Winning the War on Terror

Josh Marshall contrasts two quotes by President Bush:

“We have a clear vision on how to win the war on terror and bring peace to the world.” — George W. Bush, July 30th 2004.

“I don’t think you can win [the war on terror]. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.” — George W. Bush, Aug. 29th, 2004

Let’s add another quote to the mix:

“We meet today in a time of war for our country, a war we did not start yet one that we will win.” George W. Bush, Aug. 31st, 2004

Apparently, I’m in the minority but I didn’t find his answer to Lauer’s question particularly noteworthy. We will never win the war on terror in the sense that we won, say, World War II. Even aside from the fact that there isn’t a discrete enemy with the authority to surrender, it’s almost certainly the case that terrorism will continue to exist as a tactic of the weak. We’ll never win the war on crime, either. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight or that we can’t have a plan for “winning.” By draining the proverbial “swamp,” we can make it far less likely that a 9/11-scale attack can happen again. Absent some amazing revolution in technology, we’ll never be safe against an Oklahoma City type event. It’s a fact of life.

Of course, if the Democrats would like to wage this campaign on the basis of which candidate has had the most consistent policy statements, to coin a phrase: Bring it on.

Update: Michelle Malkin and Jeff Jarvis have extended thoughts as well.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. vdibart says:

    “Of course, if the Democrats would like to wage this campaign on the basis of which candidate has had the most consistent policy statements, to coin a phrase: Bring it on.”

    By this do you mean real political policy statements or a battle fought using politically spun sound bites? I mean are we talking on the order of “I don’t care where Osama is” or “I voted against the bill because I didn’t want to increase deficit spending and I wanted to send a message to W.”?

    I can think of only one or two Kerry statements that are truly worrisome (Cambodia is the most obvious one). The rest are all spin and can be proven as such. Can W say the same about steel tariffs, finding Osama, nation building, etc.?

  2. Russ says:

    The terminology in use surrounding the “war on terror” has bugged me from the outset.

    “Terror” is an emotion.

    “Terrorism” is a methodology.

    To frame it in such terms is like saying we can win the “war against suicide bombing,” or that we can win a “war against high-speed low-level strafing runs.” Such a war would be, by definition, unwinnable. Those are just tools in the enemy’s inventory (the former), or in ours (the latter).

    It’s long past time the people in high places start calling the enemy by its real name instead of by its methods and tactics.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Russ: Agreed. It’s a losing battle until they do, though. It’s like the liberal/conservative thing. We’ve used the language incorrectly for so long that going against the tide is just confusing.

    I have recently heard Condi Rice talk about “jihad,” so maybe a shift will occur.

  4. James Joyner says:

    vdibart: Bush has thousands of statements on the public record–the hazards of office. His message has been pretty consistent, however. I disagree with him on steel tariffs and such but don’t recall contradictory policy positions on them.

  5. vdibart says:

    “Bush has thousands of statements on the public record—the hazards of office”

    And this doesn’t apply to Kerry? My point is that there’s the appearance of consistency enforced or undermined by partisan attacks and then there’s genuine consistency. I believe much of the “flip-flop” attack on Kerry is the partisan attack nature and when you really look at what he said in most cases there is as legitimate reason for his statement as any excuse W, Cheney, etc. use.

    The steel tariff debate is that he originally spoke out in favor of free trade (no tariffs), then he imposed tariffs on foreign import of steel, then he repealed the tariff. There is room for various interpretation of the sequence, just as there is for most of Kerry’s infamous “flops”, but Bush doesn’t get skewered nearly as much as Kerry does.

  6. Dave says:

    I can’t wait until the Kerry campaign does a commercial using GWB’s own words and saying, Well George, are you for winning the war on terror or against it? You still have time to change your mind again before Nov 2nd.


  7. Bob says:

    I think vdibart is right to worry about Cambodia. Here’s why:

    Best of luck vdibart — you’re going to need it….

  8. Meezer says:

    Nothing Bush has said beats this from Kerry (which conservatives haven’t really made use of much).
    In New York: Don’t build the nasty wall
    In Israel 3 weeks later (not 33 years, mind you):
    The wall is dandy.

  9. Joseph Marshall says:

    This was not particularly a significant comment on the President’s part, but it is a hoot to see everybody squirming over it.

    Terrorism is a means. Period. It cannot be warred upon, only defended against. Keep that firmly in mind, and ask yourself, truly, how well this Administration has shored up our defenses against Terrorism, as compared with how well it has made war abroad against two countries. If you do this we will be well on the way to FINALLY thinking straight about what has happened to us since 9/11.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    I was upset by the first of the two quotations cited and blogged about it here

    Could the Cold War be won? For forty years we apparently didn’t think so. Then Reagan came along and by gum we won the Cold War.

    If the objective is merely to manage it, not only won’t we win. We will lose.

    I am very glad that Mr. Bush re-stated today his intent to win and glad that Kerry-Edwards took him to task for the earlier statement. I’d rather have both sides bidding on who can be tougher in the War on Terror than bidding on a prescription drug benefit (for example).

  11. vdibart says:

    Here’s a little difference between the average Kerry comment and the average W comment:

    Kerry: I was in Cambodia in Christmas of 1968. Big Whoop. He exagerrated at best, possibly lied, possibly for political gain and was caught in it. He looks like an a$$.

    W: I don’t care where Osama is. Uh…isn’t he at the very least the figure-head of the “War on Terror/Terrorism”? His whole administration looks incompetant.

    I love how Republicans explain that if Kerry made Vietnam the basis of his reelection he should expect to take criticism on it. Well, if Bush is going to try to paint Kerry as a flip-flopper, he should expect to be called out when he does the same.

  12. Beldar says:

    Dubya doesn’t always have that real-time simultaneous mental transcript feature running when he’s speaking. In this case, he wasn’t on guard against how differently his words might look in print than they actually sounded. If you listen to a tape of the interview, his voice inflection put the word “it” into verbal italics and quote marks; my guess is he was thinking at that moment about how he’s been criticized — by the same folks who are now chortling about his miscue — for calling this a “war” at all.

    There wasn’t anything like the signing ceremony on the Missouri at the end of the Cold War, either. Indeed, it’s somewhat hard to point to the ending date or event. But something over a decade later, now that the Cold War is over, does anyone doubt that we still, ultimately, won “it” — Cuba and North Korea notwithstanding?