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Ivan Eland: Make-Over to Disguise Ugly US Policy

A Make-Over to Disguise Ugly U.S. Policy

By Ivan Eland*
June 13, 2005

After defeating al Qaeda, at least in their own minds, top officials of the Bush administration are now contemplating a war against “violent extremism.” (I call it the WAVE.) Apparently, the already grandiose “Global War on Terrorism”—in bureaucratic jargon, the GWOT—just wasn’t extravagant enough for an administration that thinks really big. Although administration officials implicitly acknowledge the spreading conflagration of global Islamic jihad, they are oblivious to their own culpability in causing it.

The real problem is that the administration, in permanent campaign mode even after reelection, has always regarded the GWOT as a political marketing gimmick, both at home and abroad. President Bush kicked off the sales effort a month after 9/11 with a bombastic presidential directive that promised the “elimination of terrorism as a threat to our way of life.”

But alas, all good marketing campaigns eventually get stale and that is evidently what has happened to the GWOT. One senior administration official, quoted in the Washington Post, indirectly admitted that a political make-over was again underway in the nation’s capital: “GWOT is catchy, but there may be a better way to describe it.”

In Washington, changes in surface rhetoric often signal transformation in underlying policy. Instead of concentrating its efforts to capture or kill the leadership of al Qaeda, the terrorist group that actually attacked the United States, the administration came up with the broader GWOT catchphrase so that an invasion of Iraq could fit under its umbrella. Who knows what additional administration monkey business will be perpetrated under the cover of the even wider WAVE. The target of any U.S. military operation wouldn’t even need to kill innocent civilians or have alleged affiliations with those who do, such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If you think the GWOT opened a can of worms, just think of the possibilities under the WAVE.

The Global War On Terrorism, however, will be hard to replace. It was an ideal federal program, generating the demand for even more intensive government security efforts. Without any apparent introspection about the Bush administration’s role in inflaming violent Islamic extremism worldwide by invading Muslim territory, senior government officials are now turning their planning efforts toward combating the expected diffusion around the globe of a new generation of radical jihadists trained and given combat experience in the Iraq insurgency.

In the business world, a product with a self-generating demand is the Holy Grail. Under the GWOT, the U.S. security establishment has achieved that lofty goal. But because the WAVE crusades against an even wider definition of international “misbehavior,” greater results in generating anti-U.S. hatred around the world should be expected. For example, although the socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela are not active supporters of international terrorists, could they become U.S. targets because of their affinity for the violent Marxist extremists in Colombia? Any such military strikes would engender even more anti-U.S. hatred than already exists in Latin America.

In addition to a new moniker for U.S. policy, the administration seems poised to dump more public monies into advertising campaigns overseas—euphemistically called public diplomacy—to quell anti-U.S. hatred by better “explaining” U.S. policies. Yet people in foreign countries may very well be more knowledgeable about U.S. foreign policy than Americans are—after all, they are the recipients of it. And repeated international public opinion polls show that U.S. policies overseas are what generate the hatred. All the public relations face-lifts in the world are not going to make ugly policy beautiful to the world. But perhaps the administration is less concerned about opinion abroad and more worried about it at home.

Past U.S. presidents have resorted to military interventions overseas when their domestic popularity and agendas sagged. President Bush invaded Iraq even when his poll numbers were higher than they are now. Given current approval ratings in the 40s and sinking and declining support for his domestic policies, the president could get into even more mischief overseas. Using the war against violent extremism and increased funding for public diplomacy to market such meddling may be in the offing. You may be able to catch the WAVE on TV, radio and in your local newspaper soon.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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