What is a war anyway?

Michael Chertoff, Homeland security czar (that’s not what they call him, but they might as well), today writes an op-ed directed against some recent remarks of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. Brzezinksi has claimed that we’re not involved in a “war” on terrorism; terrorism is a method, not a group or a state or a thing (like drugs). Brzezinski argues that we have failed in the war on terror precisely because we have approached it as an actual (and not a metaphorical) war. Rather than working to prevent terrorism, capture terrorists, and do the other things that will prevent more terrorism (like, and this is just a suggestion, capturing bin Laden), we have incorrectly militarized what is primarily a political issue. Of course war is politics by other means, but Brzezinski’s argument is that we can’t achieve a military victory against a non-military enemy. And, more than that, the enemy in this instance yearns for the authenticity and legitimization that only we can provide (by calling it a military war).

Leave it to Chertoff–the one who lamented the possibility of “clean-skin” (i.e., white) terrorists–to misunderstand Brezezinski’s point. He writes:

>Brzezinski stated the obvious in describing terrorism as a tactic, not an enemy [“Terrorized by ‘War on Terror,’ Outlook, March 25]. But this misses the point. We are at war with a global movement and ideology whose members seek to advance totalitarian aims through terrorism. Brzezinski is deeply mistaken to mock the notion that we are at war and to suggest that we should adopt “more muted reactions” to acts of terrorism.

Right–He doesn’t see the threat. Now bring up Iran:

>The impulse to minimize the threat we face is eerily reminiscent of the way America’s leaders played down the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary fanaticism in the late 1970s. That naive approach ultimately foundered on the kidnapping of our diplomats in Tehran.

We were not and are not at war with Iran. So that wasn’t a war either. Analogies only work if things can be compared. Sure, no serious person doubts that terrorists will do violent and awful things if they get a chance. This doesn’t, however, make it a war. And furthermore, calling what they do a war doesn’t change what they do. It only changes what we do. And what we’ve done so far has been an abysmal failure.