress and President Obama are willing to say 'Yes, we are at war with the Islamic State'.

Let's try and break this down. To say that we are at war with Syria isn't accurate, as we have received a green light (albeit a cautionary one) from the Syrian government to intervene, and to bomb parts of their country that they believe will be effective in the effort to cripple/eliminate the Islamic State terrorist organization that operates within their borders, among other places in the Middle East of course.

But that says little to the question of 'are we at war with the Islamic State?'. (I say Islamic State, as that's what seems to be the most accurate description for them, over ISIS or ISIL. IS seems to be what they most call themselves. But for clarification, yes I am talking about what the news calls ISIS or ISIL; they are all basically one in the same.)

The Obama administration seems more inclined to label this mission in Syria as a counter-terrorism mission or operation. Is that more accurate? I mean, the US has accumulated 40 some odd countries in a coalition against IS. And we are bombing them with high fire power; with our best military air weaponry, and in a very high volume, heavy sort of way. And yet, Obama has said repeatedly that he has zero intentions of 'putting boots on the ground' and seems to all but refuse to turn the conflict with IS into a hand to hand, combat, normal type 'war'. Perhaps that in and of itself is grounds for keeping with the label of counter-terrorism effort over war.

So the question then becomes, 'If you don't engage with boots on the ground, are you ever really at war?'. Or maybe another way of framing the question, especially in regards to IS is, 'Since they are a terrorist organization, and not a country, and you engage in a military conflict with them, is that ever really war, as to be in a 'war' means to declare war against another established country'?'.

This question fascinates me because I believe the trickery with using words like 'war' mixed with post 9/11 terms and understandings of 'terrorists' and 'terrorism' and 'occupations' leaves many in America confused about just how to feel with being FOR or AGAINST any given future, international military involvement. The terminology used when Obama first approached the American public about going into a limited engagement in Syria left many citizens to become loudly and vehemently opposed to intervening in yet another Middle East, military endeavor. We as a people are so tired of warring with the Middle East. And after the failures of the Iraq operations (again, was that technically war?), we didn't want any part of it.

But once IS (ISIS, ISIL) burst onto the scene a few months ago, and the conversation changed from a vague possibility of limited engagement in some other, little talked about and neighboring country in the Middle East, similar to Iraq, and switched to airstrikes against a specific terrorist cell, Americans suddenly changed their opinions. Now, the overwhelming polls show that America is for bombing IS in Syria. And perhaps is for supporting the US military to go much further than that, if necessary.

What changed? Was it the conscious awareness of a bad guy to go and take care of, over some vague and less compelling idea that we need to involve ourselves yet again in yet another Middle East country? I suppose that makes sense. And, I will say again, I am not taking a side one way or the other on 'should we or shouldn't we?'. I feel that I need much more information before I can make a truly informed opinion, to be completely honest. Both sides have compelling points.

My interest and concern is in the terminology we use to label military operations. I think its dangerous to avoid labeling anything we get ourselves into as a country as war, as sometimes we are at war. And the American people deserve to be told the truth, partly because our tax dollars pay for these operations, and also that's what the world sees us as. Regardless of what we call what we do in this country, other countries around the world can and usually do see it differently. I never want to dilute myself into thinking my country is in some 'counter-terrorism' effort to eliminate terrorism, while in actuality we are at war.

Some may say that semantics don't matter. But I believe that they most certainly do. We should aim to describe our involvement in military affairs with other entities as honestly and accurately as possible. To conclude, I will voice my opinion, to perhaps try and differentiate what qualifies as 'war' and what qualifies as 'counter-terrorism'. Our 2003 - 2014 (and some would argue still) engagement in Iraq was a war, in my opinion, and should be labeled as such. In contrast, with the information out there as of today in regards to the IS/Syria bombing, that particular involvement seems to me best suited to be labeled as a counter-terrorism operation. Now, that definition will most certainly need changing if and when this involvement stretches into other countries, and as time marches on. Six months from now, if we are still fighting IS, what would you call that, war or counter-terrorism?
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2348 days ago
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I definitely agree with you that we are at war. The only problem is that our Congress decided a long time ago that it is far easier to label things 'military engagements' instead of war. So we are technically not at war. I honestly think it's a shame that our Congressional leaders willfully give up their Constitutional duties so they don't have to make tough votes.